Many thresholds to cross

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Magically, Dorothy crosses a threshold into a strange new world and her adventure begins. In our personal and business lives, crossing thresholds is harder.

The house spins in the air at the very top of an enormous tornado, and is miraculously delivered back to solid ground. In her sepia house, a sepia Dorothy picks up her sepia dog, and opens the front door. On the other side is a technicolour world. As she steps into it, she becomes as vibrantly full-coloured as everything around her. She says to the little dog tucked under her arm, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And so her adventure to find the Wizard of Oz begins. Magically she had crossed a threshold. In our personal and business lives, crossing thresholds is harder.

A growing business had formed a new executive layer with emerging young leaders, yet the owner still called the shots. We needed to define what leadership would look like on the other side of the good intention. Who they might be, how they might behave together, what that might mean. Each had their own individual edge to cross. The owner had to let go, together the team had to take hold.

Crossing the threshold from the known into the unknown is where the journey of change begins. It can be getting married, having a baby, starting a new job or business. It can be divorce, the death of someone close, losing a job or shuttering a business. Right now, it is the sudden wrenching change that Covid-19 makes to all our lives.

We cross these thresholds in different times, and in different ways. Some skip over them, others take longer, sometimes we zigzag back and forth. A change at organisational or team level does not affect everyone in the same way. Frustrations emerge when the CEO is clear on the vision, excited about the future and ready to leap into action, while others are still testing the waters, unclear about risks, uncertain of the outcome. Under stress, individual preferences and dislikes show up starkly, and can push the team into deeper tension and division.

Covid-19 has touched us all. We see-saw between fear, isolation, calmness and times of reflection. We see the possibility of incubating something new and anxiety that we are not doing enough right now. We step forward then back, hell bent on keeping the status quo alive, because that is what is known. And the known always feels safer than the unknown.

How do we, in these uncertain times, cross the threshold individually and together?

First, know there is not just one threshold. As one is crossed, the next emerges. Not all have the same emotional charge. Some are easier than others.

Second, when a system sees itself, it can change. When a team can map (even vaguely) what the unknown reality on the other side might look like, and when they can see where every member of that group is in relation to the edge, they build understanding and insight.

Third, listen to the voice of resistance. The voice of fear. These are the voices of our threshold guardians. They seem to be set on keeping us from progress. They can be our inner programming that keeps spinning us back to the known, yet they can also be a voice of the system that has some wisdom to consider. Their deeper purpose is to keep us safe from danger. They might be frustrating in the moment, especially for those who want to speed ahead, but if not listened to they often sabotage our best intentions.

These voices might be right. Not all thresholds should be crossed. Or they may contain a nugget of truth. If ignored, individuals who hold the responsibility of representing that voice, will struggle to fully cross the edge. They might not just be stubborn and change resistant (although that is always possible), they may hold a dialogue that needs to be heard and worked with. Not necessarily obeyed. 

We’re not in Kansas anymore. Covid-19 is the tornado that has ripped up old assumptions. By listening deeply, with compassion for ourselves and others, we can cross the edges we need to cross – safely, with presence and hope.

Tracy Brownlee
Tracy helps individuals and teams access their most empowered, aligned and effective selves.