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  • Kathleen Phelps

Leading in the Space Between


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Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.

Tweet: Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.—Nikos Kazantzakis

—Nikos Kazantzakis

My husband and I recently moved out of our home of 17 years into temporary housing while we await re-construction of a property that we believe will better fit our next life phase.

We had been fantasizing for some time about where we might want to live once our younger daughter left for college: Should we get a loft in a more urban area? Leave our small town for a small city with sidewalks and beautiful old homes at bargain prices?

Where did we want to be? Who did we want to be?

The number of decisions has been overwhelming at times, both preparing to exit our old home and re-building the new one. I regularly remind myself what a privilege it is to have so many options, so many choices.

As a coach, I often work with clients who are navigating the “in between” spaces. Sometimes that can be adjusting to a new executive team directive—and trying to keep the trains running—while the details are still being discussed. Sometimes a leader knows that a merger or acquisition is imminent. Work has to get done, but my client knows that things will change once the deal is complete —and their professional fate isn’t always clear.

In Transitions, William Bridges describes this as the “Neutral Zone,” or the bridge between the old and the new. In some ways, people will still be attached to the old, while they are also trying to adapt to the new.

Resentment, low morale, skepticism, and anxiety about one’s role, status, or identity are not uncommon as people move from the “Ending, Losing, and Letting Go” phase into the Neutral Zone. However, the only way to get to the other side is to go through these stages.

The good news is that in addition to the challenges of “the space between,” there is also the potential for great creativity, innovation, and renewal. This can be an ideal time to try out new ways of thinking and being.

Tweet: In addition to the challenges of the space between, there is the potential for great creativity, innovation, and renewal. Try out new ways of thinking and being.

How does one successfully manage this transition phase? First—and most importantly—by recognizing that you are in it. I have worked with many leaders who continue on auto-pilot, doing what they have always done, without taking time to acknowledge the very real changes they are experiencing.

The “space between” can be a beneficial place to re-connect with yourself. Who are you now? What do you value? What do you bring to your organization? Where do you have more control than you think?

And the scarier questions: What is the worst that can happen? What will you do then?

I admit I am in a textbook “Neutral Zone” with our transition. I have left our long time home, and have yet to move into the new one. I am often impatient, sometimes confused, and definitely disoriented! It helps to remember that I have been here before, and that I will be here again—hopefully stronger and wiser for the experience. And I know that I have the next phase to look forward to no matter what: my “New Beginning.”

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