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Inviting Leadership

There are three ways of trying to win the young. There is persuasion, there is compulsion and there is attraction. You can preach at them, but that is a hook without a worm. You can say "you must volunteer," and that is of the devil. Or, you can tell them, "you are needed," and that appeal hardly ever fails. --Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound, father of adventure education


We walked together through the forest, following a rain-muddied trail that in most other offices would cut an arrow-straight path through so many Herman-Miller cubicles. Like any other office tour, we spoke of projects and practices, but also of pitchback spruces and fiddlehead ferns.

"Can you imagine what it would look like, what would happen, if all of this growth, all of this energy, could be channelled into a single organism, a single body?" he asked, waving a hand to invite my gaze to take in the enormity of his vision: cedars, spruces and pines, ferns, grasses and vines, bugs and slugs, birds and deer.

I looked around and wondered, imagined, appreciated. I felt the crunch of the forest under my feet, the solid ground of Bowen Island, a quiet, rocky gem in the sea, just off the coast of Vancouver, BC, Canada. I looked back at my friend, eyes beaming with the light of this forest, the life of his forest, the main conference room of Chris Corrigan's office.

"If this place were aligned in one plant, it would reach to the stars. It would be a star! And of course, that's where all this energy came from in the first place. All around us, the energy of stars on slow-burn, time-release."

"How does a forest change a mind?" he asked.

"It doesn't," I replied. "Only I change my mind. But, yes, the forest invites a certain shape of mind. There is a certain kind of mind that I make when I enter the forest. Expansive, attentive, more fluid, more powerful, more ready to deal with whatever surprises might pop out of this space."

In my office, I can do almost all of my work with my eyes, and a few keystrokes. In the kitchen, I stand chopping and stirring, almost everything within easy reach. But in the forest, I need my whole body awake. I need pelvis and feet to even get there. And once there, I'm obviously going to need them to get back. Action, steps, awareness in legs and feet, are necessarily implied and engaged by simply being in the forest. The vastness, energy and uncertainty of the forest invites me to meet it with a bigger mind, to wake up, pay attention, and be ready, as a whole body.

I pick my steps carefully around muddy patches of trail, feel the softness of the forest floor under feet with toes, muscles of legs and hips pressing into gravity, arms swinging, heart space balancing, spine twisting, head darting down and up, left and right, neck relaxing, eyes smiling in the flow of our conversation. I notice the same easy movement in my friend, letting his love of this forest be as real to me as my own connection to body. A space opens between us, distinct but not separate from the two of us. A third space, that is the two of us, and held by, surrounded and embraced by, the life of the forest.

We are talking about the leadership practice retreat we will open the next day, about our work with Open Space Technology and other approaches to organization, and our emerging vision of Inviting Leadership. This book is the product of these things, the gift of these things, and the connecting of these things with years of other experiences, one small body of work and a teeming forest of stories and methods, all appreciating, inviting, supporting and making good on the tremendous potential of people, organizations and communities.

bit more introduction to what is coming -- probably identifying the sections as the four practices.

You, of course, are part of the wider landscape of appreciating, invitating, supporting and making good. You bring your own wealth of successes, questions, practices and experiences. We welcome it all and invite you to let it move and connect with what's here. Let your own life and leadership be as real and important as what's written up in these pages -- and let what's written here be as real and true as your own lived experience. You'll be right on both counts, of course, and something new and good might just pop up as you bring the two together.


When Harrison Owen conceived of Open Space and ran the initial experiments in the 1980s he said that he hoped that Open Space would eventually become ubiquitous, that it would fade away and just become the way people do business. For a long time I thought that this meant Harrison hoped Open Space would become like brainstorming: used everywhere all the time without any thought to its origins or mechanics.

Iím now coming to realize that Open Space does indeed fade away, or at least fades into the background when my use of the process dissolves into practice. If anything, this long journey into articulating and understanding the four practices of Open Space has been an effort to understand what Iím learning about organizations, communities, leadership and passion in Open Space and applying that learning throughout my life and work.

Dissolving into practice. That is the essence of why this stuff matters. Some of the participants we had with us here on Bowen Island a couple of weeks ago reported coming to learn about the mechanics of Open Space and leaving with a deeper knowing of how space can be opened everywhere. That is what we are after: cultivating the practices of open space so that it can happen everywhere, at any time and in many different guises. For me, sometimes this takes the form of an Open Space Technology meeting, but there are something like 345 days a year when I am NOT in an Open Space meeting, and yet Iím still practicing.

Michael and I continue to look for ways to make this story accessible and practice-able as we deepen our exploration of these ideas. In the past we have talked about the four practices as Opening, Inviting, Holding and Grounding. This language still holds, and in fact a number of different words and concepts are useful, because these four words describe practice areas in which many distinct practices can be gathered.

After working through the fire of dozens of workshops and some fantastic late-night conversations, we have refined the ore a little more and we are now using the following descriptions:

underlying beliefs that will drive these things into practice...

1. everyone is trying to get happy 2. all knowledge is situational 3. anything is possible 4. everyone is responsible for his/her own experience




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Last edited May 9, 2006 11:44 am CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
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© 1998-2017 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael