Tag Archives: leadership

The Art & Practice of Regenerative Leadership

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Michael Jones and Michelle Holiday presented an exploration of regenerative leadership based on their living systems model on Sept 9. Engaging nearly 40 participants in a close circle, Michelle started off with a cycle of connections and engagement. The context was set to explore questions of engaged leadership, including:

  • What new ways of thinking and seeing are needed within the many participatory organizing structures that are emerging?
  • How can we integrate living systems principles as we explore the leadership that is needed now in our organizations and communities?
  • What are our new practice grounds – spaces and times of shared learning, renewal and relationship that deepen our connection with both people and place?





Michael and Michelle drew from their own experience in community and strategic dialogue work, as well as from their recent article published in the current issue of The Spanda Journal, Living Systems Theory and the Practice of Stewarding Change.

Michelle presented a core case story of their developmental work with the Montreal museum organization now known as Espace pour la Vie (Space for Life), a project which combined the Botanical Gardens, Planetarium, Biodome and Insectarium into a new biosciences museum group. As an evolving living system organization, the results of the journey are impressively real in the growing value the new combined museums have to the regional and scientific communities.

Michael Jones shared his stories, dialogue and music over the course of the evening, including insights from the four-step model in his book, The Soul of Place. The two revealed their combined four timeless patterns that shape all living, creative, expressive systems. We worked in small groups to find and share how these four patterns emerged in our own leadership work in the context of regenerative living organizations.


Michelle’s four patterns were drawn from years of study and development of living, biological systems. The nature of life “itself” is represented by four classic patterns that describe any non-mechanical system:

1. The parts, components, divergent members of a living context.

2. Their relationships with one another, how they connect and create new patterns.

3. Their convergence as a whole system, a unitary holon with its own wholeness of identity and distinct form.

4. The self-integration of life as an animating force that imbues a living system with its vitality.


Underlying the four patterns is a deep connection with place. Any living system is rooted in and nourished by the place where it grows, and we and our organizations and communities are no exception. Michael presented his four patterns from The Soul of Place, and through his stories of relationship with place, music and practice, and his own life, he showed how his four patterns connect neatly to the living system:

1. Homecoming, or the pattern of return of individuals to a place of recognition or home.

2. Belonging, the making of relationships among ourselves.

3. Regenerativity, the creative practice of leadership and acknowledgement of one’s role and source, form a place.

4. Carnival, transformative celebration, the expression of shared vitality (life) and possibility.

We explored the areas of practice offering the most fertile soil for these new possibilities to take root. A series of questions prompted exercises to reflect in small groups on possible applications and starting points.

What are (or could be) your practices for sensing and supporting what life calls for? What practice grounds are needed?

What do you feel called to steward? what could that look like, given the 4 patterns we explored?

Where do you see regenerative leadership coming ever more vibrantly to life? What is being done? How are the patterns present and cultivated?

What kind of greenhouse or Solarium do we need to create to cultivate regenerative leadership in ourselves and our communities?

The four phases of the evening’s session are described in Patricia Kambitsch’s sketch of the dialogue. Here the imagery moves from left to right, from the participant’s experiences in “feeling most alive” to the discussion of patterns and relationships in living systems (creating conditions for life to thrive) to the sets of patterns, and final dialogue.

About the Hosts

Michael Jones is a leadership educator, dialogue facilitator, writer and Juno-nominated pianist/composer.  His most recent book, The Soul of Place, is the third in a series on Re-imagining Leadership.  Others in the series include Artful Leadership and the award-winning  Creating an Imaginative Life.  Michael has also been a thought leader with the MIT Dialogue Project and Dialogos and other prominent leading edge universities and centres.










He has co-chaired several place-based initiatives and spoken on the leader’s emerging role as  placemaker in a variety of forums including The Authentic Leadership in Action Conferences (ALIA), The Society  for Organizational  Learning (SoL) and many others. As a pianist/composer Michael has composed and recorded fifteen CD’s of his original piano compositions and performed as a solo pianist across North America  as well as Korea and Japan.  He has been integrating his music in his leadership and dialogue work for over twenty years. See www.pianoscapes.com to learn more about Michael and his work.

Michelle Holliday is a facilitator, organizational consultant, researcher and writer. Her work centers around “thrivability” — a set of perspectives, intentions and practices based on a view of organizations as living systems. To this end, she brings people together and helps them discover ways they can feel more alive, connect more meaningfully with each other, and serve life more powerfully through their work. This generally takes the form of designing and hosting transformative events, as well as delivering talks and workshops. Michelle also writes regularly, including a forthcoming book, The Age of Thrivability. Her research is summarized in a slideshow called Humanity 4.0, as well as in a TEDx presentation.

Where is Home? Leadership & the Soul of Placemaking

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June’s Unify Toronto dialogue hosted leadership educator, facilitator and Juno-nominated pianist Michael Jones, inspired by his forthcoming book: The Soul of Place: Reimagining Leadership through Arts, Nature, and Community. The book is expected shortly, and will be available for August’s Design with Dialogue (8/13) as Michael returns to OCADU with a second session for the book launch.  In the meantime, his brief brief article titled Recovering the Soul of Place:  Reflections on Place-Based Leadership is available.

soulMichael’s approach to placemaking is radically different than the current trend in urban planning and city-building. His book and view is a platform for community leadership grounded in the essential humanity of understanding place, nature, and creativity.

We are shifting from the industrial age and the age of information and technology to the age of biology. We are now asking, “how do we create spaces for life?” “How do we align our thinking with how nature thinks?”  He asks us to create places as living systems inspired by biology and interconnection.

We explored the four patterns in Michael’s book that underlie the soul of place:

  • Homecoming  – Where is home and how do we find our way there?
  • Belonging  – How can the connective tissue of life-giving relationships align us with the essence of nature and how nature works, connects, and thinks?
  • Regenerativity – What does it mean to make the invisible visible, to contribute to the conscious evolution of life?
  • Carnival – How can we gather together on the square or in the commons, bringing together diverse energies, democratic spirit and upturning the old for the new?


The event was uniquely facilitated to engage multiple modes of experiencing and presencing the patterns. Michael Jones told stories about his experiences in embodied leadership and his musical learning journey (“Who’s going to play your music, if not you?”).  He played several pieces while participants listened, contemplated, moved or held small group dialogues. Our gathering hosted dialogue around the four themes and patterns. An integrated sketch by Patricia Kambitsch formed a visual story of the experiences and dialogue in the room.


“By looking at place not only as something to return to but also something to grow out from –orienting us to the future and not only the past; and by realizing that a place is not an object or a thing, but a power and a presence, we can partner with place in a way that is itself deeply transformative, opening our hearts to the experience of beauty, aliveness and possibility.” – Michael Jones,Recovering the Soul of Place

About special guest Michael Jones:


Michael is a leadership educator, dialogue facilitator, writer and Juno-nominated pianist/composer.  His most recent book, The Soul of Place, is the third in a series on Re-imagining Leadership.  Others in the series include Artful Leadership and the award-winning  Creating an Imaginative Life.  Michael has also been a thought leader with the MIT Dialogue Project and Dialogos and other prominent leading edge universities and centres. He has co-chaired several place-based initiatives and spoken on the leader’s emerging role as   placemaker in a variety of forums including The Authentic Leadership in Action Conferences (ALIA), The Society  for Organizational  Learning (SoL) and many others. As a pianist/composer Michael has composed and recorded fifteen CD’s of his original piano compositions and performed as a solo pianist across North America  as well as Korea and Japan.  He has been integrating his music in his leadership and dialogue work for over twenty years.
See www.pianoscapes.com to learn more about Michael and his work.

Deep Democracy

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Deep Democracy: Transforming Conflict into Collaboration

By Leah Snyder –  Mixed Bag Mag

Idle No More made Canadians more aware that there is some tough dialoguing to be done around the historical as well as the present day impact of broken treaties and residential schools. Many people have become entrenched around the issues of land and resources. As someone who writes about contemporary Canadian culture, including both Immigrant and Indigenous perspectives, I am interested in exploring how best to facilitate spaces of understanding between disparate positions which is why I was drawn to Design with Dialogue’s January event.

Deep Democracy is well…deep! Because of the complexity of the methodology the evening’s facilitator, Violetta Ilkiw, was only able skim the surface as to how it works. Violetta explained “facts don’t convince people.” If they did geopolitical spaces would easily shift to become more humane places.

So if facts don’t motivate people towards solutions what does? In a nutshell Deep Democracy is about emotionally moving people towards a place “where the polarities drop away momentarily”. DD is about arriving there to then sit with intent, hold that moment and use it as a way to bring us (safely) out of our entrenched positions. This is where I believe DD shows promise as a tool for facilitation – it understands the role that the dynamics of energy play and offers a methodology to shift the energy.

It sounds simple, and in a way it is. It has a lot to do with storytelling and having people share their own stories in order to find common ground – children, homeland, loss and abandonment. When storytelling is combined with the acknowledgement of the importance of energy dynamics, DD facilitators can work to move pain, trauma, and fear out of the body quite simply by moving the body. Subtle, unconscious, non-verbal cues are monitored by the facilitator and participants are encouraged to physically move during the sessions. One such exercise is the Soft Shoe Shuffle.

“involves a group standing around and someone makes a statement, typically in response to a powerful question put to the group. When someone makes the statement all other people either move towards that person if they agree with it, or move away from the person if they disagree with it…” (The Art of Hosting website)

During the exercise the participants may ‘shuffle’ back and forth between the person making the statement and someone else offering a counter argument. The purpose of the Soft Shoe Shuffle is to demonstrate that our positions are not fixed – we can be fluid and also truthful about how we feel. This fluidity allows us to understand our pliability around varying perspectives including those that arrive from inside ourselves.

Again, this may sound simple but when it comes to people taking a position out of emotion rather than making their decision based on facts you are dealing with individuals in a vulnerable state, perhaps feeling that if they show weakness in their convictions they are, in a way, internally threatening themselves. We are emotional beings often engaging in the world through our fears and desires – that’s a fact! If we can find a methodology of facilitation that accommodates this then there is power to move (emotional) mountains.


Sketchnotes by Charlotte Young

About the Session

Conflict is a common aspect of all our lives. Deep Democracy is a conceptual framework for analyzing group dynamics and conflict, and a set of methods for facilitating group interactions. In Deep Democracy, conflict is seen as an opportunity for growth and transformation.

The process of Deep Democracy values diverse leadership, bringing to the forefront voices that are not usually heard or can become lost in traditional decision-making models. The process focuses on the health and quality of participation – not just on how many people participate.

Deep Democracy training relies on building self-awareness, empathy and honesty. It is one of the few methods of facilitator training that focuses both on facilitator development and on tools and methods for facilitating conflict. The process helps us become stronger collaborative leaders, access the strength of any group, surface conflict and work toward more holistic community & group outcomes.

For January, the first event of the 2014 DwD series, we explored:

  • The basic principles of Deep Democracy
  • Ways and steps toward conflict resolution
  • Ways to explore conflict within ourselves
  • How to utilize these basic skills to ground ourselves as facilitators, in working with conflictual situations whether these are interpersonal, in small groups or in organizations.
Violetta Ilkiw brings 20+ years of facilitation experience, with a particular interest and focus on participatory multi-stakeholder processes. Her work is grounded in adult education principles, Art of Hosting & process design, and she is driven by a desire to see fundamental systemic shifts and change, ultimately resulting in healthier communities. Violetta has also acted as senior consultant to the Laidlaw Foundation for the past 14 years, and has been integral to bringing strategic vision, design, innovation and increased collaboration into the Foundation’s work with young people. Violetta is currently in the final year of a 3-year Masters in conflict facilitation and organizational change at the Process Work Institute in Portland, OR.

Nonviolent Communication: Moving from Stuckness to Possibility

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What If You Had the Answer All Along?

Henry Wai of the Center for Nonviolent Communication conducted the March 2012 DwD with Patricia Kambitsch of Playthink .


The session engaged people in interpersonal interactions that revealed the principles of nonviolent communication (NVC). NVC is a technique for opening possibility in areas of life where individuals experience being stuck or frustrated. When provided with an empathic space, such as created in the workshop, an innate resourcefulness in the person is freed up for opening up possibility at work, home, or community.

Henry Wai’s hands-on workshop explored:

  • How common thinking and habitual patterns limit our capacity for constructive possibility
  • A simple and powerful approach to get to the heart of issues
  • How this insight serves as the basis for creative action

The workshop held three seminar sessions with a total participation of about 40 people. Methods for exploring empathy and listening in communication included dyad and triad exercises and the NVC Feelings / Values cards.


Visual reflection by Patricia Kambitsch.

Online References:

Henry Wai helps people to work effectively, compassionately and with vitality. He has 25 years of experience leading trainings, developing programs and delivering direct service in areas such as housing and food co-ops, volunteer management, adult education, social enterprise and employment counselling. Henry’s experience includes working with individuals, teams and boards from diverse cultures and backgrounds. For 10 years Nonviolent Communication has been a very powerful addition to his approach which emphasizes self-awareness, choice, relational skills and ways to build co-operation in both work and personal settings. Henry is a Certified Trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication.  More recently he has been exploring contact improvisation dance for lessons in finding ways through stuckness or awkwardness.

Authentic Leadership in Action

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The ALIA (Authentic Leadership In Action) Institute, based in Halifax, gathers a global network of systems-change agents for programs that explore how we can act as more powerful leaders in our communities and organizations. ALIA’s approach integrates experiential skill-building with mindfulness, creative process, and dialogue.

The recent annual Summer Institute, held in Columbus, Ohio, was well attended by DwD community members. July’s DwD session engaged about 20 participants with Greg Judelman, Patricia Kambitsch, Mark Kuznicki and others that attended revealing their learnings and insights. The structure and inquiry of the evening was inspired by processes from ALIA,  a movement exercise and reflection into our own deeper capacity to lead positive change.

The July DwD led to a voluntary continuation of dialogue at Sin and Redemption. It appears that our goal of re-creating the ALA experience was achieved – since the DwD, we’ve had numerous reflections on the core idea of vulnerability as authentic risk in leadership.

In his Attention Surplus podcasts, Sean Howard discussed his insights into the practice of attending to vulnerability explored in this DwD. Being vulnerable in leadership, listening, and engagement with others was a core notion from ALIA.  Highly recommended –