Scientifically, gases fill the entire space given to them. Sociologically, people fill their entire space – basement or garage – with “stuff.” Organizationally, meetings tend to fill the entire time allotted. Likewise, a temptation for the global leader is to fill the entire space given, to be the hero.
Leadership is not about filling space, but about creating space. In a leadership case study, Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza highlight the trap of leader as hero. Instead, this exemplar stepped into the role of “leader as creator of space, allowing for different inputs, ideas, and experiences to emerge. A space full of potential. Leadership in a complex and uncertain world is about creating a type of active absence…that leaves room for creative capacity. Not acting, not controlling, not intervening in the group, Not Doing, were key to opening up the creative doing of others” (Not Doing, 129).
I have stumbled on this dynamic by sheer accident. In meetings I facilitate with robust debate and differing opinions, I don’t see the way out. As an internal processor, I attempt to add some RAM to the processor, inhale slowly, and search for means of guidance. Just as I am about to hesitantly speak, someone chimes in to offer a fresh perspective, new idea, or piece of wisdom. That pause and deep breath unintentionally created the potential space for others to enter with insight. Might the unintentional move to intentional. Pause. Breathe. Create space. Hold space.
Creating space also offers a more nuanced approach to leadership in a multiethnic environment. Rather than filling a quota of diverse leadership, a nonnegotiable leadership characteristic must be this ability to create space – for silence, nuance, differing cultures and opinions. While those from the dominant culture are trained more in the narrative of leader as hero, this reality doesn’t assume that those from minority cultures all possess the capacity for creating space. “Our role [as leaders]” Renner and D’Souza explain, “is to steward a space for dialogue, collaboration, and learning” (133).
The creation of space and collaborative creation derives from the metaphysical nature of the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity creates space and holds that space for the other to move, to act, to create. The Spirit hovers over the primordial waters, the Father speaks, and the Word creates. Each offer their contribution, play their role, and dance in a way that never dominates, eclipses, or dictates.
This creative space is not space as void, but space as activity. Space as substance. Space as creativity. A space that when tended with craft and expertise, fosters the best in others to co-create in making all things new.
Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action (New York: LID Publishing, 2018).