30 November 2023

Authenticity and leadership in liminal
space and time.

We are currently living through a liminal time. What does that mean? Let me explain a concept called liminal time. In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") is the feeling of disorientation when participants in an event are in transition from one stage to another. It is a time between times – a transitional space. Think of the caterpillar's metamorphosis into a butterfly: we are in the process of growing wings, ready to emerge from our cocoons, transformed! Let me break it down further.

We have all experienced liminality at some point in our lives, where we exist on the precipice between life before and life after. For some, a significant event evokes this feeling. It could be the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, changing jobs, retirement, and so on. It can be an unfamiliar space of great uncertainty – a space between spaces – moving from something familiar, through doubt, fragility, vulnerability, into something new. You can plan for liminal times in your life and put safeguards in place. By planning, you anticipate and prepare. You may even feel excited about this life change ahead.

However, this past 12 months has been an unplanned liminal time – we didn't expect it, nor did we want it – we had no choice. COVID-19 was unlike anything we have experienced before – the anxiety, the ambiguity, the lack of trust. This disruption came about through no fault of our own.

Furthermore, the current pandemic is unique in that it is a liminal moment the entire world is experiencing simultaneously. Yes, some individuals have been affected more than others, but the common factor is that everyone is affected somehow. We have all faced the same challenge at the same time. It has been a collective experience. The pandemic has been a jolt to the system. It has shocked all of us, coming out of nowhere to upend our lives.

As a result, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of human behaviour. We have seen rapid changes occur in all facets of life, with family, community, at work, at play, everywhere—even ourselves.
Our self-awareness and authenticity have determined our response to all of this. Our self-awareness is connected to and informs our authenticity.

Our authentic selves have had to navigate this strange and unprecedented experience, often fumbling in the dark for familiar touchpoints to orient ourselves amid the uncertainty. Sometimes we have been left bemused, perplexed and even disillusioned. Authenticity can be a hard road to travel. Even when all is stable and well, living an authentic life can be challenging. Amidst a pandemic, contending with all that brings, our authentic selves have been severely tested.

As leaders, we have all have had to step up, face fears and sometimes make the most courageous, unpopular decisions to get through, both personally and professionally. It has forced some of us to look in the mirror and question who we are. Is this the authentic me? Am I living my authentic self?

Living through liminal time accentuates and accelerates the external factors that impact our sense of self. In liminal space, we live with heightened self-awareness. We are fragile, sensitive to all that is going on around us. Our core is exposed. It's during these moments that we search again to align self-awareness with authenticity and purpose. Being authentic is about embracing the power to define your life -to write your story.
When you look back on this liminal time, how will you judge yourself? Did you stay true to yourself?
Will you emerge from this liminal time, transformed? Did you let go of the old to give way to the new?

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