“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” ~ Tuli Kupferberg
In coaching, there is a particular kind of process called Edgework. Often symbolized as a simplified mountain peak (see triangle in the diagram), an edge is any threshold between where and who you are now and where and who you want to be. It is the boundary between the known and the unknown, the now and the not yet.
While some thresholds come to us as serendipities or forced changes that happen to us and carry us unbidden into uncharted realms of challenge and forced adaptation, others wait for us to come to them. They do not force themselves on us, but linger just ahead or on the periphery of our awareness, quietly calling us forth to engage life differently in some profound way. Some spring from the soul ~ such as the call to step into the difficult self work of healing deep wounds from the past that hold you back from the vulnerability of authentic intimacy with those you love. Some are spiritual ~ such as the Divine beckoning we all experience at some point to recraft our lives to serve a Power and a Purpose greater than ourselves. But all such thresholds spring from desire. That is, they come to us as something we want, either for ourselves or for the world.
Leaders face these thresholds all the time. In fact, one could say that the primary role of a leader is to identify a worthy threshold a group of people want to cross and to inspire them to cross it and in this way bring something new into the world. But frustration and feelings of defeat often plague leaders as they attempt to do this work, not because they are not up to the challenge of leading others across the proverbial Jordan, but because they don’t understand the natural behavior of the human heart when challenged with crossing in to the unknown, even when the unknown is highly desired by all.
Here are 7 things leaders (and really, all of us) need to know about the normative process people go through when crossing the edge from who and where they are to who and where they want to be:
- Crossing edges can be terrifying, even when the change is deeply desired. Likewise, the known and comfortable is extremely compelling, even when it is downright awful. (If it were easy, we’d all be crossing edges all the time.)
- People can sometimes be bullied across an edge, but as soon as the pressure stops, they will slide back into old ways of being. To make the change permanent, people must be loved across.
- Once an edge is crossed, it is normal for people to go back and forth across the edge before they settle into the new way of being. Vilifying or shaming this natural adjustment process is not helpful. Normalizing it is.
- Hating where you are can be an effective edge-crossing motivation in the beginning, but without a positive compelling vision of what’s on the other side of the threshold to inspire them forward, people will inevitably lose heart and slip back into old patterns.
- As I already mentioned, edges are scary, and that fear must be dealt with tenderly (“I know it’s hard, but I believe in you. You can do it!”), not harshly (“What’s wrong with you? Don’t be a wimp. Just step up and do it already!”), or indulgently (“I know you’re afraid, so take all the time you want to get ready. You don’t have to step across until it feels totally safe, okay?)
- Thresholds are made of hope. But they are best powered by faith working through love. A desperate man will cross a threshold on hope alone. But inspiring people to act in faith (i.e. the assurance of what is hoped for) rooted in the biblical truth of God’s loving nature is a much more excellent way, and is far more likely to make the shift permanent and lasting.
- For leaders to inspire others across a threshold, they must cross first. Unless you embody the new way of being you are calling others to step into, they won’t trust you to take them there.
What is the threshold that you’re most passionate about helping your people cross? How’s it going?