From The Archives — From The Four Directions Leadership Initiative

This weekend I read through some old program materials from work I was involved with at The Berkana Institute. Berkana was, and is, foundational to me. That’s Meg Wheatley. That’s other good colleagues that became deep companions. That’s foundational grounding of purpose, need, principles, and values. There’s Berkana in most everything I do today. My formal working with Berkana was 1993 – 2003. My colleaguing in relationships born in Berkana continue now.

One piece from the old program materials was about a global conversational leadership initiative called From the Four Directions: People Everywhere Leading The Way. The short of it, pre-FaceBook and so many other internet engagement platforms that have become common place now, was to connect people in learning, in conversation, in community, and in the actions that grew from that.

Here’s part of the description materials, that remains true to me today, and expressed by many of us in connected yet evolving ways.

What We Do

We develop life-affirming leadership practices and values
in local communities around the world.
We create the means for local leaders to learn from one another,
to support each other’s clarity and courage,
and to develop as a community of practice.

Berkana was always involved with experimenting and applying principles of self-organization, so as to grow more wise, thoughtful, compassionate, and wickedly smart communities. Berkana was always about working with life itself, to reclaim a paradigm that challenged patters of mechanization and isolation that the industrial age so enforcingly bequeathed to it’s next generations.

These materials were from the mid 90s. I’m glad that those efforts to improve life-affirming leadership practices continues birth a change in how we humans do what we do together.

From the archives.

Working In Patterns

Most of us are trying to pay attention to patterns. See the bigger picture. Work from the macro, not just the micro (and let’s face it, sometimes it’s pretty tough to get beyond the insistent and persistent micro).

This has been true for me in my 15 years of working with The Art of Hosting as pattern. Pattern of practice. Pattern of learning. Pattern of teaching and offering. Pattern of inviting. And it was true for me in the 10 years prior to that working with The Berkana Institute on dialogue, change, and the human spirit.

Lately, I’ve been working with a few groups that are really hungry for a holistic form for retreating together and for doing their work and learning together. I’ve been listening to people speak about their edges. They, we, all want a quality of experience together that is a whole lot more than lecturing with good stuff. They want engagement of their brains and their bodies and their spirits and each other.

With all of this going on, I found myself looking for resources that I could send to help shape some of the expectation and some of the overarching narrative.

Knowns of Working in An Art of Hosting Pattern is a piece I wrote in 2009. I remember it all coming to me in a sparky clarity, and “aha.” It was a few words for the “template” of Art of Hosting that each team shapes into more specific choices.

A snip-it is below. The full list of patterns is in the article here.

  • we will move deliberately between – energy of the whole and energy of the small group and energy of the individual.
  • each day will have a theme
  • each day will include a checkin process – (coming present) and a checkout process (seal our time and release us to other spaces)
  • we will offer some models, methods and maps to support a world view of participatory leadership –
  • there are many ways to inspiration – play, music, meditation, prayer, stillness, dreams, methodologies, art, song, – dance. We use them as inspired.
  • we open and diverge so that we can choose how we converge


Margaret Wheatley

One of the people I have been fortunate to meet in my life is Margaret Wheatley. Our first meeting was 20+ years ago. I was a graduate student. She was a professor and had just published Leadership and the New Science. She was just beginning to transition from being professor to consultant, speaker, and author. I worked with Meg and others through The Berkana Institute for the better part of ten years. Many of the friends that I met through Berkana during that time have continued through to today, another ten plus years. They are often the people I work with in my consulting practice. I know Meg well enough to know that she would claim being fortunate to meet me, too, which makes me smile.

One of the things that I appreciate most about Meg is that way back in to the early 1990s, she was speaking a new narrative about organizations. “Organizations are living systems (not mechanical). Living systems have a way of organizing themselves. If we knew more about how living systems organize themselves, how would that change the way we organize human endeavor?” Meg was rogue. She was not alone. But she was far from majority. She was daring to tell a different story, which was accompanied by a different set of questions, and a different way of seeing. It wasn’t metaphorical ingratiation that Meg was up to. She was genuine. She wasn’t advocating a thought exercise. This was real, and she committed her writing, her consulting, her facilitating, and her speaking to this reality.

I was schooled in that context. It happened in tiny bits in my official graduate schooling. It happened massively in the 20+ years since then. That’s fortunate.

I found myself thinking about this history this morning. A friend asked if I knew much about John Kotter’s work and change model. I’d read some along the way, but hadn’t followed details. So I got a bit snoopy to see how his work had evolved. What I noticed, now nearly 25 years since rogue Meg published Leadership and the New Science, is that many big names in the field of organizational change have evolved into more of a living systems perspective. With Kotter, it is embedded in his call for not just hierarchical efficiencies, but also nimble experimenters. Rogue experimenters, that are as essential to any organization as the best of program managers. Lois Kelly, another colleague that I’ve met along the way calls these rogue experimenters  “Badass, Good-Hearted Change Agents” in her invocation to get real about leading change.

I smile to think of how many people have adopted more of a living systems approach over the years. It’s far less rogue now. It is far more common. And fortunately, many of these people are advocating good participative process to get real about change. I smile to be among the people with this orientation — for me, more than the outcome of reading a book, but from the 20+ years of practice and habit and instinct. Yup, thank you Meg for encouraging the rogue in me and the many essential bridge-builders that further translate the cultural organizational narrative that changes everything.