Bowen Island Art of Hosting, Day 3


One of the things that I love about the art of hosting is the mix of teachings, practice (as in developing ones’ craft), experiencing community, application, and just plain fun.

Above, this is Caitlin Frost adding to a teach, the model of which, Two Loops, is taped out on the floor. It’s a teach on living systems being birthed, and eventually dying. It’s a model on working with emergence and how it can scale. It’s a challenge to all of us to be in the dynamic reality of creating and letting go.




The Seven Whispers

You know how some books are tiny in size and length, but pack a wallop of meaning in them? The Seven Whispers is like that for me. It’s written by friend and colleague, Christina Baldwin (2002), who has among her gifts, the one of being able to be very clear. She reaches and touches the broadest perspective, and then brings it back down to the dirt and mud we stand upon.

Christina’s subtitle, Listening to the Voice of Spirit is essential — no, she is not talking about a particular spiritual tradition, but invoking a deep quality of listening in and among us. It’s what many of us working with groups are hoping for — listening to what is emerging from our interaction together. The title of her introduction, A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These is brilliant. It names time just enough about time to make it timeless.

These days I find myself saying these whispers to myself, weaving them in to my teachings, and feeling that all I need to stand on is right in front of me. Enjoy the read. Gift yourself with the book (nope, no commissions for me — just the satisfaction of sharing something I really care about and find helpful).

The seven whispers are:

  • Maintain peace of mind.
  • Move at the pace of guidance.
  • Practice certainty of purpose.
  • Surrender to surprise.
  • Ask for what you need and offer what you can.
  • Love the folks in front of you.
  • Return to the world.

Bigger Group; More Reliance on Spirit


I like a lot of the things about this photo, taken last week at the start of the United Church of Christ, Central Pacific Conference (CPC) Annual Meeting that I got to cohost. I like its cleanness — ready for people that would soon start arriving. I like its center, arranged by colleague and friend Kelly Ryan — multi-layered with cloth, bowls, and candles. I like the rim that is a double circle — this one was arranged for 140 people. Yes, it impacted people. When you arrive used to a podium, round dinner tables for eight, and a stack of papers, a clean circle like this makes you rethink what is about to happen.

One of the dynamics that I like to challenge in participative leadership is how to work with large groups. Some hold a few premises underneath — that you can’t do meaningful participative leadership with large groups. The group is too big. It’s too complicated to have so many small tables. You can’t harvest with such a large group. There are too many voices to hear. These are all good, honest concerns. However, I find myself unwilling to accept the premises. I’m too stubborn probably. I’d like to think stubbornly imaginative, enough to explore other ways. And my direct experience in working with large groups (up to 1,500 — but more commonly with 150-200) points to the opposite.

What I’ve learned, and felt reconfirmed last week with CPC, is that in large groups there is more dependence on spirit — feeling what is happening, rather than literal observation of everything. There is more dependence on sensing (even welcoming) the invisible among people than on the capturing of every word. Here’s the kicker by the way — this is true in all groups; it’s just more obvious in larger groups.

The larger the group means more reliance on feeling the room. With a faith community, it can be easier to do this. They are typically quite accustomed to welcoming the invisible in and among us. But the point, in and out of faith communities, is that, as leaders, we are restoring an ability to see and feel the whole of what is happening in the group. Engaging together. Improving our skill so notice what is emerging. It means that when you have a good partner conversation, though you don’t know what is said in all the other partner conversations, you can imagine that they had a similar quality to what you just had with your partner.

Possible to work with big groups, intimately, and participatively? Absolutely — and because of people like those at the CPC Annual Meeting last week in Pendleton, OR, I don’t even need to say it stubbornly.

Emergence — It Takes A Commitment

I’m enjoying writing this week, inspired in part by my friend and colleague (frolleague) Kinde Nebeker. We’ve been thinking together about emergence. Putting words to it. Getting to the heart of it. Growing our understanding. Understanding and working with emergence is a key part of the series we are offering again this fall in Salt Lake City, The Inner and Outer of Evolutionary Leadership.

Here’s a teaser from the three-page thought paper I wrote. The full piece is here.

In the 1990s I was part of several leadership conferences offered in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains at Sundance Utah, where there are a lot of Aspens. Sundance is the resort that Robert Redford built and was original host to the Sundance Film Festival. Those conferences were on “Self-Organizing Systems,” lead by my friends (and bosses at the time) Margaret Wheatley and Myron Rogers. They were three-day gatherings with up to sixty people who wanted to learn of this self-organizing paradigm. Some were consultants. Some were internal leadership. Some were community leaders. Some were C-level in corporations. It was a beautiful place to learn, and that brought out the beauty of those people together.

One of the guest presenters at those conferences was Fritjof Capra, the Austrian Physicist, renowned for his writings (including The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point) and his work at Berkeley’s Center for Ecoliteracy. Fritjof, like Meg and Myron, like many of us that have continued this work, was studying the qualities of living systems, including emergence, and applying those learnings and principles to human systems — teams, organizations, communities. 

I remember Fritjof describing an example of sugar in one of his teachings — though he seemed to be thinking it out loud and coming up with the example in the moment. “Sugar is a mix of three elements: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, none of which are sweet.” He continued, “the sweetness,” he paused to peer out into that beautiful forested Sundance setting, “is in, the relationship. It is not in the parts.” In making that statement, his peering outside came back to those of us inside. He’d made a discovery, which got a good chuckle from all of us — in the way that in-the-moment simplicity does.