What does “leadership space” mean, and why should you care? Well, in my three decades as a leader and 20+ years as an executive coach, I’ve seen that we’re always in a leadership space relative to others. How you show up in that space affects how your members collaborate, innovate, and thrive. So you should be aware of three distinct dimensions of this space – taking, holding, and shaping.

The power of being aware and conscious of something is to make choices. When you’re not conscious of options, you’re bound to the limits of auto-pilot, and your future will look much like your past. As a leader responsible for results and change, options are key. In this way, you can be intentional about which ‘space’ will be best for your team’s needs, the situation, and individual strengths.

As we dive into the three spaces, bear in mind that there isn’t a superior space. Rather, it’s your ability to consciously toggle between taking, holding, and shaping space that correlates to the engagement, satisfaction, and effectiveness of your team. And I reiterate for emphasis – the power of this knowledge lies in your ability to intentionally switch spaces in service to your team’s needs.

Taking Space

Intentions: You take space in order to assert control and authority over the team. In this mode you’re prioritizing your ideas, decisions, and opinions, often relegating others to follow your lead without much room for collaboration or input.

Look and Feel: When you take space, you step into the middle and dominate the meeting or conversation. You have something critical to share or something urgent to demand. This is especially on display when a team is in a time crunch either because of delays, or due to an imminent opportunity. You may also take space when you are with your peers and have a compelling need to express your thoughts or feelings. When you take space, team members can feel overwhelmed and stifled, and overshadowed. Too much taking space, and you discourage open discussions and innovation. So be intentional about taking space.

How To Take Space:

    • Clear Expectations and Boundaries: Set clear expectations and boundaries for your team. Clearly communicate the goals, objectives, and the scope of work. This provides a framework within which team members can operate while still allowing them the freedom to innovate and contribute creatively within those parameters.
    • Decisive Decision-Making: Make decisions decisively based on your expertise and the available information. When the team sees a leader making well-informed choices, it instills confidence and a sense of direction. And, leaders often have context their team does not have, so sometimes your decisions will not make sense even when you do your best to explain the reasoning behind your decisions. That’s why you may need to take space for a top-down approach.

Holding Space

Intentions: You hold space in order to create a supportive and open environment where team members can express themselves, share ideas, and collaborate freely. Your focus on active listening, empathy, and fostering a sense of psychological safety fosters a welcoming container for your people to pour themselves in to.

Look and Feel: When you hold space, you step to the side and put your arms around everyone (metaphorically). Team members feel valued and respected, and they experience a sense of belonging, knowing their opinions matter. The atmosphere is conducive to brainstorming, problem-solving, and creative thinking. This leadership space encourages collaboration, trust, and mutual support among team members.

How To Hold Space:

    • Active Listening Sessions: Organize regular one-on-one or group sessions where team members can openly express their thoughts and concerns, as well as suggestions and feelings. Lean in and listen actively without interrupting, and validate their feelings and perspectives to create a safe space for communication.
    • Feedback Culture: Establish a culture of constructive and continuous feedback. Then encourage team members to provide feedback to each other and to you as a leader. This reinforces the idea that team member’s input is valued and contributes to personal and team growth.

Shaping Space

Intentions: You shape space in order to guide and influence the team’s direction while allowing for flexibility and input. You provide a clear vision, and allow the team to set goals and channel their efforts toward achieving objectives. This approach involves a balance between offering guidance and enabling autonomy.

Look and Feel: When you shape space, you are up on the balcony, high above the fray of day-to-day action. From this perch, you provide team members a sense of purpose and direction. They understand the broader goals and their roles within the team. The environment is dynamic, encouraging creativity within the boundaries of the established vision. This leadership space cultivates a sense of ownership and accountability among team members.

How To Shape Space:

    • Craft a Compelling Vision: Clearly articulate a compelling vision that outlines the team’s purpose (why we show up to work), long-term goals (what we need to get done), and potential impact (how we’re making a difference). Make sure team members make a personal connection between their individual contributions and this larger vision.
    • Practice Equifinality: Provide clear direction, and be flexible within the established boundaries. Allow team members the freedom to experiment, try new approaches, adapt to changing circumstances, and figure out for themselves how to reach the outcomes you’ve set. Empower them to make decisions within their areas of responsibility, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.

In a nutshell then:

  • Taking Space: an ‘alpha’ attitude that command attention.
  • Holding Space: a welcoming presence that fosters belonging.
  • Shaping Space: a purpose-driven approach that generates autonomy.

In the interplay between taking, holding, and shaping space you weave a leadership presence that includes control along with trust and vulnerability, and visionary purpose. Taken together, these ‘leadership spaces’ enable you to craft an environment that inspires, renews, and elevates your teams. As leaders, we are not just navigators but also architects of the spaces that define our teams’ journeys, and it is in the intentional balance of these spaces that we discover the true essence of effective and conscious leadership.