Embracing Ambiguity: Leadership in the Liminal Space


“Limen” is derived from Latin and means threshold and in colloquial language is referred to as liminal space. Liminal space is best described as the ambiguous and often uncertain in between  space between you and what happens next. The form of space varies as it can be physical and or emotional. What is most interesting about liminal space is that in the same way everyone experiences it, everyone experiences it differently. Often as creatures of habit humans do not like to exist in the unknown. Just as individuals’ pain thresholds differ, so too do their thresholds for navigating liminal states. Liminal art can also evoke feelings of discomfort and uncomfortability as they are associated with transitions. 

In liminal phases we often live on the edge and our self awareness is heightened (Liedgren 2023). Leadership  for this reason is often interconnected with driving organisations through these times. Liminal periods can mark the beginning of the unknown in that liminality refers to being in between or at a threshold of change where groups or an individual undergo a process of transition.

Leadership involves navigating a group through challenges or towards a common goal. Leadership is crucial in navigating teams through uncertainty and maintaining focus on future objectives during liminal phases. Teams might feel disconnected from what is most familiar to them and uncertain about the future. A robust leader plays a crucial role in creating a collective vision centered around aims and objectives.

Leadership in liminal phases

Leaders importantly must lead by example and embrace change demonstrating adaptability and resilience. By doing so this can encourage others to emulate this behaviour and may even prompt them to mirror their actions. Leaders can adapt to this period by highlighting and affirming to employees what will remain concrete and identifying the potential in what can be transformed to drive organisational change. 

Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

When we consider what organisations can do to ensure the right leader for these scenarios is to look to theories such as Fiedler’s Contingency Theory. Developed in 1960 by psychologist Professor Fred Fielder, this theory posits that effective leadership style is directly correlated with the situation and environment at hand. Leadership style and the demands of the situation at hand are two key components that must be considered in order to make the correct selection of a leader. 

Least preferred co-worker score (LPC)

According to Fielder, leadership style can be segregated into two groups. Task oriented leaders and relationship oriented leaders. Whether a leader is task oriented or relationship oriented is dependent on their least preferred co-worker (LPC) score. If they have a high LPC score this means they are relationship oriented and if they have a low LPC score this means that they are task oriented. Once you have established the LPC score of the candidate, you must take into account the level of trust and confidence of the employees and the leader’s position of power.

Finally, the structure and characteristics of the circumstances in which this leader will operate must be considered, in a liminal spaces the leader and team may have little structure and must work together to achieve goals. Moreover, leaders’ selection and allocation of teams based on their core qualities and strengths can be key in driving success.

Effective leadership is highly reliant on consideration for the team as well as provision of challenges, goals and a structured plan (Taberno et al .,2009). Proctor & Gamble are an example of an organisation who place a significant emphasis on the development of their leaders, particularly situational leadership. P&G have been renowned for their solid strategies on working to clearly defined aims and objectives which are specific to each branch and area of their business. 


While discomfort and uncertainty often accompany this state, it also serves as a fertile ground for innovation and growth. Effective leadership within liminal spaces requires adaptability, resilience, and a keen understanding of the team’s dynamics and goals. By emphasising situational leadership and fostering a culture of trust, organisations can navigate liminal phases with clarity and purpose, driving towards collective success.

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