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:



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?