Hold the space for the emerging future
It was 2015, when I was at the Wisdom 2.0 business conference that I heard Otto Sharmer talk. In his keynote "from ego system to eco system", he introduced the idea of the emerging future. It's had an effect on me ever since.
The emerging future is beyond what has been, or what is currently. In essence, you sense that something is going to happen, you don’t know what it is, but you hold the space to allow it to happen.
Each of us and each of our teams has a potential future - something that may happen - and we need to imagine it to make it so. We can each create a future for ourselves and our organisations. Once we imagine it, anything is possible.
Holding the space is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. But what does it actually mean?
Holding the space in a practical sense involves:
Carving out time for people to think, reflect, develop and plan. This time is sacred because whilst it is important, it is never really urgent. As such it frequently gets gobbled up by other more pressing items.
Stepping back and letting go. Allowing people to run with something and see where it goes. Even though it may not be what you would do, hold your tongue and see what happens.
Removing barriers that may get in the way of this emerging future. For example, getting agreement from your leader that this is an important endeavour.
A second point of leading from the emerging future is identifying that something is emerging.
This is only possible with what Otto Scharmer describes as "generative listening". That is, listening with all parts of you, including gut feel and instinct. This allows you to sense what is going on not only "out there" but also within the inner landscape.
As a leader, generative listening happens when we:
Step back and look at the situation as a whole, as if we were the conductor seeing the action. This means creating time and space in your calendar for doing this.
Reflect on what we are seeing and asking ourselves, what is happening here? This means asking yourself questions to guide yourself through reflection
Listen to our instincts. This means having a journal to write down thoughts, ideas and musings as they come.
Take time to really listen to what is going on, both for ourselves, but for others and the situation as a whole. This means taking the time together to talk about what may be possible.
In the early days of Vend, I saw this emerging future. We had imagined what would be possible if we came at People and Culture from a different angle. We had a strong intention of what we wanted to do. Then it was ensuring that every decision took us towards this future. It would have been easy to take short cuts and make small decisions that would have little by little eroded the potential. But we held the space, removed the obstacles, and let that future emerge.
The key takeaway from this, is that as a leader it pays to not look at what is, but what could be, and then hold the space for that reality to emerge.