I find myself in the wardrobe. I entered to hide, but mystery awaits here, I sense.
The smell of mothballs fills my nose. Some things will certainly die here. What will those things be? Will I let them perish? What will grow in their stead?
These hanging coats are not my usual dress and they don’t fit at all. Will I grow into them?
This crunch beneath my feet yields an unexpected terrain. What will the journey hold? Will I be alone?
This place is something in between, but betwixt which and what? Here and where? How will I articulate this? Who will believe?
I see a light – a lamp, really – standing as if it has a story, a history. I’m not the first to tread this ground. What awaits?
Shhhhh…… what was that sound?
Let’s investigate the emotional processes of leadership at the edge of the unknown – like the unknown world beyond the wardrobe. Edwin Friedman posits that leadership isn’t primarily about intellectual prowess, but navigating emotional processes. His premise is impacting my work as I have been personally operating with the tagline of “helping provide the theology, mindsets, and methodology to innovate.” I invite your critique of the second portion – mindsets. So often, thinking is positioned as the primary operation for leadership, and specifically for innovation. Think Tank. Think Outside the Box. Most innovation theory ignores the very real and powerful emotional pull to the status quo. From today forward, I will substitute the word attitudes. Even though attitude has been co-opted by pithy positivity quotes, attitude combines thinking, feeling, and behaviors.
D’Souza and Renner observe that “When we come close to something we do not understand, or are faced with something unexpected or inexplicable, we have a tendency to control, become passive and withdraw, analyze things endlessly, resort to catastrophic thinking…, jump into action, getting busy or apply quick fixes” (Not Knowing, 117) Notice these responses are combinations of thinking, feelings, and behavior, or summarily, attitudes.
The attitudinal reactions at the edge provide a new path for me in the forest of my work. A key question driving me this year is, “What do I want to smuggle in through my work?” When groups ask me to help them think innovatively or think of something new (there’s that verb again), what else do I want to bring to both answer their question and give them something more. Candidates include connecting them to the grand Story of One making all things New, issues of power dynamics and acting justly, emotional shepherding at the edge, and behavioral analysis about why humans struggle to change.
The forest, the wardrobe, the threshold into the unknown – I pause to see what is unknown in my study of the unknown. What are my attitudes in helping others’ attitudes. How am I perhaps controlling my work, passively withdrawing, over-analyzing, resorting to catastrophic thinking, jumping heedlessly into action, and getting lost in shallow busyness or quick fixes? As I move into the second year of our work and the unknown lies before me…
Shhhhh……. what’s that sound?
Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity (New York: LID Publishing, 2016).