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.

 

 

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Women, Leadership and Power

Will feminine principles rule the future?  John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio posit this in their book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, and I like to think they are right.  More than like to think it, I am actively inviting it, through the work I do and the way I do it – collaboratively, with others doing good work in the world using the practices and patterns of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter.  This doesn’t mean I think masculine principles are bad, just that they are overused and a rebalancing of the energies could spark the next evolution of leadership and power in life, work, play and community.

We are living now in the space between narratives as my friend and frequent co-host Jerry Nagel likes to say.  The old story of power and control, described as masculine attributes, that many of us around the world are reportedly dissatisfied with is the story that has been operational for centuries now.  The new story of consensus building, collaboration and co-creation, described as feminine attributes, is what many are longing for, even when they do not have the words to articulate it.  People I encounter in the work I do and the places I travel want to show up and be seen as full human beings rather than as the distinct parts that are “acceptable” in different circumstances – logic and rationality at work, nurturing and caring in private. When we are invited as full human beings a new essence of aliveness and creativity also shows up.

The characteristics we are yearning for now are exactly the characteristics that have been dismissed and squelched as not being effective, as too soft, as the antithesis of leadership; the characteristics of feminine principles.

The principles of masculine and feminine are being confused with gender, feminine principles have been diminished and, by extension, women have been too.  Women wanting to be successful in business and politics in the past have had to become more like men in the drive for power and authority. Even Cheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In is really asking women to to step up to their male colleagues in the way of the old narrative.  I love that her book is sparking conversation in many places about masculine and feminine principles, and I love that she is successful as a powerful woman leader.

What does it take to shift to a new narrative about women, leadership and power? It is hard to shift to new narratives.  The grip of the old story is engrained in us in ways we do not even know.  Even as we step into doing things differently, the pull of the old narrative, embedded in culture which is designed to perpetuate itself, is strong.  It takes intentionality, vulnerability and the willingness to be in good inquiry and co-learning with each other.  It takes a re-valuing of the feminine in all that it has to offer and a new understanding of what it means to be powerful. It takes the willingness to let go of control to step into patterns and practices that invite the best of our thinking, leadership and accountability to show up, the spaces were emergence lives.

It takes men embracing principles of the feminine and it takes women seeing and stepping into the strength of these principles in ways that show how powerfully they can shift the shape of the narrative we are living into now.  It means bringing for the best of the masculine principles into this rebalancing dynamic and acting with curiosity, generosity and compassion.

This inquiry is one I am excited to be exploring at a one day forum in San Francisco on June 7, 2013, which is an invitation to be in a deep dialogue together with other women about women and power, the next evolution of leadership.  There we will be exploring questions like:

1) What is the new definition of success we need to create so women can truly thrive in their personal and professional lives?

2) How do we gain the confidence and courage we need to express ourselves more authentically as professional women?

3) How do we more fully step into our leadership to vision and co-create new, more powerful systems and patterns in the worlds we live and work in?

4) What are the feminine qualities, when we as women express them more fully, make us more powerful leaders?

5) What becomes possible when we as women elevate each other and what is required to support or grow this over time?

6) What is the desired impact we want to have in our organizations and in the world?

7) What are the prejudices and stereotypes women hold which, if they shifted, would create better opportunities for women to thrive?

I am curious to see what will emerge from the inquiry and how we might set in motion, or accelerate what is already in motion, supportive leadership practices that invite the best of who we are as human beings to show up, individually and collectively.

Gossip – Harmful or Helpful?

The stories we tell shape our experiences as much and more than the experiences themselves.  For anything we experience, there are a myriad of ways the story of it can be told.  How the story is told illuminates a lot about us as individuals and about the culture of the organizations we work for.  Many of the stories told are not done so with thoughtfulness or intentionality and this makes them very revealing for anyone paying attention and even for people not so tuned in.  You want to know about a culture of an organization, pay attention to the stories told by those who work there and interact with them.

Recently I’ve been working with an organization that is struggling with morale, trust and relationships, sparked by many challenges the organization has experienced over the last few years.  The topic of gossip is a central theme and it has us all curious.  It is not the first time I have come across this in teams or organizations that are challenged or even labeled as dysfunctional.

gossip

There are many questions and assumptions in this group that are not unique to it.  How do you know when it’s gossip?  Is all gossip bad?  How do we share information?  How is gossip different than information sharing?  It’s how we decompress.  We deal with such pressing issues, it’s only natural we would gossip.

It is not “only natural” that we would gossip.  There are lots of choices around how to share information and even whether to share.  Gossip is a form of information sharing that goes beyond the facts and beyond the attempt to understand someone or something.  It has an edge.  It is often malicious.  It has the potential to impact other’s reputations in destructive ways.  Generally when gossip is a pattern in an organization or team individuals know they are just as likely to be gossiped about next as the current focus of the gossip.  And, they do it anyway.

Gossip is one way of creating alliances.  These alliances are often formed to keep others out or to target individuals in pejorative and harmful ways.  It shows up in win/lose cultures and is way of trying to win – at all costs.

It is mobile as things do not remain confidential but spread rapidly.  When gossip is rampant it often has truth, half truth and complete untruth in it and it is hard to distinguish which is which. It focuses on private and personal affairs, attributes, assumptions and insinuations about others.  There is an energy to gossip which feels conspiratorial, sucks people in but also leaves people feeling bad about themselves – sometimes without knowing why.  Sometimes it traverses into bullying.

In the organization I was working with recently, some wondered why I would focus on gossip when the pressing issues were clearly laid out in a mind map of patterns and themes distilled from employee responses to a survey.  Some named leadership and accountability as the two most significant issues.  I agreed.  I also named gossip, role clarity, boundaries as a few others and I kept coming back to gossip, much to the disbelief of some.  Patterns of gossip are also about control and power.  This comes out of the formation of alliances, being able to shut people down and pushing agendas that are of interest to a few but maybe not unilaterally to everyone.  If we can shift the pattern of gossip in an organization, it becomes possible to shift other patterns as well.  Gossip detracts us from what more is possible.  It is energy and time consuming.

As we wrapped up our day I asked two questions for the closing circle: what is your commitment to changing the conversation here and what is the intentional story you want others to know about this organization?

Some of the comments about gossip were particularly illuminating.

“I gossip when I am afraid to go to someone directly.”

“I know it’s gossip when I am eager to contribute something to the conversation.”

“I gossip when I don’t think I am as good as someone else.”

“I feel awful when I gossip.  It’s yucky.  I will not do it anymore.”

“I do not like the person I am when I gossip and I do not want to end my career at this organization in this way.”

A lack of respect for others, is a lack of respect for self.  Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. What we say about others says far more about us than about them.

We stop gossip when we decide to stop participating in it.  When we become curious instead of playing in the judgment which characterizes so much gossip.  When we become compassionate about the situation and the people involved.  When we refuse to send gossip on.  When we hold ourselves accountable to stop and when we hold others accountable by refusing to gossip with them, when we invite them into an inquiry about what is the purpose of the information they are sharing and are they inviting a conversation about how to strategize having conversations that matter with the people involved instead of about them.

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When we stop filling the space between us with gossip we have the opportunity to fill that space with generosity, curiosity and compassion, with conversations that are meaningful and relevant and to focus on successes and the things we appreciate about each other and what we do.  When we cultivate this kind of foundation, we create the base from which to have the conversations we’ve been avoiding through gossip – conversations about leadership, accountability and the deep purpose of the work we are in.

Gossip is only helpful in seeing culture and identifying challenges.  It is not conducive to healthy workplaces or healthy relationships. When we replace gossip with intentional, appreciative conversations, we begin to create the conditions for more of what is possible, more of how we can serve the needs we have identified and a bonus is that we feel better about who we are and what we do.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the best of ways.

Hosting Self: Practice Informs the Practice

Practice does not make perfect, thank goodness.  Practice informs the practice. If we pay attention, lean into what we are discovering and allow ourselves to be in the place of not knowing or in the space before the naming, just long enough for an awareness to arise, shift to happen, peace to arrive, clarity to emerge. Maybe just one of those things, maybe none of them, but something that signals to us that a shift has happened, is happening, within us.

This is all part of hosting self.  Like you, I don’t have it all figured out.  I’m in the thick of learning every single day.  Learning to be in my experience in any given moment – the moments I enjoy and the ones I’d rather not be in.

This is not always an easy practice, particularly in those days when we are experiencing challenge.  Hosting self  is only something we can draw on in those times when we really need it if we have been in the practice on a regular basis. In the practice on the days we don’t think we really need it. Days that are inspired, beautiful, peaceful, joyful.  And on the days that are just kind of blah.  If we are not in the practice during those days, on the days when hosting self is most needed to help reground and centre we will have no practice from which to draw on.

There are wearying days .  Even for people in regular, ongoing practice.  When I posted that sentiment on Facebook recently – that sometimes this hosting self thing is wearying before it transmutes into peacefulness and joy, someone asked me what I do to host myself.  A beautiful invitation into a little reflection and exploration.

There are a number of practices I cultivate on a regular basis to draw from on those days I most need to host myself.  In the midst of feeling challenged or feeling hooked, hosting myself usually starts with a noticing that I’m feeling “off” or hooked, acknowledging something is “rumbling” in me that I have not yet named and am not yet able to articulate with any clarity.

In the soonest moment I can – which might be immediately or in a few hours or after a few days – I become curious and invite myself into a little bit of sensing to see if I can source what’s been triggered in me.

It is important to acknowledging that whatever’s been triggered, whatever is rumbling, it doesn’t have to completely influence everything else that is happening in the moment or my day, week or month. It is simply one thread, not the only thread. If I allow myself to notice, I  may also notice that many of the other threads are light, positive, purposeful, delightful.  It is okay to absorb those threads too.  Just because one “rumble” might need some of my attention, it is not a disservice to it to still allow in joy and light.

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend - on for the Soul Journey

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend – on for the Soul Journey

I’m not sure why those moments of challenge call so loudly for attention we think we need to cloak ourselves in them.  We don’t.  We can learn whatever it is we need to know without becoming lost in it.  Most of us have become so conditioned to going full on into it we have to teach ourselves to slow down and broaden our view with deliberateness.  We also need to give ourselves permission to relax a bit and to treat ourselves with compassion.  As we sense into what’s going on we can also sense into what form of hosting self is being called forth within us.  There are many possibilities. Here I offer a few I personally draw on with regularity.  You may also have some of these and likely you have many more of your own.

Physicality is a good antidote to those off moments.  Sometimes I run or do other exercises.  Aside from wanting to enjoy a certain degree of health, mostly I crave physical exercise or movement to take me out of my head and into my body, to release tension or let my body have the movement it craves.  When I start to run or exercise, my mind is still often on whatever challenge has my attention.  I need to remind myself to let go of the thoughts or to intentionally bring in thoughts and images that will make me feel better.  Usually surrendering into the moment allows images or symbols to arrive on their own that contain beauty, joy and meaning.

Meditation is a great way to host yourself.  It’s not as difficult as most of us think.  There are many approaches, no one right way and, thankfully, perfection is not required.  I meditate almost every day even if for just a few minutes and usually for fifteen to thirty minutes. It’s a great way to start and/or end a day. Often I use a guided meditation because it helps to keep me in my meditation longer – even if I am not always (or even usually) tuned into the words, I know they are getting through to my unconscious.  In the moments I lose focus I am less likely to go into full distraction mode and get up and go do something else after just a couple of minutes.

One of my practices is to devour all the positive reflections, mantras and good news messages I can, to really absorb them – especially in those moments I’m feeling off.  It is amazing what they can do to lighten my spirit when I allow it.

Gratitude and appreciation are two amazing counter acting forces to those rumbling, grumbling, or worse kinds of days. I remind myself of all the things I’m grateful for, the path I’ve journeyed, how far I’ve come.  There is an abundance of things to be grateful for and they are a good reminder of how things always work out and sometimes in surprising ways.  It is helpful to remind myself I don’t have to have the how of it all figured out in order to begin.  Time over time I discover that when I let go of the how, miracles really do happen.

Journaling is a beautiful way to reflect.  Just sitting to write for a few minutes in  stream of consciousness can shed light on whatever has been triggered, make patterns and themes visible and bringing new insights that create the space to release what has been troubling us.

Finding a friend willing to listen with curiousity and compassion, without judgment.  Just to be there.  Not even to offer advice and certainly not to commiserate with us in a way that keeps us stuck.  Sometimes in talking it out, insights arise that help us move forward or understand how to address an issue or challenge or conversation in a way that serves us and whoever or whatever may have triggered us.

Tarot cards, prayer or other spiritual practices are another way of hosting self.  Anything that helps us be more present and aware.

It is good, almost essential, to remember that what’s happening in this moment is transitory and doesn’t make me – or you –  a dismal failure, just like successes do not lead to infallibility or guru-ness, just real human beings doing the best we can every day.  Some days are better and more masterful than others, but it’s all there in the mix.  Just people on a journey with good, delightful moments and challenging moments too.

All in the flow of things. There is far more flow of things when we are in a regular ongoing practice of hosting self.  How do you host yourself?  What are your practices?  What do you come back to over and over again that helps you regain your ground or stay centered?  Where you grow your self awareness, your curiosity and your self compassion?

Hosting self is an integral aspect of being able to host others. It is the first practice in the Four Fold Practice for a reason.  It is a beautiful inquiry to be in every day and in any given moment – not by making yourself a self improvement project but by surrendering into the unfolding journey.

Four Fold Practice

Shape Shifting Along the Path of Soul Journey

There are times, more frequently and consistently lately, thankfully, when My Self is in step with My Soul – my soul journey.  My Self has taken a long and winding road, full of pot holes, steep slopes and obstacles on the path, shifting shape in subtle and dramatic ways, to find her way to My Soul.

My Soul holds loving space.  Patiently waiting with full invitation for My Self to notice, to step in, to fall in, to embrace.  Sometimes My Soul whispers to My Self to help My Self find her way.  Sometimes she beckons loudly.  She always trusts My Self will find her way back. If not in this breath, maybe in the next.  If not in the next or the next after that, when there are no more breaths in the physical My Self, setting the non-physical free to blend back in with My Soul.  There is no time limit.  My Self manufactures urgency that My Soul does not assume, does not need, in the moment, a moment that could be a moment as we know it or a lifetime as we experience it.

When the two, which I have playfully named My Self and My Soul as I lean into what it is I am even trying to understand and discern here for myself, are in synch, there is a depth of stillness, beauty and love that envelops me in every way imaginable and emanates out in the world in palpable ways.  Synchronicity flows.  Miracles follow miracles and wonders never cease.

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend – on for the Soul Journey

I have known this soul journey through unconsciousness, awakening, pain and sorrow, joy, love – to greater and lessor degrees.  I have often thought there must be ways to get to it just from joy, that pain and suffering are symptomatic of the human condition and should be optional.  There are easier ways, most of us just don’t seem to choose them.

Earlier today, running in a beautiful Nova Scotia fall morning, through my neighbourhood, down to the Bedford Basin, along the waterfront, up to and down the main road, through a path along a little stream, back in a quiet neighbourhood and along the lake to home, I was present to my physical experience.  The air crisp and cool.  The sun filtering through the leaves of the trees – what’s left of them anyway.  My feet crunching through the fallen leaves.  Not thinking of things but holding my own self, my own experience with curiosity.

I notice this sense of transition – again, never ending, always in it transition.  I see the world around me, my actions, my work, me, changing, shifting shape all the time.  Often subtlely.  I feel things slipping off and new things budding.  It’s often quite lovely.  And I feel sorrow and joy.  Great depths of sorrow.  Great expanses of joy.  Either of these experiences can evoke tears and either are perfectly okay.  I am learning to hold them without judgment, just the noticing.  Oh, and the allowing.  Allowing them to flow when they appear – for joy or sorrow or any other number of reasons they may appear.  And, of course, it is not just tears but any range of possible expressions of emotional state, many of which are quite delightful.  Including stillness.  Including exuding love – like  a magnet, attracting people, experiences  stories and more love.   I am learning that when you travel the path of love, all things are added.

When I first moved into my house two and a half years ago, for almost two months I woke up every day feeling joy and delight.  Every single day. It was so lovely.  I understood that instead of struggle, perhaps joy could be the baseline experience that informs our journey, that we keep springing back to when we let go of whatever is getting in the way of joy.  It was quite a revelation born of the wondering and expectation that was beginning to creep into my awareness that maybe one morning soon I would wake up and not feel joyful.  I wanted to invite the level and intensity of joy into my life, every single day.

Then, financial realities began to hit.  Time began to bleed, minutes into minutes, days into days.  I could feel stress in my body and I knew it was being created not by my experience in this moment, but by my thoughts foraying into the future and the past, forgetting to reside in the beauty and okayness of Now.  My Self separated from My Soul for a little sojourn in other places.  My Soul tenderly held the space for My Self to explore.  The exploration in service of soul journey.

As I listen to Esther Hicks channeling Abraham, a conglomeration of non-physical entities, and Abraham speaks about expansion, I’m now getting it.  Abraham says, what’s the good of a banquet if they only offer what you want?  Where is the opportunity for growth and expansion in that?  If all my days had stayed only in that joyful place, would I have experienced this new depth of soul journey, where My Self is in tune, in step with My Soul more often, if some disturbance hadn’t entered my field of awareness?  If they hadn’t shown up, maybe I would have been content to stay within the boundaries of my lovely new home because I’m sure loving my solitude when I have the opportunity.  Instead, the murmurs of discontent show me what I don’t want, causing me to look for more of what I do want and then attract to me and my journey the most amazing, remarkable experiences.  I’m shape shifting yet again and how lovely is that?

It’s not struggle. It’s not even transition. It is being, experiencing, allowing.  There is no struggle if I don’t.  Lots of letting go of illusions and opening up to more and more of what I want – My Self walking with My Soul more often, inviting me to show up fully, to hold space more deeply, to carry things more lightly and allow myself to be swept along to the next shifted shape that is the new hallmark of a journey that only gets better and better.

Ingredients for Hosting Team Success – An Inquiry

How is it we can take a group of people who may or may not know each other, throw them into a prep or planning day together and have them emerge out the other side as a team, ready to co-create and co-host a three or four day Art of Hosting training, to greater or lesser degrees as a cohesive, fluid team?

In the last few years, I have had powerful experiences of this happening in Atlantic Canada, in Brazil, in the United States, as I’ve invited or been invited onto hosting teams with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, different levels of readiness to step more fully into hosting and different size teams from six to fourteen. And these days, in my experience, although individuals on the team know each other, the whole team has only met each other in person on that prep day.

Cohesive, fluid hosting teams hasn’t always been my experience.  Especially in my early days of hosting.  Having contrasting experiences offered me opportunities to notice and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.  Hosting myself, I became aware of how to, more often, invite the kind of experiences that work well.    Recently a good friend invited me into a deeper inquiry of, in my experience, what makes strong teams possible?  What are the ingredients for hosting team success?  These are not definitive by any stretch of the imagination, but they are some of the themes I’m noticing that consistently support strength and capacity in hosting teams I’ve been part of.

Some of it is in what happens in prep day.  Most of it is the quality of invitation to all of us on the team whether we are seasoned hosts or stewards, practitioners, apprentices, or logistics coordinators to show up fully.  We are all equally human, equally beautiful, equally valuable and  each of us holds a part of the whole.

There is no question the space for this invitation is held by the stewards.  It is not just a verbally issued invitation, it is one that is fully and authentically supported in all our actions and in our energetic field, in the space we create and hold for others to step into, in the responsiveness to all the voices that show up.  When, as seasoned hosts, we are able to step into our own humility and support the field from what might seem a less visible place, we open the space for others to step in more fully.

There are, of course, times that what we have to offer from our experience is what is needed – a thought, an observation, a question, a teach, a framing for what’s in the room, making something visible, stepping into our own brilliance in service of what is needed now. Knowing when to step in and offer what is needed now is also important – a part of the art.  Doing it in a way that builds on what others have offered, in the spirit of expansion and illumination, is a gift to self, a gift to others and a gift to the field in which we work.

To seed this field of invitation I want to have at least one other person on the team I know well, where mutual full trust exists, with whom I know we can handle anything that comes along.  With a minimum of the two of us (and one or two more is even better), we can hold the space for whatever wants or needs to show up in the team – and then in the gathering we are co-hosting.

Co-hosts and apprentices are wanting to know and understand their role, what they can contribute and how welcome their contribution may or may not be.  We are all wanting to know where all our learning edges are, what each of us wants to step into and how this can best be supported.  In particular, I am wanting to support people stepping up to their next level of learning, hosting or offering.  It is a thing of beauty when people publicly step into their learning edges, usually with some fear, some trepidation and loads of courage.

Prep day itself begins with its own welcome, framing and flow.  And an invitation to the full team to find the places they want to step in.  We begin open heartedly.  Infusing the space with welcome, invitation and confidence.  We move to  a check-in process. First on a  personal level.  What draws us to this work? What are we most excited about? Whatever question that personally brings us into the work and into the team.  Then we move onto what we know about who is coming, what their questions are, what they might be hoping for.

The harvest from these two rounds of check in is a co-created purpose statement to guide our planning and design process.  From there we take a first crack at design.  What is the invitation for each day? How will we invite people in, invite them to stay in, create the space for what they want to do and the opportunity for them to reflect on what they will do when they leave.  It is at this point I often notice the energetic threads weaving amongst the team.  People connecting more deeply.  Similar thoughts and ideas emerging at the same time.  Laughter in the room as synchronicities show up.  The awareness we have tapped a deeper place.

We take a look at what we’ve crafted.  Identify day hosts, hosting opportunities, coaching opportunities.  We invite hosting team members to offer where they most want to play.  We step in where we know our wisdom, knowledge and learning will most serve and we look for balance in the offerings.  We create a field of caring and intention and we prepare ourselves to welcome the larger group in the same open hearted invitation instilled with curiosity and generosity.

As a team, we stay tuned into and aware of each other in subtle and obvious ways.  We continue to invite each other’s brilliance and to support each other.  We work with the ebb and flow of individual and collective energy and know that we have each other’s backs. We ask for what we need and offer what we can. We invite each other.  We check in at the beginning of the day and we check out at the end of the day.  Openly.  Honestly.  Speaking what is in our hearts, minds and awareness.  Tuning in to what is in the space.

I don’t know if this is a recipe for hosting team success.  I know it’s been working in the places I’ve been and in the teams I have the pleasure of being in learning with.  I am certain there are other ingredients, other recipes that work equally well and will continue to be in co-learning and inquiry to continue to grow my own capacity to support hosting team success.

A question very much alive every time we step into a team, those we’ve worked with before and those we are working with for the first time is: what is the humility, generosity, open heartedness and also the brilliance that needs to be present and available in me, in each of us and collectively that supports the environment of co-learning in service of the field we are entering and committed to holding?

Becoming an AoH Practitioner

One of the things that stands out from my Envision Halifax days when a team of us co-designed and co-delivered a nine month leadership program, meeting with the group once a month for either a retreat or a learning day, is how often people talked about getting their Envision “fix” – essentially being able to step out of the craziness of their workplaces into a deep breath of a different kind of space, where we often began with check-in circles and always entered into a conscious, intentional practice field of learning focused on self-leadership, team learning and community reflection and engagement.

The desire and need for this “fix” is directly related to how challenging people find it to bring their learning about new ways of interacting with people, creating the conditions for different conversations that lead to different results back into their work environments – and it is also what I hear from people who have just stepped out of their first Art of Hosting training ground.  “It is okay to do this here, but back at work, well, that’s another story.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, becoming a practitioner of anything takes…. well… practice.  And, I am aware of how risky it feels to try out new group processes or new ways of inviting conversation at work.  How many times we hear things like, “I could never use a talking piece at work.”  “I could never get our group to agree to use World Cafe.”  “People I work with would find this language strange and it may turn them off of even trying something new.”  Yes, all true AND there are always ways to begin practice.

People feel their credibility and reputation are most at risk trying something new with the people they work with all the time.   So one of the simplest possibilities is to look for other places to practice – with another team or department, in a volunteer capacity, with someone else who also wants to practice.

When we just begin to know the many and varied practices that are available through the Art of Hosting field and have little experience with them, we have less confidence in and knowledge of how the processes work and how people can be well and fully engaged in them.  Our own lack of confidence and fear can influence how the process unfolds.  For example, if the group has never participated in an Open Space before, it  may take a few minutes for them to warm up to inviting their own conversations when we open the space for their questions.  With experience, we know to be easy in that pause.  Without experience, it ignites our fears and then we want to jump in to make it happen, often over facilitating the space or the process, sometimes resulting in less than hoped for outcomes.  As grow our own experience and confidence in the impact of the process, we relax more which invites more flow and synchronicity into the space.

As for language, if it will be a barrier, don’t use it.  Rather than talking about circle practice, you could just say, “I would like to make sure we hear from every voice.  Maybe we could just go around the table and as each person speaks, the rest of us could just listen well to what they have to say.” Or, of course, whatever language suits you best.

Begin your practice in little ways.  Take little risks.  Change how you listen and see what difference shows up.  Use more questions, powerful questions, that invite people to respond differently.  Bring more curiousity to the conversations you have in the work you do.

Find places to practice the skills you want to develop more.  Find people to practice with.  Look for like minded people inside your organization with whom you can have conversations of discovery and potentially opportunities for practice.  Think of how you can intentionally shift the shape of your world.

Look for places outside of work to practice.  Take yourself back to another Art of Hosting training to deepen your understanding and skills and grow your courage.  Share success stories, small and large, so you and others can see the impact of making even small shifts.  Maybe you have an opportunity to be part of a calling team for an Art of Hosting in your organization or community.  You could look for an opportunity to apprentice in an Art of Hosting training with experienced practitioners and stewards so you learn to pay attention to and look for the nuances that can influence design, hosting and results.

Grow your confidence through practice and your practice will grow.  Don’t be discouraged easily.  Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunity, openings and invitations.  If you look for them, you will be delightfully surprised at how often they show up.

Join a community of practice.  If there isn’t one in your area, start one – even if it is just with a few people.  Join the on-line conversations and communities.  Observe and contribute when and as you are ready.

Whenever and however you can practice, do so.  Grow your courage through small victories and those victories will also grow.  You didn’t show up at an Art of Hosting training because you are risk averse.  You came because something called you.  My guess is, this work will continue to call you and you will continue to respond.  And there is a global field of practice that responds with you.  Be intentional, thoughtful and mindful and practice well.  Before you know it, you will recognize the Art of Hosting practitioner that is you.