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Liminal Leaders: Navigating Thresholds of Transformation

Discover how you, as a liminal leader, can successfully navigate your challenges toward self-actualization and transformation.

Noticing your shift from success to liminality

In your pursuit of self-actualization, you'll likely reach a point where you sense a shift from the comfort of your most recent success to a state of liminality. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines liminality as: 

  1. "occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold."
  2. "related to a transitional or initial stage of a process."

Examples of liminal experiences abound. Perhaps you recently found yourself in a new job or with a changing set of responsibilities. A family member's health creates new demands on you as a caregiver, which draws on your professional capacity. Your competitive environment shifted, or you've seen a shock to the economy, and your business needs a significant pivot or reset. You're feeling swept up in someone else's transformation or trying to lead your own revolution. Each represents an in-between space where there was once a stable system; now, there is uncertainty for everyone involved about themselves and the worlds they inhabit, including you as a leader. Your job is to stay ahead of the curve.

Like many others, you probably don't have the gift of foresight into the emergence of these specific experiences; they're likely to catch you by surprise. Even when you are the one guiding these changes, a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity marks this transition as you find yourself on a threshold between the identity, beliefs, capabilities, and strategies you've grown up and become familiar with and emerging tensions that reveal new possibilities and challenges ahead for you and the circles you're a part of. As a liminal leader, you must take notice of these shifts in yourself and recognize the signs you might be under strain.

You might not be fulfilling your commitments like you used to or unable to scale yourself to new demands. Your schedule might feel unbalanced: your current activities pull on the new work essential to your goals, or you have a shift in capacity between work and the rest of your life. You may realize that you need to develop new skills or competencies that you've been able to avoid or just noticed are required for a new job or direction. Perhaps your past achievements don't seem to count like they used to, or your intuitive gifts don't seem to be serving you as well. Maybe you're just feeling an increasing tension between what you experience in the world and how you want it to be, and it's starting to eat at you. Each presents you with a sense of loss or confusion as you decide if and how to let go of your previous roles and expectations and make a commitment along a new path. 

Once you notice these shifts and tensions, however, you can navigate the transformative journey and start adapting.

Recognizing your key challenges in a liminal space

As you start to acknowledge the shift you're experiencing, begin by recognizing the challenges of this liminal state. One of the primary challenges is the discomfort of experiencing the unknown. Knowing how and when to say "I don't know," whether about yourself or the issues at hand, can seem increasingly complex as the people close to you rely on you more for answers that give them the certainty they need. Learning to feel and embody the uncertainty can be even more disorienting. These aren't just cognitive or emotional tensions; they can be physical tensions with somatic impacts. 

You may find it tempting to take a typical response to such discomfort: avoidance, including attempts to revert to your previous, more familiar identity, i.e., characteristics you use to determine your sense of self. You may dismiss helpful new information or context, overleverage or misapply your strengths, or seek external validation from an established social dynamic for something only you can honestly answer. The most significant tension here is that there are some things you can't unsee. Until you resolve them for yourself, you will remain in a liminal state.

Another challenge you'll likely face is resistance from others to your transformation. Liminality will prompt you to ask yourself existential questions and consider ideas you might have previously seen as out of reach, untenable, or unacceptable in your environment. As you navigate this transitional phase, you may encounter skepticism or resistance from colleagues, friends, or even family members accustomed to your previous roles and experience with you, or they'll see themselves losing something as part of your transformation. This social friction can create additional pressure and self-doubt for you to pursue potential change.

You can proactively address these challenges and develop strategies for navigating the liminal space by gently acknowledging them as they arise and leaning into the questions they inspire.

Evolving your self-awareness and embracing disintegration

To successfully navigate the liminal space, you'll need to evolve your integrated self-awareness and embrace the process of disintegration. Integrated self-awareness allows you to perceive and understand the whole scope of your being in the moment and across time. You are already occupying many roles simultaneously across your life, such as boss, peer, and subordinate; parent, sibling, and child; friend and peer; community organizer and member; creative and fan. Integrated self-awareness also helps you objectively perceive and check your beliefs, values, strengths, and areas for growth, enabling you to make conscious choices in your transformational journey.

Disintegration is a humbling experience of deconstructing your identity into its parts and origins so you can make conscious determinations about who you are, what you believe, and who you want to become. "The theory of positive disintegration (TPD) is an idea of personality development developed by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dąbrowski. Unlike mainstream psychology, the theory views psychological tension and anxiety as necessary for personal growth." (Wikipedia) Taking this perspective, you have a choice: avoid the tensions you experience and revert to your former self as constrained by the world as it is today, or lean into the tensions to shape your personality toward a unique one that creates a different, more positive world. 

Embracing disintegration involves letting go of old patterns, beliefs, and identities that no longer serve you and your existential vision. It requires you to be willing and driven to explore new perspectives, challenge assumptions, and embrace the discomfort of uncertainty. Until now, disintegration may have been more of a spontaneous experience for you, brought upon by trauma or discoveries that lead to such a revaluation of life and self. As trauma is the kind of thing that many people go out of their way to avoid, it's no surprise that you might notice social stigmas around these revelations, such as the "mid-life crisis." 

By embracing disintegration as a deliberate and directed practice, you can create additional space for new possibilities and growth, leading toward a more evolutionary intelligence.

Building your resilience and driving reintegration

Building resilience is essential for you as you navigate the challenges of self-actualization. Resilience enables you to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to change, and maintain a sense of purpose and motivation amid uncertainty. It involves cultivating a growth mindset, practicing self-care and reflection, and seeking support from mentors, coaches, and peers.

Finding and building a social support system is essential. You'll need people who can empathize with your liminal and transformation experience and feel positive for your evolution, even when it may seem in conflict or at odds with the supporter's needs. These resources together help you get the necessary perspective on the multiple frames of your experience. They can help you make more effective decisions about what to hold fixed versus what to adapt, why, when, and how. 

As you progress through your transformational journey, reintegration becomes crucial. Reintegration involves rearchitecting and reorganizing how you think about, behave, and experience the world by integrating the new insights, skills, and experiences gained during the liminal phase into your new identity and leadership style. It requires reflection, integration of learning, and aligning your actions with your evolving purpose.

Setting yourself up to resourcefully navigate liminality

Unfortunately, these are not fast or straightforward tasks; you have real work to do. You will most effectively do this work when you have a stable actualization platform supporting you along your journey that includes: 

  • Personal Research & Development Drive: sustaining the commitment you make to discovering more about yourself and pursuing your potential in any environment
  • Compassionate [Self-]Care: holding patience, self-compassion, and pursuit of what nourishes you to do the work along with health and wellness professionals to keep you moving
  • Community and Connection: engaging a vibrant community of peers who can empathize with and support your experience along with enthusiastic supporters in your current ecosystems
  • Personalized Practice Support: leveraging tailored knowledge resources, models, solutions, and coaching that will help bootstrap and guide you to get good at navigating liminality
  • Advanced Development Systems: new, evolutionary productivity systems to bridge your day-to-day with your continuous disintegration and reintegration practice

By cultivating your actualization platform, you can empower yourself to confidently navigate your transformational journeys and positively impact your life, organizations, and communities.

Want to explore how Integral Productivity can help you navigate your liminal spaces and leadership?  


Kraig Parkinson

Kraig Parkinson

Kraig is the founder of Integral Productivity LLC. For 25 years, Kraig has been helping enterprises, teams, and individuals to align purpose with performance, enabling transformational changes that create more humane business impacts, environments, and experiences.


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