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.

IMG_0463

The Human Dynamics of Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas

The belief that there is a straight line between a problem and its solution is flawed and it is so often what gets us into trouble in seeking solutions to problems our organization, community or team face or decisions that need to be made.  It is what causes us angst when we think decision making discussions should be straightforward instead of the nuanced or circular discussions they often turn out to be, driven by agendas and dynamics that are not clear or made visible for the whole group – part of the shadow of a group dynamic.

Plan-reality

Increasing complexity in fast paced worlds often leaves us wanting for good decision making processes – especially when we are pressed for immediate action and results.  Key decisions taken by one individual – even one expected to make a decision – often fall short because one person does not always have the full picture or meets resistance by people who feel imposed upon. Collective decision making often misses the mark if dissension, debate or strong personalities dominate the process which often means some people just give up and the loudest voices dominate so the collective wisdom in the group is not given voice.

Problem solving and decision making is a task – a task carried out by humans and subject to human dynamics – just like every other endeavour we undertake. Understanding human dynamics goes a long way toward navigating decision making dilemmas unlike those magic bullet decision making algorithms which, surprisingly, don’t seem to exist.

All of these queries resulted in Shape Shift Strategies putting together a one day offering on Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas using a few simple Practices and Patterns from The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter to better understand human dynamics and what it takes to cultivate the creativity and emergence that leads to effective decision making – one day of in-depth discussion and exploration that leaves participants from a variety of backgrounds with wide array of decision making dilemmas in a reflective thoughtful space around what they need to shift in their meeting process or dynamics to generate more of the results they are seeking.

With the increasing prominence of participatory and collaborative leadership ideologies and practices, there is a growing tension around decision making processes because of a misunderstanding that all decisions need to be made collectively.  When this slows decision making progress to a halt, there is a frustration and impatience that often causes those “in charge” to then circumvent the decision making conversations and make the decision unilaterally, effectively shutting down the desire for a team or community to engage in discussions that are not honoured.

It is folly to imagine that all decisions can or should be made collectively. What are the decisions that would most benefit from all voices? And then, who will make the ultimate decision – the group or the leader or some other individual – and is this clear at the outset of the conversation to everyone involved in the conversation? Is the conversation for clearly identified for input or decision making? Many teams and organizations run into problems because they have no agreed upon decision making process that they use consistently.

Do you know what the key decisions are that when you make them collectively you gain the greatest engagement and commitment of your team, organization or community? Is it clear when individuals – either leaders, managers, bosses or individuals responsible for their own work area or focus – are responsible for making their own decisions? Are they supported in decision making – no matter where they stand in the organizational or team hierarchy? For those decisions that will most benefit from the collective wisdom of the group, are the conditions for creating generative spaces understood?

04 - Day One Fredericton Jan 2013

In creating generative space some things to consider are how to invite and welcome multiple world views in the conversation, the use and understanding of simple but powerful patterns like the divergence-emergence-convergence framework for understanding basic human behaviour in decision making processes and polarity management for discerning whether you are dealing with a decision to be made or a polarity to be managed – meaning there is an upside and a downside to polar opposites (like collective decision making or individual decision making).  Being aware of up and down sides invites greater intentionality into the decision making processes and resulting actions.

Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001

While the path for those decisions that most benefit from the collective wisdom is not always – or usually – a straight line path, generative conversations mean that we take all the ideas that come out in the divergent phase of the process – ideas individuals have brought in with them and put them in the soup of murkiness that shows up in the groan zone. When we can use ideas to spark new ideas, and build on existing ideas to generate new thinking, this is when innovative ideas begin to spark, ideas no one brought in with them that can take our decisions to a whole new level while also increasing the coherence of a team, group or organization.  It can be win-win-win all around but it takes patience, discernment and requires the leadership skills necessary to navigate that place between chaos and order. What new ways of thinking and being are needed now for you and your organization to navigate your decision making dilemmas?

The Chaordic Path: The Dynamic Inter-relationship between Chaos and Order

One of the fundamental patterns used in Art of Hosting offerings – which for many of us includes our consulting practices or as practitioners in-house work environments – is the Chaordic Field or Chaordic Path. Like many of the patterns offered in AoH it is a helpful way to understand what is happening in the world, in our communities and organizations and within each of us individually. It gives us a lens through which to understand the increasing complexity in our environments and a pattern to work with to evoke collective learning and the real-time innovation necessary in a world and in times that are neither predictable nor stable and call for more flexibility as “more of the same” solutions are not addressing the challenges.

Originating with the work of Dee Hock in the development and evolution of Visa to an international network of financial institutions offering “one” credit card, Hock identified the patterns and forces of chaos, order and control that were at play in an animated process that came to the brink of failure at many points along the way.  It was clearly experienced that the greatest breakthroughs and emergent ideas came at the intersection of chaos and order, in a system that was more commonly situated in the realm of control.

Chaordic Path

Just when things seem the craziest is often when new ideas spark, bridges are built, aha’s become apparent and a way out of chaos naturally appears.  These patterns are evident in living systems, where a natural order exists, life cycles are vibrant and the greatest innovations happen at the edges.  While not static, living systems can be stable – or be in order – for long periods of time until disruption comes in some form of chaos – destructive weather patterns or fires – destabilizing the system for a time before new order emerges.

While the chaordic path is the story of our natural world – form arising out of nonlinear, complex, diverse systems – it can also be the story of how our teams, organizations and communities pay attention to human dynamics and function.   In our organizational systems, there is a tendency to want to meet chaos with control, to try to fix the situation or provide a ready made solution.  Many of us as leaders and managers have been educated, trained and promoted to do just this. But increasing complexity means control, particularly as it relates to the human dynamics of a situation, does not often enough lead to a resolution of the problem and may, in fact, exacerbate the situation. Solutions and ways forward are more likely to arise out of accessing the collective intelligence and collective wisdom of everyone, which can, at times, be a “messy” process until new insight and clarity emerges.

When facing new challenges that cannot be met with the same way we are currently working – cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them – new ways of leading and operating need to be learned and utilized to shift the shape of our experience with intentionality. It is during these times of uncertainty and increased complexity, where results cannot be predicted, that wise leaders invite others to share their collective and diverse knowledge to discover new purpose and strategy and decide a way forward.

It is in the phase of not knowing, before we reach new clarity, that the temptation to rush for certainty or grab for control is strongest. We are all called to walk this path with open minds and some confidence if we want to reach something wholly new.

“At the edge of chaos” is where life innovates — where things are not hard wired, but are flexible enough for new connections and solutions to occur.  To lead teams, organizations and communities on the chaordic path, leaders need “chaordic confidence,” to have the courage to stay in the dance of order and chaos long enough to support generative emergence that allows new, collective intelligence and wiser action to occur.

This can be a beautifully dynamic process.  To be in it with awareness and intentionality also means to take care of value judgments or beliefs often brought that one of these modes of being or operating – chaos, order or control – is  better or more valuable than the others. There is a place, a role and a time for each. A subsequent post will explore the upside and downside of each, recognizing that a flow and dynamic movement between each of these modes of being may be the leadership discernment needed for long term success.

Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas

The increasing complexity of our environments – at work, in community and at home, time crunches and decision making pressures often leave us wanting for good decision making processes – especially when pressed for immediate action and results.  Key decisions taken by one individual – even one expected to make a decision – often fall short because one person does not always have the full picture or the decision meets resistance because people impacted were not involved in the decision making process. Collective decision making often misses the mark if dissension, debate or strong personalities dominate the process (meaning some people just give up or give in) and when it seems to take too much time we hit the panic button and believe any decision will do.  Yet how often are decisions revisited because not enough time was invested in the exploration of options or in creating the generative conditions for conversations that lead to eliciting the collective wisdom and intelligence inherent in any group? Or because leadership under the pressure of chaos or uncertainty turned into the heavier hand of trying to manage the situation?

There are some simple patterns and practices available through the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter that offer us windows into understanding the human dynamics alive in any group and particularly groups or teams seeking direction or guidance through decision making.

In May 2014, Shape Shift Strategies will be offering a one day workshop in Moncton (May 8) and in Charlottetown (May 15) to explore effective decision making practices.  The emphasis will be on the human dynamic conditions that lead more often to generative conversations and wiser decision making.  We will dive more deeply into the practical application of worldview, powerful questions and divergence/convergence in ways that support collective decision making in teams, organizations, communities and maybe even families.

WorldView hand drawn

Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001

Information and registration details for both Moncton and Charlottetown are available through Eventbrite. Join us if you can.  Ask how you can bring this one day workshop to your team or organization.

Hosting From A Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle

The subtle and the physical.  Both are all around us all the time.  The eyes see the physical and we perceive it as “real”, tangible.  It often takes more than the eyes to “see” or sense the subtle.  Since we have learned to rely on our eyes, we have lost much of our conscious connection to the subtle. Yet, it is all around and within us even as many of us are oblivious to it.  It is a natural extension of the physical phenomena or/and the physical is a natural extension of the subtle.  Yet we complicate our understanding of the subtle, ignore it, believe it inaccessible or non-existant.  Or, believe that if it does exist, only a few really gifted people can access it.

Speaking for myself, up until a few years ago, I didn’t believe those gifted people included me. Now I know we all have this “gift”.  It is a sense many of us are re-learning, remembering how to tune into.

This understanding was one of the things at the heart of the call for Hosting From a Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle, co-hosted by Narjara Thamiz, Gustavo Prudente, Jerry Nagel and me. Our time together was guided with the purpose of “joining together in a learning field to deepen  individual and collective capacity to host complexity.”  Implicit in that purpose statement is the notion that in order to host complexity well, we need to tune into, discern and understand the subtle, the energetics, the deeper patterns that are also at play.  Tapping into this in an intentional way has the potential to shift the nature of the work we are in and the results we achieve.

Openly talking about the subtle has challenged many of us in the work we do.  Too many times we have bumped up against hearing that this way of working is “woo-woo“. “Don’t want any of that “woo-woo” stuff here, we need practical results.”  Yet, when work is in flow, when it is emergent and generative, people understand that something different happened, that something impactful, useful and powerful has influenced the results, the actions flowing out of the work.  We have been trying to find ways to describe it, words and phrases that are understood and accepted in the world of business, government, non-profit.  Yet truly hosting from this deeper place is beyond words, beyond knowing and beyond not knowing.  This is the exploration that called us.  What does it means to access this place with intentionality, a place of presence.

The first time I explicitly remember hosting from a deeper place was with Jerry Nagel the first time we hosted together in Nova Scotia in 2011.  We looked beneath individual behaviours that were sparking to discover the patterns underneath, working with the subtle field.  Tapping into the deeper patterns elicited design ideas that produced a complete shift in energy, in relationship and conversation within the group.  We happened upon this through inquiry and, when we noticed the palpable shift in the space, became curious about what we had tapped into.

In my last post, I wrote about our design process, about being in the not knowing and riding the waves of emergence that kept surfacing during our time together at Hosting From a Deeper Place in Brazil.  It was all part of working with the subtle and working with the subtle went much deeper than that.

Some of the people who came, came because of an intense curiosity about the subtle, including people who have had near death experiences, experiences with shifts in consciousness, with tapping into different dimensions.  They arrived with curiosity about what we meant by the subtle, invisible forces, that which is before the naming.  Their experiences, our experiences, as diverse as the number of people who came.

The subtle field showed up, in subtle and not so subtle ways.  The beautiful property of Espaço Arco-Íris was designed for this kind of work and hosts groups in this kind of energetic field.

Despite interest from many parts of the world, the people who responded live in North and South America.  In our opening circle, Narjara remembered a dream she had in the early days of our conversation about this gathering.  She had dreamt of a condor, not knowing what it was, discovering the Hopi prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, a meeting of cultures and energies, a shift from leadership from the mind (North America) to leadership from the heart (South America).

The hosting team designed for the first day and a half.  The third day was co-created with participants.  The fourth day was open space.  We were holding the mystical and practical in our field and this too showed up in the open space.  A session on tarot cards was offered for messages related to our gathering and other events in Brazil at the moment.  Jerry offered the flow game, a mystical tool itself applied to deep and often practical questions people bring as they host themselves.

I offered a question about spirit guides, guardian angels and power animals, what do they have to do with our work?  As I write this I notice my own tension between wanting to share this story and my uncertainty about how it will be perceived by people who read it, who were not there, wanting to honour the integrity of each of us who were part of this overall experience of Hosting From a Deeper Place, not all of whom were part of the session I called.

Taking a deep breath, I am continuing to share, inviting those who continue to read to bring your curiosity and open heartedness to what you read.

My open space session turned into two as someone in the circle shared that one of the participants channels a guardian and would we welcome the guardian into our circle with any messages meant for us?

the circle in the woods

Anita Gomes joined our circle, noticing that the guardian she channels was indicating she wanted to share with our circle.  The guardian’s name is Vó Antônia or Grandma Antônia. She is a “Preta Velha”, from Umbanda, a Brazilian religion that blends African religions with Catholicism, Spiritism, and considerable indigenous lore.

Vó Antônia is an old black woman with completely different characteristics and mannerisms than Anita.  She also has a lovely manner and a beautiful sense of humour.  Those in our now expanded circle had both personal questions and broader questions for her.

There were key messages that resonated for me.  Vó Antônia shared with us there is no need to doubt the existence of the subtle.  It is as real as the physical.  There are entities, beings, guides that support each and every one of us, whether we are aware of them or not. We are on the same team, we just live in different houses.  When asked if we should be looking for signs she told us it is long past the time when we need to look for signs.  No books falling off of shelves, windows being rattled, doors opening mysteriously, smoke signals being sent.  It is far simpler than we make it out to be.

We rely on our eyes too much. They give us false information. We look for physical beauty.  We look for ways to show how special we are, how gifted we are.  Seeing through the heart allows us to see through many false pretences.   Seeing in this way we will be in our knowing.  We will be able to trust our knowing, trust ourselves.

It is not too late to save the planet.  We are already working in service of the planet.  We do not need to be afraid.  As above, so below.  As within, so without.  As in the physical, so in the subtle.

Our gathering might seem small but its impact is significant.  When we leave, we simply need to keep doing what we are doing, seeing from the heart, knowing all is intertwined.  Walking the paths that call us, living purposefully, meaningfully, intentionally.  We are weaving the web of the past and the future together for the present moment.

For me, I came home from this experience in Brazil in the space of expansiveness, remembering from time to time to take a breath and sense beyond my physical form to where the boundaries blur and my consciousness swims, intermingled with other essences of and from the subtle.  To remember that it is not two separate things – the physical and the subtle – it is all part of the same essence, each in its own way.  To remember that my spiritual journey, my life journey, my career path are not separate things that I need to think about how to combine, work and the sacred are all essences of the same thing.

It was and is, of course, different for every one who was there.  The group is still alive and sparking in beautiful, interconnected ways of story sharing.  Many are sharing how they are hosting from a deeper place and what that means to them.  Most of us are still in the discovery of what it means, how it is showing up, how the subtle and the practical are dancing together in powerful, beautiful, noticeable ways.

We are curious to see what more the story is becoming, what more we are each becoming, individually and collectively.

And, while we were told we didn’t need to look for signs, the pictures taken on our last day in our opening circle outside showing orbs of light in the sky and around each person in the circle no matter where we were standing seems a pretty good reflection of the energy field expanded by our time together in exploration of the practical and the subtle.  Tricks of light or just light?  Simple, really.  Beauty and grace.  Expansiveness from the heart.

orb of light in the treesorbs of light

Art of Hosting – Universal or Not?

When people ask me if I do “this” for a living, the answer is, of course, yes. But they don’t really know what they are asking.  They are asking about what they are witnessing or experiencing in this given moment – a specific Art of Hosting training, a planning process, a team building session, a leadership development training, a community engagement process, a World Café or any other range of possibilities and possible places I might be invited to host or show up in.  And this is not just true for me.  It is true for many of my good friends and colleagues who are in this work.

It is a matter of what you see is what you get and what you get is far more than what you see. Going away from any of these singular events thinking this is it, that you know what it is, that you know it, is an easy assumption to make – and it misses the point.  It often seems so simple, often seeming to flow easily and effortlessly, even in groups or situations where tension or conflict has been evident.

Yet, when people get the “behind the scenes” invitation through being on a hosting team or a design and delivery team for a training or for client consulting work, they will often say that is where the real learning starts.  They begin to see what we mean when we say that 80% of the work happens before we ever get in the room.  It is also why some of us believe in being as transparent as possible in our process.

These days, when I describe the Art of Hosting to people, I’ve been borrowing from Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute because I love the clarity and simplicity with which he speaks it.  As a set of patterns and practices to work with complexity, that invites non-judgment or curiosity and generosity of spirit, of listening.  It invites us to be present, to stay in the place before the knowing until clarity, and knowing from a different place and quality, emerges – all of us and especially the hosting team.  We believe that conversations matter and good conversation leads to wise action and different results.

I am in deep reflection about the universality of art of hosting patterns and practices and the trap we set for ourselves if we believe universality equals one map, one path, one way to do it.  Overlay the successful work of one organization or one training on everything as if that was THE way to do it.  There is no one way to do it, no one practice or pattern that responds to everything.

It is the variety of hosting situations I’ve been in recently that have me in this deep reflection.   In Palo Alto in August 2012 for the first Art of Hosting training in California.  High tech, consultants to high tech, social innovators and a few pastors in the room.  Wanting to do business better.  In the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis in September 2012 with a remarkedly culturally diverse group of people, many of whom are community activists. Wanting to live in community together better. In Nova Scotia, also in September, working with a brand new charity Nourish NS responding to the need for a new structure for the delivery of breakfast programs in schools, birthed a year ago and still in it using the chaordic stepping stones, birthed out of need, chaos, confusion and pain.  In Fredericton in October 2012, a little AoH taster to sense into the need, opportunity and timing in that province for a second Art of Hosting training there, responding to themes of social change and community engagement.

Very different situations.  The “art of hosting” “worked” in each one.  I use quotations to remind myself that even what I’m writing about is nebulous and that the words evoke certain images, assumptions and expectations as I use them and you read them.

In California, knowing that getting people in the room required us to think very strategically about what would attract them, working with the calling team to find language that bridged Art of Hosting and business; finding that language that invites is a common practice and part of the invitation process no matter where we go.  Working with the concerns of the calling team about whether this group would sit still long enough to experience a deep circle, to dive into a three day process and stay present.  Yes, they wanted to get to action.  And they wanted to meet each other human to human, wondering how to do that in a world that does not always invite the human to human exchange.

In the Phillips Community, when we asked the people who came where they are from, beyond where they live, you could feel the ripples out into the world and then even more ripples when we asked them where their ancestors are from, circling the globe. Coming together to address tensions and violence in the community, their community, to imagine the kind of community they want to create, they want to live in, together.  Finding their way past commonality and past difference.  Human to human.  Getting to action that has the potential to shift the dynamic of their community, co-creating through new quality of relationship and understanding.  Practicing generosity with each other.

For Nourish NS, deep in a question of how to shift their shape from the “kitchen table” to the “board room”, grow their board, grow their capacity as an organization, adhere to Revenue Canada charitable guidelines and maintain the culture they have been intentionally cultivating over the last year or more that is creating an organization that looks different, feels different and invites people into a different experience.  Living their mandate.  Living their principles.  Prototyping how to be and work together and knowing they are in an experiment with clear deliverables, creating decision trees and governance structures to bring clarity and still allow emergence and nimbleness of response.

In Fredericton, a beautifully diverse group of people from the Department of Health, Renaissance College, students, city councilors, the provincial government, university professors, community activists.  Just three hours to dive into what might be possible with Art of Hosting and feeling like we had just begun a three day training but now everyone needed to go home percolating the vast array of questions we invited into the room about social change and community engagement.  Not leaving it nice and tidy, wrapped up in a bow with all the answers. Leaving it in the messiness that invites curiosity, invites exploration, invites a deeper dive together to discover what some of the answers might be.

AoH is only “universal” because it is adaptable, responsive, tuned into who’s coming, what their questions are, who and what shows up in the space, guided by a deep sense of purpose.  Tuning into the ebb and flow of patterns, energy in the room or field in which we are operating, cultivating emergence, leaning into what is wanting to show up in the space – not a set agenda, not a beautiful power point presentation, not all the answers or solutions but a living, breathing individual and collective experience.

In November, I’m invited back to Minnesota to go into another community experiencing many of the same challenges as the Phillips Community.  The core hosting team of four of us will be together again with some of the members of our apprenticing team and more people from the local community.  Our biggest mistake would be to assume that because we did it once well in the Phillips community that now we know what to do.  Of course, we have some beautiful learning from the Phillips community and from our individual and collective experiences from all the places we go.  But the only way we will really know what is needed the next time is to sense into the need and opportunity, the people who are coming, where they are from, the questions they bring, the hopes we are discerning and allow a purpose that is relevant to that work to emerge, let it guide the pattern we identify for the work of the days we are together and then be prepared to let it all go as people show up, we meet them where they are, see more deeply the questions, experiences and aspirations and let that guide what wants and needs to happen there.

I know from where I travel in the world, from the conversations I have, that AoH is universally applicable. But if we stop at that statement then we truly miss how this is so.  It is not the practices, frameworks, methodologies or even the patterns.  It is our ability as a hosting team to continuously sense into what is there, be prepared to let go of any of our own notions of what needs to happen, co-design on the fly from our individual and collective experience, wisdom and knowledge and to be responsive to all that shows up – the tension, the beauty, the joy, the humanness, the messiness and then work with the patterns, practices frameworks and methodologies to co-create the conditions to allow us to go deeply and well into the places waiting to be called forth.  There is a reason why it is called the Art of ….

Anyone who’s ever been to more than one well hosted gathering will tell you, it’s different every time.  And if that hasn’t been your experience, maybe you need to become curious about why that was so, challenge your own knowing and prepare to dive deeper into your own learning – or co-learning – because we are in it together.

Explaining Art of Hosting for Beginner’s Wanting to Know What It Is

Every place we go has its own tone, texture and timing.  It is part of what makes Art of Hosting – or in the case of California in August 2012, the Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation – so hard to define. “We” being whatever configuration of hosting and calling team has coalesced around an identified need or opportunity.  Every training is different because every place is different, every group that responds to the call is unique.

People who are just coming across Art of Hosting want to know, what is it?  One way to think of it is, at its core, a set of patterns and practices that help us be successful in complex circumstances.  Developing skill in using these patterns and practices is particularly helpful now at a time when long term strategic planning doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did) because we don’t know and can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like.  One thing many of us have a growing awareness of is that what has worked in the past – strategies, practices, principles – doesn’t seem to work anymore – if it ever did.

The world is providing us with increasing complexity – in the environments in which we operate, our communities and in our organizations, especially as things seem to move faster and faster.  Social innovation is a response to this increasing complexity.  Rigid protocols have limited application in complexity.  Complexity calls for a different set of leadership skills – skills that tune in and are responsive to emergent circumstances.  Complex systems share behaviours that cannot be explained by their parts.  This requires a different set of frameworks to see and understand it.  In the Art of Participatory Leadership we draw on world view, chaordic path, divergence/convergence, the 2 loops of systems change, theory U and other frameworks as lenses through which to think about complexity and social innovation.  Social innovation looks for an alignment of circumstances that makes action possible – the relationship among elements.

One of the names we use for this type of experiential learning is the Art of Participatory Leadership because it also calls forth a new set of leadership skills required to deal with complexity and social innovation, quite different from how we think about traditional leadership.  Participatory leadership focuses on participation and engagement strategies, knowing from experience there is wisdom and knowledge that exists within a group, a team, an organization, a system.  When we make it visible in a group, it moves into the realm of collective wisdom, knowledge and understanding leading to a different kind of action and ultimately different results.

Participatory leadership  connects well in high pressure situations. Some of its core characteristics are curiosity or non-judgement, staying in the space of not knowing, generosity or openness, a belief that conversations matter and that good conversation leads to wise action.

It is not a quick fix or a magic bullet for problems that have existed and have been evolving over long periods of time.  However, there are often very immediate results for individuals as they examine and reflect on their own leadership practices.  This is also why we encourage teams to participate so they have a new common language and are more able to hold each other accountable to create a path of behaviour change and organization practices that will be sustainable.

A core element of the Art of Participatory Leadership is for each of us to deepen our own capacity to effect transformation – in ourselves and in a complex world.

Where have these practices and patterns been used? In community, private sector, academia, healthcare, and educational settings as well as social change efforts around the world.  The stories are only just beginning to be documented because many of us have been deep in the work rather than the writing about the work.  Stories are alive in Nova Scotia, Ohio, Minnesota, Europe and Brazil and many, many more places.

Art of Hosting is also a global self-organizing community of practitioners who use these integrated participative change processes, methods, maps, and planning tools (like circle practice, appreciative inquiry, world cafe and open space technology) to engage groups and teams in meaningful conversation, deliberate collaboration, and group-supported action for the common good.

The hosting and calling team for this first Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California: myself, Jerry Nagel, Ann Badillo, Sherri CannonDana Pearlman and Mia Pond will weave stories of where this work is alive in the world into these three days of co-created emergent design and process – a little taste of what we do in the world and what is possible.