A Small Town Grocery Store Renewal Thanks to AoH Patterns and Practices

It is always a pleasure to share Art of Hosting success stories. This comes from Angie Benz who attended an AoH training in Bismarck, North Dakota in November 2014. The AoH training was supported by the North Dakota League of Cities and the Bush Foundation, co-hosted by Jerry Nagel and me.

Angie Benz

Angie Benz

She writes:

I wanted to share a success story.  After taking your AoH class in Bismarck I was so moved and excited.  I knew these were principles that I wanted to implement, I just didn’t know where or how.

Fast forward to last week.  I am a director for our local grocery store board and we have been struggling to say the least!  Our sales were 15% down from 2013.  Our manager, understandably, was a bit disgruntled.  The board members, myself included, had checked out.  And the worst part…this was all being seen by the community.

Then I remembered the principles taught at AoH!  We started out slowly……and grew into something bigger…….and I am hoping that we keep growing!

We started by sending out a survey asking two very important questions:

  1. Is the store important to YOU to have in YOUR community?
  2. Is it important enough to YOU that YOU are willing to pay a little higher price for groceries?

The responses were a resounding YES to both and we knew we had work to do.  We restructured our management team, creating a co-manager position with two people that will do great things together.

Then we had a planning meeting.  Everyone was dreading it!  I sent out an email inviting the management team and the board directors.  I gave them some ideas of what would happen that day. Then, I shocked them all by asking them to bring something that represents their journey with the grocery store….and I left it at that.  (Enter the sound of silence from the group.)  It was so loud that I could “hear” it through email.

The day of the meeting we started out with Check In using a circle setting.  It was AMAZING!  There was emotion, meaning, and most importantly….understanding.  Understanding of all the frustrations we faced in 2014.  We were letting go of the past and moving towards the future with understanding of each other and our journey.

We then moved into a variation of Open Space.  There were only 6 of us, so we used it more as a brain storming session.  At the end of it, one of the board directors made the comment that they thought we would have about 3 ideas…..we ended up with about 50!

Then it was time for us to get a little more specific.  We came up with action plans and timelines for the top 5 ideas/topics.  We will meet monthly to analyze and assess the top 5 and beyond.

To end the day, we did Check Out in a circle setting.  Again, there was emotion, meaning, and understanding.  There was also a sense of team….something that had been missing in the last year.  I said it before and I will say it again….it was AMAZING!

When everyone came and saw the circle they were a little put off and thought I was nuts.  I just asked them to hang in there with me.  They did and the results were incredible!  We left the meeting feeling more like a team than we have in a very long time.

I want to thank you for showing me that there is a way that a group of people with different worldviews can come together and be a cohesive unit!  You very well may have given me the tools to keep our small town grocery store alive!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Purpose Statement for the Bismarck AoH training, November 2014

 

The New Year: A Time of Renewal

relax renew refreshDecember 31. 2014. The sun sets on another calendar year. For so many, a time of making resolutions for a new year. Reflecting on this practice raises an awareness of the arbitrariness of a calendar date in making resolutions. It is not a solstice time. It is not necessarily a full moon or a new moon although in different years it may be. It is not a natural time of beginnings like spring, or like the fall has become for so many.  Yet it is a time of reflection and a time of renewal.

For me, it has the added significance of New Year’s Day also being my birthday. Beginning a new year. Beginning a new birth year. I long ago stopped making resolutions that take the form of promises to myself about life changes I think I should make or goals that I should strive for that often become broken promises or unreached goals. It has softened into reflection, intention setting and renewal.

Some lovely reflection questions:

  • How have I grown in the last year?
  • What places of beauty have I walked?
  • Who has impacted me and in what ways?
  • What and who have I cherished and made time for in my journey of the last year?
  • Who has cherished me? How did I respond in return?
  • In what ways have I honoured my knowing?
  • In what ways have I honoured the practicality of work and life too?
  • What has flowed to me over the last year in large and small ways? What do I want to fuel and seed in the coming weeks and months?
  • How have I honoured my path? How has my path honoured me?

Of course, there are things that have not flowed so well and maybe choices that didn’t work out so well. But these are not things  to focus on or fuel for what is ahead. If there are things to learn from them, by all means, let’s be in the learning. Absorb it. Let it go.

Intention setting. There are a number of ways to approach intention setting.

There are already many flows of life happening and available to each of us. What if intention setting began by sensing into those flows? Feel what works. Not need to name it even while being in the experience of it. What are the flows that want to be amplified? How do we turn our intention to that?

What BIG things are in movement or on the horizon that are worth setting intention for – aspects of work like big projects, new directions, partnerships, offerings; aspects of life like relationships, travel, living. Not just living. Living large, fully, powerfully, intentionally. Which doesn’t have to be flashy or braggy or materialistically but purposefully and meaningfully. Making it count. Your actions, your life, your voice, your word.

Leaving space for all the things we cannot know or anticipate but will recognize when they show up when they are aligned with the intention we set and are fuelling. Who do you want to set intention with – life partners, work partners, friends, colleagues? Nothing that feels forced, and it won’t if it is aligned with what is sensed in the flow of life and journey.

Renewal. Renewal of self. How will I renew myself now? My energy. My spirit. My joie d’vive? Renewal of relationship. What relationships do I want to renew now and continue to renew with intentionality? This does not just apply to the lapsed relationships we all have, but applies to the ones we are in and have now that we do not want to take for granted and that we want to bring the fullness of who we are to, to invite the other to show up in the fullness of who they are.

Reflection, intention setting and renewal. Not just a once a year practice, but a frequent practice. And, with the ending of one calendar year and the beginning of the next, a lovely time for renewal.

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What is it to be Worldview Aware?

Individuals, organizations and communities all have worldviews. They operate at least 80% unconsciously and impact how individuals, organizations and communities see and interact with the world, events, situations and other people or organizations. Worldviews influence relationships, communication, tension or conflict, decision-making and workplace cultures.

Worldview frame

To be Worldview Aware is to feel, experience or notice that worldview(s) exist, individually, organizationally, in community and across stakeholder groups. It is knowing and understanding more about what is happening in the world, locally, regionally and globally, by being or becoming aware of worldviews – first your own and then, with curiosity and compassion, someone else’s.

An individual,  organization and/or community that is worldview aware offers greater leadership potential and creativity that arises from the interaction of multiple worldviews, leading more often to innovative ideas or solutions and more diverse, welcoming, inclusive (work) places, more creative problem solving, planning and strategy development.

With some of our most entrenched issues and challenges in today’s world and the growing visibility of some of these issues growing (racism, discrimination, sexism, police violence as a few examples), Worldview Intelligence™ and becoming Worldview Aware may help us discover together pathways that do not currently exist. Letting go of what we know to discover what wants and needs to happen.

You can follow the conversation at our Linked In group and or our Facebook group.

Authenticity and Alignment at Work – Talking It Up With Karen Kelloway

Authentic connection. We crave it. We miss it. We want to bring it. We don’t always know how and we don’t always understand our own role in bringing it, no matter where we are or what our areas of responsibility at work might be.

This is an inquiry that my good friend and colleague Karen Kelloway and I have been in for some months now. Our inquiry led to a lovely audio podcast conversation on Authenticity and Alignment at work.

Karen is a powerful executive coach. She has written a book called Nail-It which provides a fantastic framework for anyone looking at bringing more intentionality to their career (and life) choices. She and I are cooking up a few collaborative ventures. We can’t wait to see the various forms of it that will emerge in 2015.

Karen Kelloway

Karen Kelloway

In the meantime, take a listen. In 20 minutes we cover

  • How to be ‘you’ at work
  • Why ‘compartmentalizing’ doesn’t work
  • How to gain a worldview awareness

A bit of information from Karen: “This is my very first (audio) podcast:) It’s in a secure area of my website so you have to sign in to listen (which means you are then on my list to receive monthly ‘career alignment’ updates). If you do listen in, you can of course Unsubscribe from my list at a later date.”

You can access the conversation here. It is worth signing up to Karen’s list as there is lots of value there. And, you can just listen in and then unsubscribe right away if you wish.

Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Driving from the countryside of Stakke Lake in Minnesota, through the little towns and forested roads on the three hour drive to Grand Rapids, it is easy for me to forget that I am not in Canada, but driving through the US countryside, with my partner and co-hosting colleague Jerry Nagel, on our way to a rural community that is breaking its way out of any stereotypes we might conjure up about rural communities – in Canada or the US. What is happening there could happen anywhere. It inspires hope at a time when hope, especially for our rural communities, is deeply needed in the world.

Grand Rapids welcome sign

What’s Been Happening

In 2013, the Blandin Foundation funded a grant to the Meadowlark Institute to bring the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter to the Itasca County area. Not a one-off training but, thanks to the vision of friend, AoH Practitioner and Global Steward, Bernadine Jocelyn, and her colleagues at the Blandin Foundation, a series of trainings intended to offer residents of Itasca County the opportunity to acquire and use skills of 21st Century Leadership to work with every day life and address some of the most pressing challenges in their communities. The Blandin Foundation was founded by Charles Blandin in 1941 to aid and promote Grand Rapids (population around 10,000) and the surrounding area (total population around 40,000) in such a way that it could be responsive to changing times, a beautiful alignment with the adaptive capacity of AoH offerings.

What’s happening there, with organic emergence and almost astonishing interconnectedness, is a thing of beauty. Four Art of Hosting trainings (130 people altogether so far) since November 2013 with two more in the works; two Community Cafés (with almost 100 participants altogether) convened by a planning team that sparked from an Open Space conversation in the first AoH, called by Sandy Layman, a well known community leader. She asked the question “How can we become a community that hosts its own conversations?” That question is gaining momentum as it continues to spark the curiosity and inspiration of the county.

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The first Community Café brought together participants from the first two AoH cohorts and was held one evening during the second training. The second Community Café was inserted into the middle of the fourth training, in an afternoon, and brought together participants from all four trainings and others who wanted to join in.

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The Stories That Bring the Data Alive

All of that feels like data. It is the stories that bring the data alive, that show the nuances and interweave of connections; the stories of who is showing up in the same spaces together; the stories of willingness to dive into challenging conversations to address both long held and emerging issues; the stories of risk and courage as people bring AoH patterns and practices into likely and unlikely work settings.

Truly a fractal of the community is coming together – people who might not otherwise find themselves in the same room or the same conversations. The county administrator. Educators. A senior leader in Corrections. Senior leaders of non-profits. Advocates for mental health. Consumers of mental health services. People who have been homeless, some still in transition. People with very diverse political views. Local radio station representatives. Artists. Business people. Blandin Foundation staff. More. All on equal footing with equal voice. All responding to questions centered on “What is the future we want to live into and what can we begin now?”

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The stories that are emerging from the people who have been through the training bring the impact alive and are heart opening. Our friend in Corrections, who was in the February cohort, shared with us that he only recently had the opportunity to offer a check in at the beginning of a meeting. He said it changed everything about the meeting. When we asked him how, he said, “People were very emotional.” When we asked him what his check in question was, he said, “How we are doing?” Simply, how are we doing? An invitation to a moment of humanity, an invitation to show up fully. They will now start every meeting with a check-in question. A small, but powerful, shift in practice.

The County Administrator shared that there is a discussion happening at the County offices about mental health funding, the number of agencies that provide services and the need for greater interagency communication. Someone at the county offices, who has only heard about AoH but not been to a training, said that what is needed for that conversation is art of hosting.

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In Bigfork, another Itasca County community, community leaders have used World Café to host a conversation about an ongoing contentious issue, bringing new insight and perspective to the issue, establishing a foundation from which to move forward.

The region is facing some growing, possibly divisive issues; particularly around resource extraction (economy) and the environment; issues that are growing more complex all the time. Experience with the patterns and practices of the Art of Hosting is helping people see the possibility of different conversations; conversations that invite a multiplicity of worldviews, give voice to all the perspectives beyond the vocal few, invite people who live, work and play in the region to imagine more of the future they all want to live into, to continue to forge new ways forward on small and large matters. There is a growing buzz in the community and a sense of urgency combined with curiosity and even hopefulness.

The Community Conversations planning team grows with each successive training. The team is now getting ready to call and convene a county wide “Grand Gathering” on November 22, 2014 using Open Space Technology – the first community meeting of its kind in the area. This demonstrates the increasing reach of a commitment that began with that Open Space conversation during the first Art of Hosting training nearly a year ago, building on an idea inspired by the Great Gathering in Fredericton, NB; which demonstrates the interweaving of stories across borders and geographic distances. (And, incidentally, we have discovered there is a history of relationship between New Brunswick and Itasca County thanks to the pulp and paper industry.)

KAXE, a local radio station, present at the Community Café and on the planning team, will be doing a series of radio spots leading up to the Grand Gathering, which is being hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The team is in full volunteer recruitment and planning mode and the community is being invited to create an agenda of conversations and possible action steps that are meaningful and relevant to them. Some of the potential conversation themes have been popping up already in the Community Cafés and the AoH trainings. They include an emphasis on youth (brain gain), on revitalizing communities, co-ordinating resources and connecting diverse voices.

IMG_0824One of the many compelling themes that is emerging is around evoking stories and extending invitations. Care enough to ask for the story; bring everyone to the table to identify struggles and be open to hearing the unheard. Notice who is not there who should be and extend an invitation. Be a neighbour, bring a neighbour

It is the tip of the iceberg. The work has only just begun. This community is carving out pathways that can be an inspiration to other communities searching for new ways to imagine and live into the future. What can we begin now?

Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Challenge of Leadership in the 21st Century: What’s Needed Now?

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. The previous blog post explored the question of what guidelines or, in their words, rules, would I share with leaders today. Another of their questions was: Why does the area of leadership fascinate you? Why indeed?

Leadership and leadership development has had my attention for as long as I can remember. It currently has my attention because the way I was trained, or more accurately indoctrinated, into leadership (as is the case with many of the leaders I meet and work with, even younger leaders) is much different than the leadership skills needed to navigate the complexity of today’s world.

I came into leadership positions at a young age; at a time when leaders were believed to have the answers, were expected to solve problems and fix situations that popped up. This was a time when letters were written on stationary and mailed, when fax machines (which are now almost obsolete) were just new and the idea that everyone would have a computer (much less mobile devices that process as much and more than computers) was a farfetched notion. A very different world, a very different worldview.

The world has grown far more complex, social media has a strong influence and our environments and situations are demanding greater collaboration and collaborative decision making because no one person has the solution.  We need to unlearn and relearn our habitual leadership skills and strategies to be responsive and still make decisions and take actions that move initiatives forward.  We can only unlearn what is habitual by becoming aware of what is right in front of us that we cannot see, because so much of our worldview – as much as 80% – is unconscious.  This is why Jerry Nagel and I are in the exploration of the transformative power of worldview awareness.

This is a balancing act, working with dynamic tensions of collaboration and collaborative leadership – also something we are learning our way into.  Many leaders are uncertain about how to navigate this 21st Century world with skill and ease, how to draw out the collective intelligence or wisdom needed to find our way forward. In partnership with amazing colleagues, I have been using patterns and practices that help leaders make sense of the world, invite our own ‘not knowing’ while engaging the wisdom and collective intelligence of people most impacted by or having the most influence over the particular issues or challenges at hand.

These are the solutions that have staying power.  This is what this new series of programs at Saint Mary’s – but also offerings in other venues in other cities – offers: insights into navigating the 21st Century, particularly as leaders of any age feel a responsibility for the significant challenges of our times.

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Six Simple Guidelines for 21st Century Leaders

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. One of their questions was: what are the simplest rules you offer to the leaders you interact and work with. I have a hard time thinking of it in terms of rules, but six simple clear guidelines emerged pretty readily:

  1. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Simple, but we are not always aware of where and when our words and actions are out of alignment. In the perspective of Worldview Awareness, this is the idea of Taking Whole or interconnectedness. In this situation, our words are interconnected (or not) with our actions. Coaching, mentoring, peer support or simply the willingness to receive reflections from others provides helpful guidance and reflections for you to learn what is out of alignment and sense into how to bring it back into alignment. But if you don’t want to know the answer, even if you ask the question, people will know it and tell you what you want to hear rather than what helps you most.
  1. Learn to listen.  Fully, completely, without judgment and without filling in the blanks  as the other person begins.  Too often we think we already know what the other person is going to say or where they are headed.  Often, we are wrong and have shut down the opportunity to find out what the other person wanted to share with us and that opportunity may never come around again. When we do not fully listen, the other person will also tune out or become frustrated and we are left with little of value, cross communication and unresolved issues. When we fully tune into another person or a group, the space is enriched, truth shows up, generative space is created, people are heard, validated and seen. A couple of favourite expressions about listening: “When we change the quality of the listening, we change the quality of the conversation.” “When we truly listen, we can listen another person into being.” It goes a long way toward creating new levels of consciousness in a team, organization or initiative.
  1. Ask good questions.  All the time. Ask more questions than the number of answers you give. A good question evokes thoughtful responses, helps you understand the situation more fully and helps others you are with find their own way. There is a craft and an art to framing questions. A simple way to begin is to imagine the responses that a question will evoke: yes/no responses, short answers or thoughtful responses that will have the person reflecting on their own rather than waiting for you to give them the answer. Also, imagine how you are asking the questions, the energy that makes it an inquiry and not an inquisition. Learning to craft good questions takes practice, and it is a practice well worth developing.
  1. Bring genuine curiosity and compassion to every conversation. Curiosity and judgment cannot exist in the same space. Defensiveness doesn’t sit very well in a curious space either. Neither does dismissiveness. When you notice yourself in a place of judging someone else or yourself, you find yourself defensive or dismissive, make a mental note to switch to curiousity. And then do it. Become curious about the other person, the situation or your own responses. And invite yourself into compassion too – for yourself as well as the other person. It creates a space for people to show up in the fullness of their humanity, a generative space where ideas and opportunities flow. It creates an environment “safe enough” for people to risk sharing ideas and sharing passion for what they care about.

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  1. Humility is an asset, more than that, a way of being. You don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. Especially not in today’s complex world. And oftentimes, leaders are removed from the points of intersection between the organization, its customers, stakeholders or the problems or issues that emerge. Twenty-first century leadership asks us to draw on the wisdom, knowledge and experience – the collective intelligence of a team, group or organization to solve problems, take risks and try new things. Finding the place of humility within you will enable you to listen more fully and access the brilliance in others in the most remarkable of ways.
  1. Set a few simple guidelines and get out of the way.  The more you try to control a situation, the more you shut down the potential for better things to happen, the more you send the message to other people you do not trust them to offer good solutions or strategies or to get the job done. Then the less they will demonstrate their own leadership, autonomy and sense of responsibility.  Trust yourself, trust your people and trust the power of the guidelines you set – preferably determined with the people most able to get results, closest to the situation.  Let people do what they are capable of and support them in the process.

The 21st Century is calling us as leaders  to build connectedness in a world of highly divergent cultures, experiences and perspectives, to learn and work together more effectively. Often, less is more.