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Holding Space – a powerful and essential wise leadership competence

For many years I have been a practitioner of ‘holding space’ for people. I love the powerful magic that emerges when together we can grant each other enough trust to support its emergence.

Holding space is a very powerful concept and practice that can be used to address issues like:

  • Pain of dying

  • Pain of death

  • Pain of not being heard

  • Pain of lack of respect

  • Pain of mutual distrust

  • Pain of failure

  • Fear of moving forward

  • Anything that causes pain and suffering and needs to be acknowledged and worked through before people can move forward.

It is also a very powerful practice for bringing forth:

  • Innovation

  • Strategy

  • Engagement

  • Alignment

  • Cross-functional collaboration

  • Power sharing

  • Balance

  • Shared intention/purpose

  • Vision/Meaning-making

  • Anything that we desire to emerge when people get together to make something happen or to understand, align, listen, heal, or build trust.

Heather Plett is an expert and thought leader in Holding Space and, as you know, I often reference her work. Here is her interpretation of Holding Space as an essential competency that a leader needs to foster.

“The ability to hold space. This may be the competency that is the most counter-cultural when compared to an authoritarian leadership model. An effective leader is willing and able to be present for others while they make the journey through liminal space. They don’t impose their own desired outcome and they don’t rush the process. They practice mindfulness and presence, while not backing away from complexity and confusion.” – Heather Plett

World class conductors hold space for everyone in the orchestra to play their very best music – together. They are not simply telling people what to play or when and how to play, that would be way too simplistic for the enormous complexity of truly world class music. They are holding space for magical music to emerge.

If you have ever had the privilege of going to a concert that moves you to the core of your being rather than just moving your ear drums and delighting your brain, you have experienced the difference.

Holding space is an outcome of one’s ability to see, hear, feel and value interconnectedness and is most certainly one of the competencies of a Wise Leader.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about and/or experience with holding space. Have you experienced it? Do you want to learn how to do it? Do you weep at the lack of it? Do you see how it is valuable in the world and at work? Do you want to know more about it?


Jennifer Kenny helps companies innovate better together with a focus on applied Human Centered Design Thinking for Innovation and Transformation. She runs programs to help companies distinguish and leverage the measurable benefits of women’s’ leadership. She is passionate about helping amazing people thrive in highly complex technical environments.

For more on her Innovating Better Together, How Women Innovate and Human Design Thinking programs please contact her at or

Learn more about the Language of Women’s Leadership in her upcoming book: STAND UP: Groundbreaking ways to speak your value as a women leader.

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