Leadership in Unknown Waters: Liminality as Threshold to the Future

By Lisa Withrow

An imaginative exploration of how an understanding of liminality aids those in leadership roles in adapting creatively to change.

ISBN: 9780718895518


Leadership in Unknown Waters invites organisational leaders and their teams to engage powerful questions amidst ambiguity and uncertainty as they move from the-way-things-were to an emerging future. This liminality, a threshold in space and time allowing for transition from something old to something new, is fraught with both difficulty and opportunity. Leaders, teams, and individuals who navigate this space skillfully will land in surprisingly dynamic places, encountering stories, metaphors, and inspiration for traversing the threshold not only competently, but with curiosity and confidence. In this way, futures are created that are not possible with fear-based planning or “quick fixes”.

Withrow’s method intersects the human imagination through a visual, living metaphor (water), with attention to space (liminality, or transitional space), and focus on role (leadership development) for powerful engagement with what organisational learning theorists call “the emerging future”. Here, the theoretical meets the practical and research informs the “how to” and “why”. Diving into unknown waters with tools and wisdom can create a better future for all who face change, whether within corporations, not-for-profit organisations, faith communities, family systems, or interpersonal relationships.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 188
Illustrations b&w

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

Lisa R. Withrow PhD is an International Coaching Federation-certified leadership coach and consultant with expertise in conflict management, leadership formation and development. She has certificates in Executive Leadership, Change Leadership, and High-Performance Leadership from Cornell University. Dr. Withrow is an independent scholar with twenty years of teaching and administrative leadership in the academy. She is the founder and principal of Clear Transition Strategies, author of five books, and a contributor to leadership journals.


List of Illustrations
A Short Introduction – Why Working in Transitional Space Matters
Prologue: Water – The Significance of Water as Life-Metaphor

Part I: Leading into Unknown Waters
1. Why Liminal Space Matters for Leaders
2. Crossing into Threshold
3. Learning the Intentional Containing Space

Part II: Facets of Liminal Space
4. Flowing Water – Encountering Change, Trusting the Process
5. Ice – Standing Strong, Fostering Courage
6. Steam – Setting Potential Free

Part III: Landing in the Future Here and Now
7. Landing – New Ground on the Other Side
8. The New Equilibrium – Living for the Greater Good

Epilogue: Liminality of Water

Appendix A: How Facilitators Create Containers in Liminal Space
Appendix B: How to Participate in Liminal Space
Appendix C: A Summary of the Scenario-building Process



Endorsements and Reviews

Lisa Withrow has created an authoritative addition to the growing canon of liminality studies. Leadership in Unknown Waters is unrivalled in its unique combination of the two disciplines of liminality and leadership. Withrow leads the reader to some of the great thresholds of life, suggesting a way forward through the guiding symbol of water. Refreshing in its avoidance of checklists and quick fixes, this landmark contribution will help form the next generation of transformative leaders.
Dr Timothy Carson, author of Liminal Reality and Transformational Power, editor of Neither Here nor There: The Many Voices of Liminality

Lisa Withrow’s model for transformation calls us to value the disruptions and in-between spaces where possibility and creativity arise from chaos. Grounded in decades of research, teaching, practice, and personal experience, she brings wisdom for moving through the wilderness. Refreshingly human-centred, open-ended, trusting, and authentic; Withrow doesn’t just give directions, she teaches us to navigate.
Mark Miller-McLemore, Associate Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Vanderbilt Divinity School

The uncertainty and disruption of liminal space can paralyze individuals and organizations. Leadership in Unknown Waters is required reading for leaders wishing to move beyond ‘checklists’ aimed at immediate survival. Instead, Withrow offers theoretically-grounded, unique practices that co-create transformative futures for groups, teams, organizations, and stakeholders in the twenty-first century.
Rev. Dr. Sandra Selby, Senior Community Chaplain, Tough Work Outreach