Why has complexity never been addressed holistically?

In today’s environment we see more complexity than ever before and it is widely acknowledged as one of the biggest barriers to organisational performance in both the public and private sectors.  So why has complexity never been addressed holistically?

This is ironic, given that the role of strategy is to provide clear and consistent guidance on what an organisation needs to do in order to achieve its objectives. Strategic complexity can have a significant impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation, as well as cascading impacts into other areas, such as people’s behaviour, organisational design and process. Rapid

Complexity requires a collaborative, interdependent culture and solutions that cut across wordlefunction, region and profession. Given the right opportunity collaborative groups will be able to integrate knowledge throughout the system and to anticipate and solve unprecedented challenges – all while delivering efficient, high-quality services across the continuum. But building a collaborative culture is not an easy transition. Collaboration, well executed, secures buy-in from all stakeholders and by using participatory techniques it enables you to design your own road map for change.

Well-designed collaborations are underpinned by a process that works in three ways: firstly as a framework; second, as a method for leading profound change; and third, as a way of being. A non-technical social technology were people interact and builds capacities, and generates profound social renewal.

As Henry Ford once said…. “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”


Participatory Leadership and the Nature of our Conversations

We are in a world that is connected, but not communicating
Tariq Ramadan

The world is changing faster than ever before, and organisations today are facing complex challenges never experienced before.  Yet we are not creating conversations that matter and are not harnessing the collective wisdom of our sociality.

Creating an alternative future rests in changing our thinking about how organisations transform from mechanical entities to living systems. It depends on the nature of our conversation and on generating the wisdom of the group through harnessing their participation.

The human species is by nature sociable and we all increasingly want to participate in the choices that affect our lives.  We want to make a difference, and leaders across all sectors and communities around the world are being called upon to engage people in a more collaborative way. In order to create organisational cultures based on participation and creativity, where people can tap into their collective intelligence, this requires a change in the nature of the conversation and in leadership philosophy.

The reason for this ‘global mind shift’ in a new era of conscious co-evolution of the power of collective intelligence, is because any group itself has the wisdom and creativity needed to deal with any complex  situation. The only things needed are the context, holding a safe space, focusing the group’s insights towards a specific topic, and crafting powerfully question.

This of course changes the prevailing conventional belief system where the task of leadership is to set a vision and gain ‘buy in’ from others.  Additionally, the default culture and assumptions that underpin most leadership training need to change, shifting away from:

  • Leader and top are essential. The future destination can be blueprinted.
  • The work is to bring others ‘on board’. More measurement produces better results.
  • People need more training.
  • Rewards are related to outcomes.
  • What worked elsewhere can work here.
  • The future is a problem to be solved. Leaders should be a role model.

(Block, 2007)

As Otto Scharmer and many other thought leaders call it, shifting from an Egosystem awareness to Ecosystem awareness is the essence of ego to ecoleadership of our time. Since the research suggests that in groupes  “where one person dominated, the group was less intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns were more evenly distributed” (Wooley, 2010),  in order to tap into the power of collective intelligence, the role of leaders is to create conditions in which everyone can participate.

This notion of participatory leadership challenges the conventional thinking which holds that leaders are the role models that everyone should follow. Such a philosophy represents a form of parenting, and the alternative is to move away from parental dominion. Leadership in the twenty-first century needs to function as a form of partnership. This assumes that the role of the leader is to invite people, focus their attention on certain issues, ask powerful question and design conversations that will harness the collective intelligence of stakeholders.

Meaningful conversations for wiser action

At the heart of what we do is facilitation of Participatory Leadership within organisations to drive enhanced performance. Within your organisation your people have the solutions to the problems you’re facing. We harness the collective knowledge and wisdom of everyone in an organisation to generate innovative solutions to move the organisation forward.

Our services range from one-off interventions to more in-depth programmes of sustainable culture change, all based round around the principles of Participatory Leadership. All our programmes are aimed at promoting radically better engagement, stronger commitment and sharper thinking, leading to powerful but actionable outcomes.

0 principles

The core method used is the ‘ Art of Hosting. of collaborative conversations among your key groups e.g. employees, customers, the public or a wider community, to look differently at issues and relationships so that step-change can happen.

Why are we different? We work with you when the challenges are complex and multi-layered.

By involving stakeholders at the start of the process, working from the outside in and asking powerful questions, innovative ideas emerge from the collective wisdom, thus exposing the myth that there is a ‘one right strategy’ that can be replicated. The outcomes we deliver will place you in the best possible position to decide which ideas to build on within your organisation to create a solution.

If you want positive buy-in and backing from staff, highly constructive relationships with partner organisations, innovative ideas and outcomes, increased and better financial rewards – or even just a better working day – a more meaningful conversation might be just the answer!

Related blog post: What is Participatory Leadership

What’s your Organisation’s Purpose

In order to thrive, a business must be aligned around a meaningful purpose and shared values. With our help, you’ll rediscover the real purpose that sits at the core of your organisation, bringing total clarity to guide every aspect of your organisation.

Together, we’ll define shared values using a combination of surveys and facilitated sessions. This process draws out desired behaviours, enabling every employee to understand what’s important.

We’ll help you alignfacilitateds, teams and behaviours to the organisation’s purpose and values, engaging people at every step of the way for sustained change.

  • True purpose discovery: We’ll work with your founder or most senior people to uncover the real, meaningful purpose of your business, to create a clear and inspiring organising point.
  • Shared values definition: We’ll use online surveys and fun, creative group work to uncover the deeply held values that your people share.
  • Purposeful engagement programme: Taking either your purpose or shared values, we’ll use facilitated group work to develop a deep and personal understanding of them, so they have real impact on your business.

Participatory Leadership and Decision Making

Participatory Leadership and Decision Making: Not All About Consensus

By Kathy Jourdain

Collaborative or participatory leadership surfaces interdependence, within a team and among teams. It invites people to bring their strengths, talents, passion and voice and to step in where they have something to offer and step back when they don’t.

Interestingly, the awareness of interdependence and the use of participatory leadership, not done well, often leads to a mistaken belief that all decisions need to be made by the collective or through consensus. This is a shadow of participatory leadership. In a high functioning team, or a high performance team, the team operates as if by consensus because the trust levels are so high the team trusts individuals or smaller groups of individuals to make appropriate decisions. There is no sense of one-upmanship. When decision-making processes are not clear, there is confusion about where decision-making authority resides, how decisions get made and who makes them.

Clarity on decision making strategies and a collective understanding of who makes what decisions when, under what circumstances offers the greatest flexibility and responsiveness to the situation at hand. Only a small number of decisions really need to be made collectively. Clarity on what those are and trust in the intentions of everyone on the team, allows for autonomy in the vast majority of decisions.

Ideas to Action

How can we use our collective imagination to move from ideas to action?

An invitation was sent to a diverse group of individuals to a participatory taster event in Edinburgh using two methodologies from several that can be used to solve complexity. When these events are held for a whole day or over several days, or become the operating system of an organisation, the outcomes become deeper and more meaningful. These methodologies are used in policy development in the EU Commission and Austrian local government, Ontario’s rural and agricultural organisations, Minnesota university student mental health and international pharmaceutical companies. They have also been used in redesigning the free health care system in Columbus Ohio


The participants checked out by describing how they were feeling at the end of the evening in one word. Examples included;


Curious (2) Energised unnamed (2) unnamed (1) unnamed

What you need to know about Presencing/Theory U

The Presencing approach of Otto Scharmer of MIT is a model that is used in across all types organisation for social change by creating the capacity for community wisdom. I frequently underpin the design collaborative change processes and workshops using the model. It has inspired me to invite my clients to look behind the scenes and explore the necessary depth needed to achieve the goals.

Presencing describes a natural flow of actions if something new has to be developed or learned and delivers a framework to re-discover the natural development process.

“Presencing,” a blend of the words “presence” and “sensing,” refers to the ability to sense and bring into the present one’s highest future potential ─ as an individual and as a group.

Theory U offers both a new theoretical perspective and a practical social technology. As a theoretical perspective, Theory U suggests that the way in which we attend to a situation determines how a situation unfolds. As a practical social technology, Theory U offers a set of principles and practices for collectively creating the future that wants to emerge.

The Presencing approach is also called Theory U as the visual model has the shape of a U. Depending on the task the U can go as deep as to the essential openness (e.g. if a long-lasting powerful organising vision and purpose has to be defined) or can stay shallow on the cognitive openness level (e.g. if a successful procedure has to be tweaked here and Presencing-Model-smallthere).

If issues and task cannot be solved after several attempts on one level, they need to be addressed on another level.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein

Systems Thinking

I was one of six authors of Systems Thinking, published by the Management Innovation Exchange. You can find the full publication here


Deming and others showed that when you look at the performance of an organisation, about 85% to 95% is due to the system. That leaves roughly only about 10% that is due wholly or in the total control of the person doing the work. How often have you heard people say in their 1:1 appraisal ‘that goal was out of my total control to deliver’.

Deming, John Seddon in Vanguard, Senge, Ackoff, Scholtes, and countless others have demonstrated many times over that:
• you need to get people to begin recognising the organisation as a system;
• understand human motivation (Dan Pink);
• look at the design of the work from the outside in;
• focus on what is the real purpose and what matters to the customer, and
• creating the opportunity and permission to allow people to re-design the work and then getting out of their way!

systems thinking art - Copy

The Power of Storytelling

Once upon a time…

When we hear that phrase, it brings back magical memories of someone reading a story to us during childhood. Suddenly, we have warm thoughts of fantasies, fairy tales, princesses, and pirates.

Storytelling plays a big role in the Art of Participatory Leadership. I was inspired to write this blog after meeting and hearing Bob Keiller talk, delivered in story form about  leadership and the core vales.  Bob is the Chief Executive of Wood Group plc, a British multinational oil and gas services company with its headquarters in Aberdeen, Scotland. He truly engaged the audience with the  two stories he told,  sparked by a sat-nav and then a banana, the later  was the spring board to the groups  core values the DNA of business – they’re a global gold standard that guides thinking, determines  behaviour, and allows the Wood Group to adapt to local needs.

Stories and storytelling have always been part of how human beings pass on knowledge, share wisdom, and create new ways forward.

Our brain are simply wired for stories and that’s why they work in so many contexts.

There are stories we need to stop telling – stories of fear, of hate, of divisiveness, blame and shame. But there are also those we need to start telling. We need to tell about what’s working, about collaboration, about our dreams and the power of relationship. If we do, then connection and engagement will follow.

In an age of 24/7 news cycles, an increase in media channels which didn’t exist a generation ago, and the connections that technologies allow us, there are also key reasons for us to be aware of, work with, and shape our own stories. When we incorporate storytelling practices and techniques into our organisations, our lives and our family, we are more able to grasp the attention of those around us.

story tellingWhen we unleash the power of people through storytelling, we build connections in a world that may be connected but not necessarily communication-rich.
Where do we find our stories?  Stories are hiding everywhere! Think of yourself as the Chief Story Archaeologist, the maker of a story. Perhaps you need a story about one of your organisational values in action or how someone overcame a challenge. When you know what you are looking for, you’re more likely to find it.

Look, listen and ask, observe people in action. Where could  that story be hiding? Listen to what people are telling each other; perhaps the story is embedded in what they are saying. Ask questions to find out where a story might be found.

Explore your own life experiences; our lives and families are a rich source of material, especially when you can tell stories about what worked, what didn’t and what you learned that made you who you are today.

You may find a source of inspiration in the news, in a movie, in a book or a conversation that occurred over dinner. The themes you find will help to spark new ideas. Setting out your intention and staying curious will help you find the bones of a story, then it is up to you to arrange them in order to make your point.

Well-told stories will always have certain traits in common, which are layered and woven in such a structure: use of key characters, a theme or plot and a cultural setting.  These traits eventually come together to create a narrative that is:

Credible, Compelling, Consistent, Coherent, Character-driven

Stories, whether written down, acted out, or delivered orally, form the backbone of any society. Stories communicate cultural value and important myths, and often convey history from the point of view of the storyteller. They engage our interest on a primitive level, and they act as a filter for new information. They are a connector, and a powerful way of synergising what’s going on. The key is harnessing their potential.

Unlock an Organisation’s Capacity to Solve Complex Problems

New solutions are needed. Increasing complexity compels us to find new solutions. Participatory Leadership enables collaboritive change is crucial to unlock your organisation’s capacity to solve complex problems and create success in the twenty-first century. ‘Just do your job’ may have been a default response to dissatisfied workers in times gone by, but not now.

Gallup did an extensive study of the effects of high employee engagement in 2012. They looked at over 50,000 organisations and one-and-a-half million employees in 34 countries, and discovered that organisations that score in the top half of employee engagement have double the likelihood of success of those in the bottom half.  Not only that, but those in the 99th percentile of engagement had four times the success rate.

Is your organisation in the 99th percentile?

Increased complexity compels us to find new solutions for the common good in business, healthcare, education, local and national government and in our communities. Solutions are more comprehensive and readily found and owned if they are co-created by stakeholders. Tapping into the potential wisdom already held in the organisation is crucial; inviting collaboration with diverse perspectives is key to realising potential.

New solutions grow between chaos and order. If we want to innovate, we have to be willing to let go of what we know and step into not knowing.  Innovation happens in the space between order and chaos – ‘the chaordic path’.  It is here in the chaordic space that new possibilities emerge. The way to major change goes through chaos and order.


Conversations matter. It is in our DNA to bring people together in conversation, within the chaordic space . It is the human way since the dawn of time, gathering around fires and sitting in circle. Conversations are how we create meaning together and build strong relationships that invite collaboration.

Organisations are living systems. When people join together in an organisation they have more in common with a living system than with a machine. Living systems are intelligent and capable of self-organising their own solutions. The way you manage a living system is radically different from operating a machine.

I can help you facilitate Participatory Leadership wich enables collaboritive change.

Co-design Health and Social Care Services

Citizens’ power and participation are essential to co-design the integration across Health and Social Care Services in Scotland.  The forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill lays out that “public service providers should give communities a say in how services are delivered. Examples of public service providers are hospitals, schools, police, and local councils.”

The integration is complex and multi-layered and requires a series of participative open public events that generate discussions among communities about the possibility of exploring whether the people of the region might be able to create a new response to the impending health and social care Iintegration.

How can we together create affordable and sustainable integrated healthcare for all in Scotland?your health

The traditional method is to gain input and solve complexity by breaking the whole down into parts and to segment the market by various means. Key stakeholders stand above the process and give presentations to targeted audiences, and then a question and answer session is invited, surveys undertaken over the internet or articles published in newspapers.

People are hungry for more effective meetings where all stakeholders can participate and work better together amidst times of change and high complexity. If the integration across Health and Social Care Services in Scotland is truly to meet the needs of us all, we need to move beyond consultation to citizens to participatory decision make using methods such as the Art of Hosting .

If public service providers truly wish communities to a have a say in how services are delivered, a process of co-learning and co-evolution needs to be implemented: processes and engagement strategies that bring out the best in our communities and that foster collaboration.

Do you enjoy being in conversations where your voice is heard?  Do you appreciate time to think and value being offered a new perspective? I do!

How do we together ‘do’ collaboration and achieve participation?

The answer: create a series of unconferences. ‘What is that?’ I hear you say! An Unconference is a participant-driven meeting. At an Unconference, anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on the overarching topic can claim a time and a space.

As a result a diverse range of stakeholders, sharing the same space, will have participated, discovering different perspectives and ways of thinking, sharing ideas, and it’s in this space that innovation emerges. You can ask for solutions to the relevant issues in your organisation and the integration across Health and Social Care Services in Scotland can truly meet the needs of the people.

At the end of the Unconference we collate all that has taken place and send this out to you. Key themes of what citizens want from an integration of Health and Social Care Services in Scotland will have emerged. This process has been successful around the world, including for affordable and sustainable healthcare systems. It can be here!

What is an Unconference?

UnconferenceAn Unconference brings people together to find solutions to an issue or question, or to discuss a particular theme, with emphasis placed on taking action as a result.

It could be about creating a greater understanding of what customers want from your organisation, either around the services you provide or the product you make. It could also be used to improve employee engagement or involve stakeholders in determining the of your organisation.

Unconferences typically follow this timetable:

Arrive. Meet people. Decide on good topics to talk about. Find a process e.g. Lightning Talk, Open Space, Fishbowl, World Café, Round Table, Q&A or simply just having a chat.Talk about the topics. Use Post It notes to puzzle things out. Learn. Think. Talk more. Stuff will happen. Lunch will happen. More good topics will be decided upon; another process will be chosen to ‘host’ the conversation. The collective knowledge of the group will emerge, innovative thinking will happen, and there will be more participation, learning and peer review. Gather together. Say goodbye to new contacts.

At the end of the Unconference you have a brain full of ideas; and a notepad with scant stuff in it because you were too busy listening and talking to write. We will collate all that has taken place and send this out to you.

You have met diverse and interesting people, participated, and interacted with more people than you would at a traditional conference. At an Unconference, you get to know what people THINK rather than just what they DO. It’s a different connection.

You spend time sharing ideas, discovering different perspectives and ways of thinking. You can ask for solutions to the relevant issues in your organisation or business. You get to try out new methodologies, or practise old ones again.

Once you have decided the question or issue to be tackled and agreed the timeframe, we will design and facilitate the Unconference session using a blend of participatory and energising techniques and exercises to ensure that you have a host of ideas harvested from the collective wisdom of the audience. The only real limiting factor is how much time you allocate to the Unconference. Use it as a productive breakout session or devote a full day or even several to a bigger topic to really drill down on a key subject and gain potential solutions to the issue.

Collaboration v Conventional Groups

Collaboration Groups

Conventional  Groups

Everyone participates, not just the vocal few The faster thinkers and the most articulate speakers get more time
People give each other room to think and get their thoughts all the way out People interrupt each other on a regular basis
Opposite views are allowed to co-exist in the room Differences of opinions are treated as conflict that must either be stifled or solved
People draw each other out with supportive questions – ‘Is that what you mean?’ Questions are often perceived as challenges, as if the person being questioned has done something wrong
Each member makes the effort to pay attention to the person speaking. Unless the speaker captivates their attention, people space out,  doodle or check the clock
People are able to listen to each other’s ideas because they know their own ideas will also be heard. People have difficulty listening to each other’s ideas because they’re busy rehearsing what they want to say
Each member speaks up on matters of controversy. Everyone where they stand Some members remain quiet on controversial matter. No one really knows where everyone stands.
Members can accurately respect each other’s point of view – even when they don’t agree with them. People rarely give accurate representation of the opinions and reasons of those  whose opinions are at odds with their own.
People refrain from talking behind each other’s backs Because they don’t feel permission to be direct during meetings, people talk behind each other’s backs outside the meeting.
Even in face of opposing from the person in charge, people are encourages to stand up for their beliefs. People with discordant, minority perspectives are commonly discouraged from speaking out.
A problem is not considered solved until everyone who will be affected by the solution understands the reasoning. A problem is considered solved as soon as the fastest thinkers have reached an answer. Everyone else is then expected to ‘get on board’ regardless of whether they understand the logic of the decision.
When people make an agreement, it is assumed that the decision still reflects a wide range of perspectives. When people make an agreement, it is assumed that they are all thinking the exact same thing

Participatory Leadership for System Change

Your people already know the answers to the problems within your organisation. We facilitate them to draw out solutions that can be used to address these.

This is achieved by dialogue, collaboration, Participative Leadership also know as the Art of Hosting and harvesting the wisdom of all stakeholders.

Participative Leadership is an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges. Participative leadership is being used at all levels of society, in business, NGOs, communities, in government, local and national, in families and complex stakeholder processes

We live in a meeting culture. We have schedules packed solid with meetings, and somehow, very little gets done. Instead, the real work often occurs in the hallway between meetings. People are crying out for more effective meetings to drive change and progress; that’s what participatory leadership is all about. We teach collaborative leadership to help organisations increase their capacity to solve complex problems.

Related blog posts: What is Participatory Leadership When to use Participatory Leadership

When to use Participatory Leadership

People often ask ‘when do we use participatory leadership?’ Firstly, it helps to understand the nature of the problem faced i.e. is it a complicated or a complex problem?

Some examples
What’s the difference between sending a rocket to the moon and getting children to succeed in school? What’s the difference between a surgeon extracting a brain tumour and judge and jury deciding guilty or innocent for a person accused of murder?

Sending a rocket to the moon or surgeons extracting a brain tumour are complicated tasks, while getting children to succeed in school (or, for that matter, raising a child) or organising a criminal justice system are all complex tasks that involve interconnected or interdependent parts.

Once we understand the type of problem then we can choose the best methodology to solve the problem.

Cynefin (a Welsh word meaning ‘habitat or place’) is a framework developed by Welsh scholar Dave Snowden that provides a framework to help you decide on a suitable approach to solving a specific problem.

2011_cynefin-model-Ic1The model can helps us to see key distinctions between environments that are simple, complicated, complex or chaotic. This perspective also helps us to see the difference in leadership practice required by different environments.

Simple environments tend to call for a formulaic solution. If a building is on fire, command and control leadership is appropriate and the best practice would be for people to follow the fire drill to evacuate the building.

Complicated environments on the other hand include both ‘known facts’ and ‘unknowns’ and benefit from a process that draws on collective knowledge, information and experience. This approach can find a unique collective wisdom that enables the work to move forward. It is a much deeper, broader and more generative approach than applying accepted ‘best practice’, or pulling answers from previous experience alone.

The challenge when analysing complex systems is that looking at the parts tells you almost nothing about the system. What’s needed is to at look the interactions and feedback between the parts and the emergent behaviour that the interactions and feedback bring about. Another example of a complex problem would be birds flocking – each bird has only a small set of behavioural characteristics or rules when flocking and completely analysing a bird does not give an inkling of the splendour of the motion that a flock of birds draws in the sky. The behaviour of the flock emerges from the interactions of the whole and, critically, cannot be predicted by looking at the behaviour of each bird separately.

Complexity requires participation, collaboration and listening together; it requires all stakeholders to be in the same room. We need to ask powerful questions of one another and there needs to be a willingness to experiment. From the apparent disorder, a unique and powerful practice emerges that everyone involved can be an ambassador for.

Related blog posts: Participatory Leadership

Event report: Participatory Leadership, 24-26 June 2014, Scotland

 AoH Nov 2013The course was attended by forward-thinking leaders and facilitators of meetings with employees, customers, boards, public engagement, neighbourhoods, groups seeking more effective ways to inspire, engage and activate innovation and business value within their teams and stakeholders. This is about leaders and future leaders who deal with complexities in groups. Our philosophy calls for engagement and shared leadership, so participation were not limited to official titled leaders only, leaders without titles were encouraged to join. Participants who were passionate about facilitating positive change and making a difference in their community, organisation or workplace attended.

All involved in organised and delivering this training  gave there time for free; our international mentors also gave their time for free, and the funds raised through the course fees covered the expenses of our international mentors and all the expense that arose from the three day event. This was an enormous undertaking for us and we now seek funding to enable us to provide more training courses.


Tips for Working the Chaordic Stepping Stones

Chaordic Stepping Stones: Notes Derived from Dee Hock, Visa CEO; embracing chaos and creative order. When individual purpose becomes social (event and process planning). Nine steps of project management: Need, purpose, principles, people—the first four steps; collectively, the invitation; iterative.

•Create buzz, excitement with the invitation; pitch it •Articulate your need; if the need isn’t valid, pressing, relevant, you have no meeting/project •Recruit the system to fix the system •Core team as a series of conversations •Who should come? Brainstorm with post it notes; proceed from the center out to concentric circles •Invite actual people, not roles or job descriptions. How people show up is critical to the energy in the room; energy at the beginning of the meeting is directly proportional to the level of effort in the invitation. Engage people long before they arrive. Concept, limiting beliefs, structure—planning the meeting/project. •What makes you tremble? •If you don’t address limiting beliefs, fear is built into the structure •Believing you’re in control is a limiting belief •Believing you need to control is a limiting belief structure •Everything must have a need •Everything must be harvestable, provide value •Planning spreadsheet •Activity, purpose, harvest, lead logistics •If there is no purpose, no harvest, no one willing to assume lead, the activity doesn’t happen •Recruiting leadership of activities is a harvest •Never fail to prioritise next actions •Another meeting is also an action

Event report: The Art of Hosting, November 2013 in Dalkeith

Guest post by Alan Moore

Welcome to the Participatory Leadership also know as  the Art of Hosting Scotland 2013. This site harvests the outcomes of the three-day gathering that took place November 27-29 at Newbattle Abbey, Dalkeith. To find out more about the November 2013 training click here

On the 27th of November 50 strangers, more or less, came together to begin a journey of, the heart, the hand and the mind. Framed around the concept and methodology of Participatory Leadership this event was hosted and held by an organization called The Art of Hosting.

It is special in how it brings people together and demonstrates a way in which people in organisations can affect real systems change. It is counter intuitive in that it is simple – designed around what makes us human and harnesses the better aspects of our humanity; goodness, trust, a desire to be better, harnessing our collective intelligence and, is inclusive of all that participate. But it is not how we traditionally would engage in thinking about systems of change. Normal management systems are command and control in their design where people are often treated no better than components that are fitted into a machine, and where machine efficiency overrules all other aspects of the design of the system. Participatory Leadership is about engaging us all at a human level.

Hear what participants of the Art of Hosting have to say about the course:

Working for the Customer not ‘The Man’

Recently I collaborated with 6 co-authors to produce Working for the Customer, Not The Man


Bosses aka ‘the man’ frequently blur the line of sight to the customer forcing people to choose between meeting the needs of the boss or the customer. The fact that the boss doles out reward [raises, good evaluation, promotion etc] and punishment [poor assignments, no raise or even firing] based mostly on their ‘subjective’ evaluation sets up a power dynamic that all too often focuses on the boss’ needs rather than the needs of the customer.

The focus on the needs of the manager shifts the energy away from the customer in subtle but powerful way.  The job, as defined by the manager, is written with the ‘real’ customer in mind and usually describes tasks and duties that deliver ‘something’ [product or service] to the customer.  The employee is told their job is to serve and meet the needs of the customer.  However in practice, the employee is frequently tasked with work (or working conditions) that obscure the goal making it difficult to meet customer expectation or even worse conflict with delivering quality product to the customer.

This dynamic is reinforced by the way we define jobs and measure performance where the manager is at the center.  Developing customer-focused job description moves the customer to the center, increases role clarity and shifts the power from the boss to the customer.

The Butterfly Story – Positive Change

“The idea of change is most often symbolised by the butterfly which takes a completely different form, ‘trans-forms’ from one part of its life to the next.”

In its earlier form it is usually a slow, ‘dull’ earth-bound consumer. caterpillar
By going within, into its dark chrysalis, for a period of time,
the butterfly emerges to take flight into beauty and grace.

In Norie Huddle‘s book, Butterfly, she writes:

“The caterpillar’s new cells are called ‘imaginal cells’. They resonate at a different frequency.  They are so totally different from the caterpillar cells that his immune system thinks they are enemies . . . and gobbles them up – Chomp!  Gulp!  But these new imaginal cells continue to appear. More and more of them! Pretty soon, the caterpillar’s immune system cannot destroy them fast enough. More and more of the imaginal cells survive. And then an amazing thing happens! The little, tiny, lonely imaginal cells start to clump together, into friendly little groups.  They all vibrate together at the same frequency, passing information from one to another.  Then, after a while, another astonishing thing happens!  The clumps of imaginal cells start to cluster together!  A long string of clumping and clustering imaginal cells, all vibrating at the same frequency, and all passing information from one to another there inside the chrysalis.

A wave of positive energy travels throughout the system – of the caterpillar . . . but not yet aButterfly butterfly.

Then at some point, the entire long string of imaginal cells suddenly realises all together that it is Something Different from the caterpillar.  Something New!  Something Wonderful!!  And in that consciousness is the birth of the butterfly!

Since the butterfly now ‘knows’ that it is a butterfly, the little tiny imaginal cells no longer have to do all those things individual cells have to do. Now they are part of a multi-celled organism – a family who can share the work. Each new butterfly cell can take on a different job. There is something for everyone to do.  Everyone is important and each cell begins to do just that very thing it is most drawn to do and every other cell encourages it to do just that.”

There are the equivalent of imaginal cells within each of us and within  our organisations, the bodies of our society.  Transformation is about allowing those new ideas, those ‘imaginations’ to emerge and grow.

Individuals and organisations that have the ‘ways’ and the courage to do this will emerge with greater magnificence and ability to soar to new heights of success.