Liminal Pathways Blog

How Visionary Leaders Guide Their Organizations Through Change


As the pandemic transforms into a new normal, organizations will rely on visionary leaders who are skillful at navigating change.

What is Visionary Leadership?

Visionary leaders’ essential capability is being able to connect to their own north-star vision (a general direction or calling, if you will) and simultaneously being able to engage the larger organization in a change journey to find out what it will take to develop and manifest a shared organizational vision.

Because all change processes go through an “in-between” or liminal stage, often feeling like a crucible, visionary leaders’ early grasp of what is possible helps create a container for everyone else to contribute and join them in the visioning process. The key is to hold both their own vision as well as accept emerging ideas long enough that a synthesis emerges that is energizing to all.

Success Models in Practice

The Grove has a history of supporting visionary leaders in both shaping and realizing their visions. We looked back at some we have worked with to harvest learning.

Erik Rolland, who we have written about before, emerges as a classic example of a visionary leader. He has just accepted the presidency of the University of the Bahamas, but before that was dean of the Cal Poly Pomona College of Business Administration and led a large stakeholder process with The Grove’s Gisela Wendling and Laurie Durnell (see Creating a Culture of Collaboration and Change at a College of Business Administration). It aligned the College on a new vision that almost immediately upon completion attracted major new funding to the College. Encouraged by what he had learned about being a visioning leader, he took on an additional job at Cal Poly Pomona as interim dean for Cal Poly’s College of Extension University (CEU) and began a […]

An Immigrant’s Perspective on White Privilege and Cultural Bias

Here is a picture of me, age 21, at a market near San Diego

Confronting racism and all of its expressions as an active process in our lives is long overdue. I have found that my early experiences of growing up in Germany in the ’60s and ’70s and then immigrating to the United States in the ’80s, put me at a different entry point in this exploration than many who have grown up here. I hope that sharing the following glimpses into my early experiences as an immigrant highlights how subtle and often insidious the undercurrents of racism, white privilege, and cultural bias can be. And, perhaps, these might trigger your own reflections of early encounters that have shaped the way you perceive or misperceive or advantage or disadvantage those who fall into categories of the generalized others.

I was prompted to think about all of this again recently when I was backpacking near the Anza Borrego Desert in Southern California, which I had visited numerous times in the late ’80s just after I arrived in the U.S. In my return to this desert, I reflected on earlier days when I first came to understand what it means to live a life as an immigrant in between cultures with few resources, feeling the weight of the atrocities committed by my ancestors, while simultaneously experiencing the white privilege of my ancestry. When looking closely at lived experience as I do in this piece, generalizations and common categorizations don’t hold up any more, and we may find that life’s many in-between spaces are simply messy and ambiguous. Let’s take a look.

Glimpse 1: Rudy’s Hidden Acres

I left Germany because I wanted to. I was 20 and longing for a life that was not already prescribed […]

March 5th, 2021|Culture, Social Change, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Communitas: Hope and Belonging in the Midst of Disruption

“The pandemic and current social uprising changes everything we see, everything we write, and everything we read.”
Jane Hirshfield, Poet

Point of Departure

It is likely that the pandemic and its aftermath may constitute a point of departure from the way we have lived to a future that is very different from where we seemed to be heading just a few months ago. While many of us continue to be “sheltered” at home or work, whatever bubble of protection we feel is likely to dissipate. In times like this, when things fall apart, and a new direction is not really clear, a sense of intense community spirit can arise among those who find themselves traversing the turbulence of change together. This shared sense of community spirit is referred to as “communitas” by anthropologists and other social scientists. It is full of intense relatedness, aliveness and feeling. Especially now, when the prevailing feeling of uncertainty and instability is so pervasive, appreciating communitas can give us insight and hope. 

We are in a moment in time in which the real long-term impact of the pandemic, the economic free fall it has caused, the racial injustices it lays bare, and many of the other social and environmental issues that are already urgent will remake our lives. Where I live in California, we are already anticipating the upcoming fire season and are wondering if we are prepared to deal with the consequences of wildfires on our communities—especially now that they are also heavily impacted by the pandemic. The overlapping crises are complex. Survivors of the decimated town of Paradise, for instance, are already […]

Turning Toward One Another in a Time of Crisis

The more I try to grasp the many dimensions of the global crisis that has so fundamentally changed our lives, the more I care about how this crisis is affecting us emotionally. Unexpected disruptions can come with a range of emotions that are often challenging, perplexing, and rapidly shifting within us. Turning to one another and finding support in each other’s company through deep listening can be a place of relief and comfort. And with this relief comes an inner spaciousness and renewed sense of wherewithal, and the possibility to invite and perceive a future that is truly new. 

I experience this rapid shifting of emotions myself. For example, while I am often still in shock about the pervasiveness of the impact of the virus, I also feel I am letting go of the familiar, finding moments of acceptance. In these moments, I get glimpses of new possibilities and feel a sense of hope.  But these moments pass, sometimes quickly, and I find that I am actually angry. I notice this when I am reactive in situations where I am usually more patient. Then later, I may feel so overwhelmed that my head hurts and I am emotionally too exhausted to work the extra hours that I believe are needed right now. During the last two weeks I even had a few moments of despair. 

How about you? What emotions have you been cycling through? 

Turning to one another, trusting the need to tell one’s story, and struggling together to find meaning is an essential skill for these times. During such sustained disruption and suffering, emotional stamina is needed more than ever. Without it, the impact of this crisis can turn suffering into real trauma. We need to do what we can to help […]

Responding to the Global Emergency from the Inside Out

A heightened sense of interconnectedness of our human community is awakening around the world. It is an interconnectedness that is threatening in one way and is life affirming in another. Being confronted with this paradox is a dizzying experience. I believe we are experiencing a global reset that overshadows all other attempts we have made to make pervasive and needed change in the world. To meet this challenge, we need to cultivate an inner resourcefulness and resilience.

Compared to how we have responded to mitigating climate change thus far, this crisis has intervened in our lives in previously unimagined ways. No one is exempt from this impact. There are two pieces of good news. First, for the first time in a very long time the earth is taking a breath of much cleaner air. And as local, regional, and federal governments respond, and as many of us do what we can to not spread the virus, a global protective shield or safety net is developing. Of course, we don’t know what this will mean in the long term for our global community, our economies, and our daily lives. What we do know is that as this global emergency continues, the new future will emerge from within it.

My work with rites of passages as a human systems change framework tells us a great deal about the in-between zone, when the old has abruptly ended and the future is in the process of being shaped. It is in this in-between time, this cycle of death and rebirth that is especially important to actively work with. Our work now is not to copy and paste the past onto the future but to take advantage of this in-between zone, this crisis, to create space for […]

Recovering an Indigenous View of the World: The Sundance

The Sundance Ceremony of the North American Great Plains People (which includes territories of the Cree people in Canada) is a prayer for life, the renewal of the world and thanksgiving. Dancers make spiritual and physical offerings to ensure the well-being of others.

In the previous post, I wrote about the possibility of recovering an indigenous view of the world and how building bridges of understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous people can help create shifts toward a more holistic, ecological, spiritual, resilient and life affirming approach.

In this post, The Sundance, I share my personal experiences participating in the ceremony. I describe shifts in my awareness, my felt sense, and the energetic movements I experienced. Several times, I apply what I have come to understand from my long-time exploration of ceremonial practices to my experience of the Sundance. I also share a few comments about the traditional meaning and purpose of the Sundance while trying to avoid details that I feel are not mine to share, especially as as a non-Cree and non-Native

I offer this post to give a sense of what it is like to encounter an indigenous view of the world by participating in an indigenous ceremony. Of course, what I am describing is filtered through my perspective and what might be a given or transparent to an indigenous person may simply not be visible to me. *I have also included a range of images in this post. Please check out my comments in the footer.


Those of us coming to the Sundance for the first time were treated to a welcoming video call with the Sundance Chief and his wife. We learned about the Sundance, how to prepare for our trip, and the basic protocol of what to do and not do so that […]





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