Being Host(ed)

We explored how conversational leadership takes place, and how through conversational leadership, the doors open to co-create wise action and change in our organizations and communities.

Last week I relished the opportunity to show up and be hosted, rather than be host at the latest Art of Hosting gathering in the Edmonton area.  While I worked hard to get the word out to people I know who are searching continually for ways to be well with others, it was wonderful to arrive without having to organize anything. Rather than attending to the details of the venue, process design considerations etc., I was able to arrive in a different way: most fully and selfishly expecting to learn at every turn.  As host, I expect to learn at every turn, but there is a slight but meaningful distinction when being hosted – a bit more freedom to explore and invest in self.  It is a marginal distinction with significant implications.

The implication – and gift – for me is remembering how difficult it can be for me to be hosted.  Hence, I have been pondering the difference between being host and being hosted.

Host - Hosted

The smililarities between being host and being hosted are striking: both require welcoming the stretch of learning together, offering self fully and deeply to each other, and engaging together around a passionate call.

The distinction between host and hosted lies in the invitation, intention and the design.  Being host means noticing and responding to a burning question, the passionate call to gather.  Being hosted means responding to the resonance of that call. Being host means holding space (the physical and metaphysical) for the invitation and the gathering itself.  Being host also means designing process to create the conditions to release holding the space to allow those hosted to co-create space.  Hosting means intentionally letting go.  Being hosted means following resonance and choosing where to place attention.

In the setting of an art of hosting gathering, the hosted have an opportunity to become hosts.  The hosts also welcome being hosted.  In this relationship, both the host and hosted are actively engaged in co-learning.  Around the right question, this learning relationship takes place in connection to meaningful work.

Beyond the setting of an art of hosting offering, living the conundrum of being host and being hosted remains alive.  To host well, I must be willing to be hosted.  Willing to be hosted, I am open to surprise, willingly receiving what is offered.

Last week I recognized that I have been “holding” the art of hosting in Alberta for quite a long time with a couple of others – Marg and Hugh.  It is hard to hold space – even with mates.  It isn’t something that can even be held.  It can only be.

The art of hosting is about co-creating space, and opening space.  It isn’t something to hold long.

For wonderful details of the gathering, please see Tenneson Woolf’s harvest of the harvest of the harvest (photos, work/co-learning/relationship social movement piece on YouTube, blogs) here:

Brake a Leg [sic]


Our Celebratory CakeLast night was the last night of my acting class, so it was “performance night.”  We put our scenes on stage at the Citadel.  Four things jump out at me as I reflect on the evening:

  1. “You look like you want to do something with the gloves.  Follow your impulse.” These were our instructor’s words to one of my mates as we were going through our scenes one last time before we hit the stage.  It can be a big leap to trust our instincts in this rational world, but it is our instincts that take us to a creative place where new possibilities arise.  We have a choice to make about where and when we let our impulse out.

I’ve got a hunger

Twisting my stomach into knots

That my tongue has tied off

My brain’s repeating

‘If you’ve got an impulse let it out’

But they never make it past my mouth.

“The Sound of Settling,” Death Cab for Cutie

Perhaps it isn’t my brain that keeps me back – it may well know I should let my impulse out, but there is something deeper within that I need to pay attention to.  As I contemplate my work in conversational leadership, I will ponder these questions for a while:

  • What am I hungry for?
  • If I truly notice that, what is my impulse about how to let it out?
  • What keeps me back from what I truly offer our craft and the world?


  1. No matter how well you know your lines, you need to grasp the plot or you’re sunk.And your mate with you. There was a moment in my scene last night when I lost my line.  Stuck. I drew a blank.  It didn’t matter that my mate and I had nailed them many times before.  Somehow I just lost track, and when I look back I can’t quite explain why.  It just happened.  We tossed a few lines in that “went with the plot” for a bit.  It was shakey for a bit, for both of us sitting there in the bright lights, but my mate didn’t panic, neither did I, and we trusted we would find our way.  We did.  He threw me a word that got me back on track and all was good.Even when you know something well, you know it works, the recipe is never the same every time.  Everytime the circumstances are different.  In conversation or theatre, there is no silver bullet/cookie cutter. 
  2. There are people rooting for you, even if you can’t see them.Often on the theatre stage, the lights are in your eyes and you can’t see the audience.  You can’t tell if they are legion or few – except for the sounds they make.  Even if you could see them, by and large to don’t know who they are.In the case of last night, it was a modest audience: our class mates, our instructor/director, the lighting guy, Citadel staff and a few people class mates brought to the event.Out front, I have a choice to make about how to proceed: trust that everyone is critically watching your every move, or trust that they want you to play a part in something wonderful happening.  My choice about what I trust has an impact on what I will do and how I go about doing it.  Do I believe in the worst or do I believe in the best?  If I lose my lines, which plot do I want to draw on to carry me through? 
  3. Brake a leg. Even the Safeway cake writer can’t get everything right.  Nobody can.  And the cake tastes just fine. How much of what I worry about is just icing on the cake? (Like the numbering in this blog…)


Focus, Flow and Fun


I have been pondering the significance of last week’s soccer scrimmage. I found myself on the field in default mode: going full tilt, fast, shoulder to the wheel, focused effort for results, more effort and more focus for even better results, put in the time and the effort and what I want to come to pass usually does.

But there was a voice over my shoulder, my coach Michael, who could see something I couldn’t see about how to play the game better.Behind me, his words to me were: “slow it down”.On another occasion: “just take the ball, hang on to it for a few seconds, then decide what to do with it.”I couldn’t believe the results.

Now I must note that I need to get feedback from Michael about what he saw – I am relying on what my subjective self sees and feels.I don’t know if he saw anything different, but I felt very different: my body was just doing what it needed to do, without really focusing on it.Putting things together that I hadn’t put together before.It was like those times when I look straight at something and I can’t quite see it no matter how hard I look, but when I look just to the side, I can see it better.My body was doing the things we have been learning all winter – ball control, passing, position, shooting – but without me actually focusing on these.From time to time, I felt a sense of flow.Things unfolded as they needed to in response to the circumstances of the moment.

I fell out of this feel of flow frequently, and then I could still hear Michael’s voice, though it was now me reminding myself. Other times, it was Michael pointing out technical things to do, like: “let the ball hit you straight on.If you turn to the side you have no idea where it will go.”Michael suggested I focus on something specific, but of course that is not the only thing I was expected to focus on.I had to file this information, these things to focus on, into the mix.In the end, I found myself falling in and out of precision, and in and out of intuition.A friendly and usefull tug-of-war between focus and flow.

The game, and life, is about the tug-of-war.It isn’t all or nothing, but rather noticing that both are in play and welcoming them.I notice that in my head and my body, I have a strong tendancy to work hard to get the job done, but not necessarily skillfully.The effort and focus I put into things often makes it look like I am better at something than I truly am.My skills improve when I take the risk of a split second to pause (or take Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) and check out what the circumstances really require of me.This is not logical – but I can trust that I will know the right thing thing to do, and do it skillfully if I let myself.And if I try to do both – ie focus on flow – I won’t get either.Pulling both ends of the same rope gets you tight rope.

My coach has lessons for me on and off the field and I appreciate the time he has voluntarily spent with us, every week, over the last two years.We are learning technical skills – how to handle a ball, the rules of the game.We are learning about how we do not have the same skills or abilities or aptitudes.This is not only welcomed, but we are learning how to use this diversity to build an effective team.We are supported in our individual learning as well as our collective learning as a team.When we are ready, he shows us something new, always making sure the stretch is one that challenges without overwhelming us.
We are recognizing how we are doing something well and how we are not doing something well so we can see and feel how to improve.Most importantly we are having fun.

I see now that this week’s scrimmage, for me, was about focus and flow – and that welcoming both comes with fun, lightly holding the conundrum.



One of my son’s favourite television shows is Mayday, chronicling the events leading to and resulting in airplane disasters – or in the case of a recent episode, what should have been a disaster.We found big lessons for the pilots of our communities, cities and towns.

In “Panic Over the Pacific” (Episode 6, Season 4), ChinaAirlines Flight 006 is bound for San Francisco.After an engine failure (one of four engines on a Boeing 747) that should cause no significant issues, the plane plunges 10 km in just 2 minutes.The undercarriage doors and horizontal stabilizers are ripped off the plane under the force of the plunge, yet the crew land the plane safely.By many accounts, they should not have been able to save the plane, then we find out that the plunge need not have happened in the first place.

The conclusion: the pilot caused the plunge by focusing on the one instrument that was telling him the plunge was starting and choosing not to believe it.Due to massive fatigue and jet lag, he was spatially disoriented and unable to simply adjust as needed to the engine failure.The investigators confirmed all instruments were in working order.All the pilot needed to do was look at the other instruments to see that the plunge was indeed beginning, disengage autopilot, and put his foot on a pedal.The corroborating evidence was on hand – as well as a simple solution.

The investigators offered two significant observations about this event that relate to the survival of humans on an airplane:

1.Focus on the “dashboard”, not one instrument. Attention to only one instrument – whether we believe it is right or wrong – provides us with only a sliver of information.A dashboard of instruments will send us more complete information and tell us if we are on the right track or not.Nothing is fully dependent on one instrument.

2.There is a reason why there is a human at the front of the plane. Autopilot is designed to solve the problems that we have come up with so far, but the creative human mind is needed when new problems arise that Autopilot can’t handle.In the case of our pilot over the Pacific Ocean, the pilot needed to intervene – just put a foot on a pedal.He didn’t, and they plunged to earth.

Compared to a human community, an airplane is a simple system.There is a chain of command and it is clear who is in charge.If we take a town, city, region, province, country, continent or even the planet, we can see that it is less clear who the pilot is – there are many.There are many destinations and modes of travel, but the investigators lessons still resonate and raise the following questions for a community of any scale in any setting:

1.What brings us together?What is important to us?

2.Who are we? Who has the power to get us to our destination?

3.What is our destination?What will it look like when we get there?

4.What are the wise ways to get to our destination?

5.What are diversity of skills and gifts we bring to get us there?

6.How do we knit all of the above together through the messy process of community?

In exploring the above, we find that there are many things that catch our attention; homelessness,residential densities, economic development opportunities, transportation and education systems, health care delivery, ecological impacts, parks and open spaces, opportunities for recreation, community development, energy generation, clean technologies, telecommunications, food security, urban design, emergency services, etc.There are many systems in place currently that monitor each of these.The question then is, are we watching all of them, or just one instrument like our pilot.Perhaps we do not all need to watch all of them, but we need to find ways and places to still do so.A collective sense of piloting is crucial to our survival.

This is ultimately about integrating pieces of information throughout a community system.It is about creating the time and places to connect the silos in our communities that look after the well-being of so much that makes our communities complete.A high school principal comes to mind who recently had a significant first experience: he was in the same room as people working for municipal and provincial government that were not in education.He pointed out immediately the value of this – they share interests, insights and information.How could this go further?What are the ways and places where we can attend to collectively noticing what the silos that serve us are noticing, so that we can share a common sense of direction?I offer the following:

1.Create the conditions for conversations that cross silos with the express purpose of noticing a larger picture and shared intention

2.Cultivate a common destination

3.Create a dashboard of instruments that monitor our progress to reach the destination

4.Create a culture of resilience and adaptability where change is welcome

In the case of our pilot above, his misjudgment was attributed to fatigue.I am curious about the frantic nature of work that seems so predominant these days.What are we missing by moving so fast?Are we noticing our instruments?Are we misreading them?Are we afraid of them?Are we mistakenly on autopilot? Do we have the right instruments?

How and when will we know if a Mayday call is legitimate or not?

Plan a meeting, or plan a harvest?

Isn’t it funny how even when you have heard it before, it doesn’t actually “hit” you until some later date?  While it rang true before, the noise is a lot louder today for the meaning of this statement: when planning a meeting, we are really planning a harvest.

4 mates and I are preparing for an Art of Hosting (and Harvesting) gathering in Edmonton, Alberta next week  And of course, now that we are getting into the design of the gathering, we are contemplating what it means to harvest the conversations we will be having.  We are contemplating this diligently in service to the invitation we have extended to explore how to cultivate Albertans’ collective ingenuity in order to renew and sustain Alberta’s communities.

When in conversation with anyone, including myself, meaning is generated.  There is the tangible meaning, such as a record of what decisions are made.  In addition, there are the impressions we make of each other, the conflict we carry, the assumptions, the sabotage, the agendas, as well as goodness and love.  Yet we struggle with our conversations – especially the ones we choose not to have.   Bad feelings are clearly a pattern, and this leaves a lot of conversations never held.

But what if we are more than that?  What if instead of leaving the fruit to rot on the tree, we choose to enjoy it?  What if we consider every apple, blemishes and all, as a sweet treat?  What if we planned for that when we gather? More importantly, what if we planned to explicitly expose those sweet treats for us all to see?  What if we held the intention to fully harvest the abundance that is just sitting there – each apple, and all the things we can make together?

A harvest is about both content and process, the tangible and the intangible.  The content is not about a message to be delivered to others, but about pulling out of ourselves what is just sitting there waiting to emerge.  Our unconscious, or semiconscious knowledge.  In terms of contemplating a harvest, content is about knowing what the conversation is for: is it to explore ideas, or to nail down a plan for action.  To build a common sense of direction, or generate a diverse range of options?  Knowing the overall purpose of the conversation assists greatly with ascertaining the appropriate design for the conversation – the process- as well as sense of harvest (to design for) that is in service to the intention. Intention provides clarity for both content and process.

The form of a harvest is various and unlimited: photographs, a movie, a song, a poem, a report, a picture, a performance, a document.  The harvest at times tangible and explicit (such as a report or document) or more intangible and implicit (a song or poem).  Both add value and meaning when aligned with the purpose and context of the people gathering.

Skillful design for conversation is the process, and when aligned with the purpose/intention, conversation will provide wonderful fruit for harvest.  Our design choices dictate whether we gather effectively the collective wisdom.  The quality of our presence in the gathering will dictate what we notice – whether one apple, the whole tree, the whole orchard, the ecosystem, etc.

Whether from an individual or as a collaborative effort, the harvest takes the unarticulated and unconscious to the articulated and conscious that is an expression of value and meaning.  It is an expression of learning.

In times of abundance or scarcity, just like an apple, the harvest of conversation is nourishment.