My friends, monks of a Benedictine monastery in the Highlands, Scotland, spend most of the time in silence. I mean, when not chanting to each other in church seven times a day.
Yet, that silence needs the space in order to be heard. A while ago, they designed a garden, a sort of a maze, so that they could walk in a direction without bumping into each other. One of them, a friend for many years, goes from time to time to live completely on his own, for a week, in one of the nearby cottages, as if in a detox regime. When I asked him moons ago about ‘that need’ he looked at me puzzled: ‘wasn’t it obvious?’ When he is away, he walks down the valley every day for the communal Mass and back. When coming in, the other monks avoid him (during that week) to respect the space he has created for himself.
“There is something special about creating space”
There is something special about creating space. For me, leadership is mainly architecture: create the conditions, find the spaces, protect them, make them liveable. Architects also have maps, and compasses. The leader needs to provide maps (frameworks, such as the non negotiable behaviours) and navigation tools (a value system). But, above all, it’s about space.
Providing spaces for people to breath, to growth, to deliver something, to get better, to think critically, to interact, to collaborate, to travel together. This is all about space. Space is the psychological sister of place. Space may be only, or mainly, mental. As such, it is a precious asset. No wonder the word space has been often associated to the word sacred. As in sacred spaces. To provide space, to create and protect spaces for others, is something a good leader does. It’s a great deal of his servant-ship.
But we, sometimes, are not very good at this. We take over other people’s spaces by insisting on discussing, wanting to ‘go deeper’, being intolerant with leaving things open, dictating our own terms and providing unreasonable borders to their spaces.
At a threshold point of two people living together in one place, they may come to inhabit one single space. It requires a lot of maturity to live in one single space with others. Occupying one single place, is the easier part, space is not. Indeed, that single space may end up being too much to ask. It may be better to have separate spaces to respect, often overlap. Psychotherapists have known for many years that a temporary split, or making tangential connections for a while, may be the solution to some problems. Unbundle the spaces that have become blurred, that is.
Spaces could be rich and beautiful, or could also be toxic. In a relationship of spaces, if one is toxic, the whole may become contaminated. Also, the more personal, protected space one has, the more one can give. This is ‘the border diet’ of my old TEDx talk – still relevant today!
Space is a good way to start a Leadership Development conversation. Much better than vision, charisma, determination or role modelling. The leader as architect is a much richer model. Architects of our own spaces, and providers and keepers of spaces for others.