Today, the Work of Leadership is Holding Space

Image: Blue ceramic dish with gold feather and gold speckles painted inside, handmade by my talented sister Anika McLane

Published 16 August, 2021

It’s difficult to begin to articulate how much we have experienced since the pandemic began. It has been intense, frightening and disorienting. We have felt overwhelmed, lonely, confused, anxious and hopeless. We have all felt grief – at the loss of loved ones, security, freedom, health, dreams for the future… the list goes on. We have been stretched beyond breaking point and held in this tension for such a long time.

Now some of that tension has begun to release. Here in the UK restrictions are largely gone for the time being. Some sense of day-to-day life is beginning to emerge as the familiar rituals of Summer slowly begin to return. Meals with friends, talk of festivals and holidays (staycations at least), and celebrations which can happen in person again.  

And as the end of the Summer comes into view and the pace of work and life picks up again, many leaders will be wondering what they need to say to their people in this moment?

What will you be saying to yours?

You don’t have to tell them that’s all going to be ok. You don’t have to have all the answers. You just need to have the courage to start a conversation.   

Earlier this year Dr Susan David appeared on Dr Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead Podcast in a fantastic two-part series on toxic positivity. Explaining her work on emotional agility, Susan David describes toxic positivity as trying to convince ourselves of something that’s not reality. Not only is there no evidence to suggest that denying our difficult emotions is effective, in fact the opposite is true – denying our emotions is inherently harmful.

So if we want workplaces that are more human-friendly, what we don’t need in September are leaders who think they hold all the answers in a world which has changed beyond recognition. If we want people to be able to show up as their whole selves, we don’t need leaders who gloss over the losses of the last 18 months and tell us to think positively.

The work of leadership today starts with recognising that there is still a lot of grieving to be done and intentionally creating spaces for people to be seen and heard. Sitting with each other and listening deeply. Recognising our shared humanity and engaging in sense-making. These experiences form a lasting reference point for the moving forward that follows.  

Liminal Play creates these spaces for leaders and their teams to come together and be seen.

Building models with LEGO bricks allows people to safely and easily tap into what can otherwise feel difficult or intangible and helps them begin to make sense of it. Through sharing the stories of what these models mean with others, team members feel a stronger sense of connection. Using the insights that organically arise, teams are better equipped to explore what matters to them and how they want to come through these times – together. The LEGO Serious Play approach translates particularly well within remote team contexts where other methods may struggle to engage.

We’re all familiar with the old sentiments that there’s no place for emotions at work, or that everyone’s too busy to play with toys at work. Sure, some leaders will prefer to keep their heads in the sand and wonder why their staff are burning out and productivity is crumbling.

But if you’re a leader who wants to invest in the humanity of your organisation, who has been wondering how to create these types of conversational spaces, I’d love to share what Liminal Play could do for you and your teams now.

Taking one step forward.

Susan David tells us that when difficult emotions are welcomed, we can begin to see the wisdom they bring – they signpost our needs and values. In these uncertain times there is no map, but our values give us the compass to move forward.

“Together we can take one step forward into what is possible and see what it looks like from there” – Richard Merrick

Notes and Acknowledgements

  •  I want to recognise members of the Organize community whose voices continue to inspire me. In particular, Richard MerrickSue Heatherington and Johnnie Moore.
  • Johnnie shared a fantastic video of Patricia Shaw which speaks to these concepts of conversational leadership in organisations  
  • Dr Susan David has been recognised as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers for her work on Emotional Agility. Her talks offer a great introduction to the concept.  

#leadership #compassion #emotionalwellbeing #emotionalagility #susandavid #newnormal #culturematters #gestaltcoaching #legoseriousplay #liminalplay