Low-Hanging Fruit of Participative Leadership


I continue to learn that saying hello, a check-in, is one of the low-hanging fruits of participative leadership. Low-hanging, like the peaches on my trees from several years ago that were already ripe and did not need a ladder to be reached and picked. They were just available. Immediate harvest. Immediately delicious.

I also continue to learn that saying hello, a check-in, is often a missed step for people convening. I’m guessing that it is because people are really eager to get to work, perhaps a bit anxious about “wasting time.”  Or it is just too obvious. Check-in is critical, not just nice. When shaped with a good question, check-in is what brings the group to life. It also brings the issue at hand to life. Immediate harvest again. And generally, immediate satisfaction.

One of the struggles that I’m seeing in people, even those committed to check-in, is that they treat it as obligatory rather than as opportunity. The step that you have to do but don’t really want to do. Like standing in line before being able to ride on the roller coaster ride. Those check-ins can lose value quickly.

Ok, so here’s a few tips to bring out the value that is a check-in.

  1. Treat it as essential. Like tying your shoes before trying to walk in them.
  2. Setting a boundary for check-in, not as a restraint, but as a kindness. Let people know when they have 30 seconds and when they have three minutes.
  3. Precede a check-in with a moment of centering, a start point. The easiest is thirty seconds of silence. Or offer a poem with just a wee bit of introduction, “As we check in, I wanted to offer this poem that means something to me and I think connects to what we are doing together today.”
  4. When the group is large enough that you feel you can’t hear from everyone, invite them to pair up or join groups of three. Two minutes per person in a small group does more to help people show up than a rushed 12 seconds each in the larger group.
  5. If you use small groups, invite a handful of people to share to the large group what they experienced in the small group. It helps weave together the energy of the group.
  6. Choose and vary your question. Sometimes the question is general;  “How are you arriving?” Sometimes it needs to evoke direction: “What is important to you in our work today?” Sometimes, the question is just to invite a playfulness and imagination: “What is one thing that is making you curious these days (and why)?”
  7. Remember, that responses to a check-in question are rarely about right and wrong. We are just saying hello, not drawing uncrossable lines in the sand.
  8. Bookend the completion of a checkin with a simple acknowledgment. “I’m glad we are here together. Let’s carry the spirit of this hello with each other into the work that we’ve come to do today.”

There’s many other things you can do to improve and experiment with checkins. My suggestion is to remember that showing up is at least half of the work. Hello, a check-in, is just easy to reach as a simple step.

See also these reflections and list of questions from Amanda Fenton posted on The Circle Way website.

The Circle Way for Communities of Faith

I love this resource, a booklet written by a colleague and friend, Ivy Thomas, on using The Circle Way in faith communities. Ivy is a good soul. She has laughter that is infectious and practicality in her that lightens loads. She is among other things, a Conference Minister and now Interim Minister in The United Church of Canada.

Using The Circle Way in faith communities is a natural step. To create good listening, thoughtful speaking, and wondering out loud together. In all of the faith community work I do, circle is never far away. And it is in The Circle Way Practicum that I offer with Amanda Fenton (at which there is usually a group of clergy) that I feel the deepest dive that reminds me of home.

Give Ivy’s booklet a peek.

Bowen Island Art of Hosting, Last Day


Endings matter. Closings to events and trainings matter, though I like the way that one participant spoke this appreciatively — “it was less training; it was more tribing.”

A team of four of us created a closing to this Art of Hosting that included poetry, remembrances (written on the colored circular paper that you see in the middle of this photo — each wrote, placed them in the shape of the salmon at the center of the room, and then was invited to take one home written by another). Then an expression of gratitude from each, song, a collective blowing out the candle. And then great hugs.

Just enough ceremony to seal the time together. Not with more information. Just with feeling.

With gratitude to this group and the time together, in one of my favorite places in the world, and cohosting team, Chris Corrigan, Caitlin Frost, Teresa Posakony, and Amanda Fenton.


Circle Energetics

Rock Stars

I love this picture above. It is all participants from The Circle Way Practicum earlier this month (except two that were unable to be there — we had collages they created to represent them). I love the picture because it brings back a palpable energy and memory.

One of the teachings that I really found helpful at the practicum was the one on Circle Energetics. I think I found simple words that I’ve been searching for to help describe and understand what I’ve been observing and feeling for a long time in groups about the more subtle yet essential dynamics at play. It comes in these three statements from one of the handouts.

“All living systems emit registerable fields of energy — including us.” I think of it as a vibration. It helps me to think of the first science classes I had when introduced to the properties of waves. They have a frequency (how many cycles in a given time period), an amplitude (height of the wave), and a wavelength (distance between crests). I can see the squiggly lines on paper from those science classes. It helps me to think of those lines when I watch people interacting. I’m making it sound more tangible that I mean it. I mostly feel it, this field of energy. I give myself permission to describe it as vibration to understand even more.

“All interactions between living systems activate these energetic fields.” I think of any human group as a living system. At the practicum, it was the group of 22 of us. My cohost, Amanda Fenton and I designed in a whole lot of interaction for the group — partners, small groups, the full group, solo reflection, play (and of course meals, social time, and sleep). The practicum is more than teaching a methodology, though it is that. It’s activating an energetic field. Now we are getting somewhere, right. It feels like a magician’s secret made clear to help make the uncommon, common.

“Circle organizes the energy emitted by interaction.” This one is the kicker for me that I’m learning the most about. My experience is that Circle creates container for that interaction, and that energy, to make more sense. It creates a kind of coherence that seems fully natural and palpable. One of the things that has helped me learn this more fully is to notice how that energy dissipates when the circle is complete or when the event is over. What felt really clear and simple, becomes fuzzy and more difficult to remember. Almost like a dream — you wake in the middle of the night with it thinking you’ll never forget it. By morning, you wake for the day and it’s completely gone. It is my experience that Circle organizes and clarifies — the best description of depth I’ve found is that it is organizing that energy so that we can access information in another, and often shared, way.

It was a fun piece to teach with Amanda. And it’s been a fun and helpful piece, this clarity of Circle energetics, to notice staying with me. Like the memory of a good meal shared with friends. Or a good party. It stays with us, right. My guess is that it’s the energetic that most lingers.