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.

From Weird to Wyrd

Below is excerpt from an article I wrote this week. It’s about reclaiming wisdom and process methodology that goes with it. Enjoy.




I want it to feel more normal to gather in circle.

By normal, I mean expected. Anticipated. I mean, the norm, what we know instinctively to do. And by where this would happen, I mean almost everywhere. In project team meetings. I mean, in government committees. I mean, in every form of staff meeting. I want circle to be met less with a groan and a derogatory Kum ba yah reference — did you know that “Kum ba ya” was originally a spiritual song invoking God to help those in need, literally, “come by here.” I’m glad to see that, in an  increasing number and range of places, circle is a key practice methodology of leadership. It’s not the only way to meet. It’s just often one of the most important ways to meet to be smarter together, and more honest, and to help those in need, including ourselves.

I want it to feel really weird to not gather in circle.

By weird, I mean being in a meeting that doesn’t begin with some gesture of hello. Some genuine acknowledgement of meeting for a specific purpose, and that requires full attention with one another. Not just plowing into the agenda, or the solutions being sold rather than the problems and opportunities being explored. Not just racing to get done as fast as possible, so as to move on to another plateful of additional meetings. That’s weird, right. Isn’t there some part of all of us that has us girdering resolve, rolling our eyes figuratively and literally, to get through these formats.

Contemporary culture is searching, increasingly so, for more meaning and wisdom together. Desperately. I believe this and see it with so many that I work with. Yet, so often, it is our own habituated behavior and thought, doing more of the same, that blocks us, impedes us, and renders simple alternatives unimaginable.

The Circle Way, from my now 20+ years of experience, helps to remove the weird and replace it with “wyrd.” In old English, “wyrd,” from which the word “weird” has evolved, had a very different meaning and usage. It had connotation of being able to see “an invisible connection in all things,” or to see “the thin lines between the lands of the living and the ancestors.” Wyrd, was a word that connoted wisdom. “Weird” in contemporary use, is far from that. Not listening well together in today’s meeting culture is weird. Use of The Circle Way, well, that is really word…