Every couple of months it seems that I find myself revisiting some of the most simple narratives I can find about the work I do and the life I live. Every couple of months it seems I find myself re-digging further into re-understanding and being with groups.

It gets complicated doesn’t it. Family. Community. Work. Self. Nation. Globe. Politics. Climate Change. Immigration. Healthcare. Education. Technology. Kids turn to teenagers and want to drive the car — got one of those. Communities morn the loss of a friend or neighbor who dies way too soon. People work amidst layoffs and reorganization. 850 year-old cathedrals burn as people watch in horror.

There is much to pay attention to for all of us. Some of us seek to see and understand and evolve the whole of things. Some of us surrender to days on which we just try take one step of kindness.

This week it seems that my revisit to a simple narrative is words spoken by my friend and colleague through The Art of Hosting network (and initially, Berkana), Toke Moeller. Toke has a way of naming the simple in a way that feels wise to me. And catchable.

“What if we were just trying to create and support each other in practices of being more kind, more conscious, and more in flow with life itself?”

I’ve often used this question with groups. One guy that I worked with even created a kind of jingle tune out of it. I love the simplicity that it calls me back to. I love the momentary grounding that it creates for so many of us in so much complexity.

I won’t expound much upon what each of these words mean, could mean, or should mean. Rather, I’ll give myself permission to just be in wrapping that such principles can create.

Kindness, because we owe it to ourselves and to others. We are all in our mixes of complex challenges. We are all in our versions of needs, excitements, demands, offerings, wounds, joys.

Consciousness, because, I continue to learn through good practices like The Circle Way that there is a center to touch with each other that holds an intelligence related to but different than what we hold individually.

Flow, because, I continue to learn that there is an abundant kind of energy in life itself, an undeniable life force, despite the many human attempts to mechanize all layers of human existence. The picture above is from a Flow Game that uses questions to create access to a bit more of that life energy.

Every couple of months, I need to sit by my window in the morning sun, seeing the rainbow refracting dew on the grass (welcome spring), the trees budding in their own pace, the blue sky being vast, and remember in my bones that there is a broader story that I believe we are all a part of.

I best become aware of it with kindness, consciousness, and a welcome of flowing with life, and it flowing through me.

From a Few Questions

It has always been important to ask good questions, hasn’t it. The questions that reach deeper into what is really going on. The questions that add just enough clarity that they move us just a little. The questions that stop us in our tracks and that reshape everything.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about good questions. Actually, that’s not completely true. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what might help the people that I’m with (and me) in the circumstances that they find themselves in. These are work contexts in which teams are trying to stay healthy. These are some more personal contexts in which individuals are trying to make sense of very raw material.

Perhaps it is all raw. The check-ins that I’ve been a part of lately have all had a noticeable amount of sorrow in them — because of the shootings in New Zealand, or the unrest in Paris, or animated disputes that are national and local politics, or the shooting without cause of another black man, or the fires that burn in Australia, or the continued revelations of abuse within church systems that lay covered for decades. Or, or, or. There is rawness.

There are two particular questions that I’ve been noticing are helpful for these intense times — again, in my search for what helps. And these questions, though they can be very useful at scale and in more formal program within organizational systems, are what I’m thinking about that can help in a more horizontal way. These are questions that can be asked more vitally with one another, even in casual circumstances.

  1. What do you feel is the essence of what is happening here? The key word in this is “essence.” Well, that and, “you feel.” The layers of complexity that continue to grow, the layers of interconnectedness, the layers of soundbites and manipulated communications — these are all leading us to an even more paramount layer of reclaiming essence. What is at the core of this? What is most central? What is at the crux of it? The “you feel” is important in that it’s welcoming the subjective — because complexity requires us to expect the subjective. It’s not “the truth” that can be manipulated and marketed that matters. It’s “a truth” that comes from awareness that matters and from good listening together.
  2. Are there improvements your can offer or suggest? The key word in this one is “improvements.” And, “offer.” Improvements aren’t about a complete fix. They aren’t about magically taking on the whole dragon with single-handed bravado, expecting to conquer. That’s good mythological material, and I suppose, some imprinted DNA of expected story. But what seems to matter more these days is some of the incremental movement, and from a chosen value. Is there something that you feel we could do slightly better here? Is there an essence to your improvement? The “offering” here is about a needed capacity to experiment. It’s giving us all something to try and to work from a spirit of proposals.

These questions aren’t that complicated. I’m not even trying to wordsmith them too much. The questions are simple. The values — essence and improvements — are deliberate. The simple questions are often what helps us move, any of us as individuals and in teams, in some rather complex, intense, raw, and shock-filled domains. In my most simple impulses, I imagine that these questions asked with some deliberateness — whether in the coffee room, the staff meeting, or in the company-wide — these questions animate an energy that brings some wisdom and aliveness back to our endeavors. They are life-lines to help in what feels like drowning in complexity.

It was my friend and colleague, Toke Moeller, that I most remember speaking a simple principle from our work together in the early 2000s. “Purpose is the invisible leader.”  Toke was pointing to the clarity of purpose needed, that if animated, has a way of guiding all of us. It is my sense, as I think it was for Toke and many of us back then, that a focus on first, essence, and then, improvements, get us to more of a shared purpose these days. And, well, with that, perhaps some hope too.

All from a few questions.

Thanks in particular to colleague and friend Kathleen Masters, and a recent conversation in which some of these points of awareness became a bit more clear.

Three Practices — Kindness, Consciousness, and Flow

I know that many of us are refining our practices. Essential practices that define who we are, or perhaps, what are work is in everything from the personal to the professional, the individual to the communal.

It can get a bit confusing, this refining — I find this. Even simple practices can become too much when stacked on top of each other into a toppling pile of albeit, great references. It means that most of us need to make some choices. Choosing a few that remain in our hearts with little effort, rather than compiling infinitely into a figurative or literal spreadsheet to occupy our brains. Of the many choices, I’ve always leaned, inevitably, to what I can hold in my heart.

It is sometimes through the confusion, because of the confusion, that many of us find a new layer of clarity. An erasing of the big list to reclaim a new marker of simplicity. I had some of that recently.

I’d gotten a bit tired by my own use of language around leadership practices. Through my work with hosting. Through my use of methodologies. Through my own teaching. Like most, I’ve been trying to offer helpful frameworks that are really invitations for people to be in good work together and that keep us honest with one another. Sometimes my language has been directed at the “doubters and the skeptics.” I really don’t like “convincing” people when there are underlaying fears that obscure what we are really up to. Sometimes my language as been for those ready to imagine further, with ease, and again with honesty. That’s a treat.

My three practices that I find myself returning to are words spoken by one of my dearest friends and colleagues — Toke Moeller. We met 20 years ago. It was his “being” that helped shape so much of what I would become, and what I would reiterate into. I can hear his voice in my ears and my heart speaking of these practices. There was nothing fancy about them. It was just raw honesty.

Kindness, because first and foremost, that is perhaps what we are trying to restore or reclaim in these many expressions of societal life. Kindness isn’t just about being nice to each other. It is so much more than that. It is reclaiming respect of other, of self, of possibility, and of wonder. What would it look like to practice more kindness together?

Consciousness, because it just seems that we have so much more that we can choose together, even in very complex environments, that bring us into a unique kind of wisdom together. Wiser together. Yes, this is something that I inherently believe we can do and must do together. So much more seems possible.

Flow, because there is so much available in the organic orientation. There are of course situations that require our good, linear planning with very detailed steps. Let’s celebrate the clarity of that. And, however, it seems that there is so much more of life that is partnering with the energy of life itself. It has intuition and spontaneity. It has life force in it that we sometimes get to feel more significantly. That, changes everything in who we are as human beings together.

So, I reclaim my attention to these three practices as I move further into 2018 and the people I’m working with. Smart people. Good people. Hungry people. Even a few skeptical people. These three practices — kindness, consciousness, and flow — at the level of scale that is self to family, team to community and organization.

It was Toke who early on (early 2000s) spoke this words, that I feel invite these three core practices. I’m grateful.


It Is Time

the train time is over
for those of us who can hear the call
of the heart and the times

my real soul work
has begun on the next level
for me at least

courage is
to do what calls me
but I may be afraid of

we need to work together
in a very deep sense
to open and hold spaces
spheres of energy
in which our imagination
and other people’s
transformation can occur

none of us can do it alone

the warriors of joy are gathering
to find each other
to train together
to do some good work
from the heart with no attachment
and throw it
in the river

no religion, no cult, no politics
just flow with life itself as it
unfolds in the now…

what is my Work?
what is our Work?


Be An Expert — At Inviting Expertise

Many of us have an interesting relationship with “expertise.”

On the one hand, there is learning from people that really know stuff, that have paid attention, that have studied with rigor, that have learned through some hard knocks. It’s always great to be with people who are good at what they do, or clear on what they know.

On the other hand, there is a kind of externalizing responsibility away from ourselves that is also packed in to expertise. There is a shadowy cultural pattern of projecting way too much solution and rescue into finding just the right expert. It’s fun to look for super heroes that will fix everything. It’s just not super real.

In my work, I face this shadowy externalization often. I work in complex environments. Organizational systems. With teams that have been charged by systems to do a whole lot of good. I work so often with good people who are trying to make sense of those complex environments and to learn to move within them in ways that feel helpful and life-giving. I work with people who have desire to reshape the paradigms. It’s natural to look for expertise, to be in good learning, to be in due diligence, to be thoughtful.

Well, if attraction to expertise is here to stay, let’s accept that there is a range of nuanced expertise. For me, there is a kind of alternative expertise that I’m committed to giving air time and cultural practice. It is the expertise of inviting expertise to come forward from the group.

There is a maxim that I so often work from — there is more wisdom in the room that there is in any individual. Notice, this does not presume that there isn’t wisdom and knowhow in the individuals that can hold some preference. It just points to another quality of wisdom that arises from those in the room interacting. Of course there is power in many perspectives. Most of us know this (except when our egos wrench away the steering wheel — guilty as charged, right). Yet pressure, and leadership habit, often regress us to expertise that smacks of  command and control, and of the external and obliterates the instinct to listen together.

In the Art of Hosting community of practitioners, fifteen years ago I was part of creating what became known as “Hobbit Tools.” It was born out of a conversation that I was having with my friend and colleague Toke Moeller. We were at Aldermarsh on Whidbey Island, Washington, one of the best retreat centers that I’ve been lucky to meet at repeatedly. Toke and I had just finished cohosting an Art of Hosting (also Christina Baldwin and Teresa Posakony). It was just Toke and I sitting in our meeting space that was now all tidied. Flipcharts were recycled, our participants were gone. It was a time to simply appreciate the silence and the immediate memory of the moment.

My mind was cooking (because the gathering had gone so well). My heart was singing (because that’s what happens when things go well, right). I took the opportunity to ask Toke for some clarity, given the many wonderful things that I’d been a part of the previous three days with participants. “Toke,” I began, “if you had one tool to rely on, what would that be.” Toke has a knack for getting to the simple — it’s one of the things I’ve always love about him. After some pause — why rush — he said, “Be present.” We both held a silence for a moment. Be satisfied with just two words. Be present. There is expertise in that. It’s related to learning from an expert about presence, but the primary invocation was to “be” it.

I smiled at Toke, and my never-far-away-little-brother part of myself asked playfully, “And Toke, if you had two tools, what would the next be?” Toke smiled again. It’s what good learners do together, I think. He paused again, looked out the window at Aldermarsh’s open field for a bit, and then replied, “Have a good question.” There is expertise in that too, and, this expertise points to inviting expertise in others, doesn’t it. Ask. Engage. Encounter.

A couple months later, Toke and I were working together with a group in Ohio. We were staying with another brother in this work, Phil Cass. I remember at breakfast one day Toke talked to me with excitement. He had furthered our conversation from Aldermarsh and had added a third tool. “Pass a talking piece,” which was really code for pass a listening piece, which was really code for listen, listen, listen. Listen to the group. Listen for the wisdom in the room. Listen for what is not just cumulative in us, but also what arises among us.

In the way that I know Toke’s fierce commitment to listening, he asked me, “Is there anything that you would add to this Tenneson?” I love this irrepressible commitment to a co-creation. I responded with what showed up in my belly — “Harvest.” It had deep meaning for me, and for us. Harvest. Notice. Make it visible. Give it a temporary tangibility that gifts the group with seeing some of it’s own wisdom.

Toke is a hobbit at heart. Simple person in whom the still waters run deep. So is Phil. They helped to pull that same quality out of me — I think we did with each other.

Be an expert in inviting the expertise out of others. That “Hobbit Tools” has grown into interesting and expanded teachings by others. It’s great to see. But somewhere in that story from that first Art of Hosting at Aldermarsh, rests with me this reframe of expertise that is so often culturally overlooked or invisible — it isn’t providing more from the external; it is inviting more from the internal and from the group that is trying to go together.

In an age of “look it up on youtube,” there is a video for everything. Yes, that’s fascinating. And helpful. For everything from folding paper airplanes to fixing cars to meditation techniques. Awesome! And, and, and —  let’s not forget the nuanced and essential quality of expertise that people everywhere are hungry for, and I think recognize when the see it, even when they (we) have forgotten in practice. Inviting forward what people know, feel, and wonder about, is itself an overlooked and much needed expertise.