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What’s the point of holding on?

In this blog Annette Hennessy reflects on how valuable holding a space, to think, to reflect, and to see what emerges is part of transformational leadership. And how do you do that for yourself and others?  

Have you noticed in the world right now, how we crave really fast, easy answers to really complex, long standing problems and we want someone else to give us the solutions? Is that because we want them to go away, because we don’t have the resources to deal with them, because it’s too difficult or painful to change our ways, because we don’t like uncertainty, or all of them? I’m thinking of global issues such as climate emergency, our responses to Black Lives Matter, and how we work together to find a vaccine for pandemics.The problem might be closer to home with a knotty problem at work, or in a relationship.   

In other words, how can we navigate complexity in our lives? Just recently I have been working with two other Amara buddies on the Power of Three programme. It’s a programme designed to support organisations who want to work on a complex issue, to look at it as creatively and as ambitiously as possible. It’s a demanding process which requires much holding on, much trusting of self and others, and much thinking into the dark. Our provocation is ‘what’s the future of work, and how are we living into it?’. Currently, we are in the midst of our inquiry, ‘what does the future of work  mean’, ‘what does it look like’, ‘how do we provide something that’s useful to Amara, and our clients?’ 

The programme has great resources which help with reframing, dreaming into the future, working with complexity, stimulating feedback from our colleagues across the world in New Zealand as well as practices which surface our assumptions and perceptions. All of which is ‘awesome’ as they say in New Zealand. The hardest part though is holding on, resisting the temptation to rush to conclusions and resisting thinking ‘I know what’s needed here’. It’s finding a way to live with the uncertainty and ambiguity, and it’s about holding on longer than you think, and holding on again.  

So how do you do that? When you think about the times we use the word ‘hold’, ‘hold on’, ‘hold on a minute’, ‘holding a space’, ‘to hold someone’, it suggests a time to think, to pause, to reflect, acknowledging difficulty and distress without giving into powerlessness. Interestingly the research says that holding or hugging someone for even 20 seconds releases oxytocin which increases feelings of wellbeing! Not always possible, I realise in these days.  

There are ways we can practice holding out for ourselves, in our relationships, and in our work, which will help support living with complexity. For example, can you journal a few minutes every day to empty your thoughts and feelings onto the page? Can you start a meeting with a simple few minutes of quiet to listen in? Can you notice the ‘pulse’ in the room?  

During my time as a CEO what I began to notice most, in the most uncertain of times, was that the quality of my leadership was directly impacted by how much attention I gave to holding space for myself. Just as important, was how much attention I gave to creating space for others to think, to pause, to reflect and to be held. Action inquiry – not inaction, but timely action.  

Check out our Street Smart book for a valuable collection of practices to help you hold on.