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Leadership: A bridge to the unfamiliar

The way in which we engage with the unfamiliar not only determines our freedom, but it also determines our team’s capacity to face new and unique challenges

5 min read



At the heart of modern Dimensional Leadership, a powerful multifaceted leadership model created by Karen and Henry Kimsey-House, rests our crucial relationships to the unfamiliar. I see this everyday in my role as an inclusion and accessibly consultant with CTI as well as in other I coach.

The way in which we engage with the unfamiliar not only determines our own freedom, a sense of self-efficacy, but it also determines our team’s capacity to find integration and cohesion in the face of new and unique challenges.

In my experience, there are three key factors in bridging a vibrant and mutually empowering relationship to the unfamiliar. They are: name it, embrace it, and invite others.

None of these can be done in isolation, and all are key components to fostering environments where each person can move fluidly, between various dimensions of leadership.

Name it

Naming it begins by leading from within. Leading from within call us to have the internal foundation and fortitude to understand who we are, our skills, our capacities, and those aspects inside of us with which we are still unfamiliar. With this internal foundation in place, we find the basis of courage to draw out and identify that which is unfamiliar externally as well.

In identifying those unfamiliar places, both internal and external, we build a deeper awareness of ourselves. We expand our range to see where and how we navigate in new situations and learn from our experiences. In a team situation, naming it empowers us to call out that which is not said and shine a spotlight on it in service of learning and growth. As our individual awareness grows, so does our team awareness.

Embrace it

Once the unfamiliar has been named, it becomes up to us as leaders to embrace it. In a culture where the unfamiliar has been ignored or even avoided, we may need to step forward and lead from the front to set the example so that others can also move away from their habitual response to the unknown.

Embracing the unfamiliar builds upon the power that comes from naming it, alongside the individual self-awareness that each team members brings to the group. When each person can articulate their self-awareness around an unfamiliar issue, they can collectively design stakes and agreements about how the team wants to be in relationship to the unfamiliar topic or issue. Often, we call this alignment.

Note that alignment does not necessarily entail agreement nor does it entail compromise. Alignment simply acknowledges each person’s perspective and provides a tool to focus that perspective in relation the unfamiliar. This offers team members an individual and collective lens through which they can all approach the topic. With clear stakes set for the team to align around, members often feel permission to express their creativity, leading to greater presence and engagement.

Invite others

Here is where the real magic occurs. In inviting others into unfamiliar spaces, we are acknowledging and calling forth our teammates’ greatness in tandem with our own to address the unknown and foster new ways of being that evoke insight and creativity. In Dimensional Leadership terms, inviting others is about leading from the side, as dynamic partners serving a common vision.

With the groundwork that through naming it and the safe environment established through embracing it with defined parameters, stakes and alignments, we are then at liberty to invite others into the space.

When this happens, and all members on a team join the newly created space, we are able to see and discern the moments where we are called to lead from the front, setting the course and setting the vision; when we must lead from behind, allowing the gifts and talents of others to shine more brilliantly; and those moments where we lead from beside in perfect integration and harmony with others.

When we have a solid grounding in our ability to lead from within and we courageously take the steps to name it, embrace it, and invite others into the space, we are crafting a new and more profound relationship to ourselves, our teammates and to our relationship with the unfamiliar.

In shining a light into these places, it is not long before we discover that what we once saw as unfamiliar has now found room for acceptance and expression, becoming an integrated aspect of our lives and work.

Barton Cutter is a leadership coach, disability inclusion expert, and accessibility consultant for The Coaches Training Institute. He combines his experience of living with cerebral palsy, uncompromising wit, and passion for co-active coaching and transformative leadership to support corporations and businesses in leveraging talent of all abilities through inclusive program design and coaching. 

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