Create The Conditions

Last weekend I went to a show at the Wellington Comedy Festival. As the comedian began, she invited the audience to help make it an awesome show. She said that she wanted us to contribute to the experience, not just to sit back and expect to be entertained. And guess what? The show was a hoot! 

Why? I reckon it’s because she first and foremost saw herself as the host of the audience, not simply the hero on the stage. She created the right conditions for us to get what we came for: to feel good!

‘Create the conditions.’ How can this idea apply at work?

Here’s one way: in times of change and uncertainty, we tell ourselves that people need information. That’s true, yet what my clients tell me that they actually yearn for is the space and time to make sense of things, and to be involved in the unfolding process. 

Don’t just fire off more comms, or do endless ‘talking head’ roadshows with jam-packed, 20-bullets-per-page slides. That’s like pointing a firehose at me when all I needed was a drink of water.

Instead, create the space for me to engage with the information. Give me the space to talk about it, explore it and reflect on it. Invite me into the conversation and help me shape it. That’s what I need.

In other words, go beyond merely information. Give me a deftly crafted experience that blends information, conversation and reflection

As Priya Parker, the author of The Art of Gathering, says: “Reverse engineer an outcome: Think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backward from that outcome.”

Hero vs. Host

All too often, I see leaders wearing the ‘hero’ hat. That’s the hat we wear when we tell ourselves “It’s on me to provide the answers, the direction, and the confidence that people need.” I see it particularly with people newer to leadership, where cultural conditioning and role modelling has taught us that this is what it means to lead.

When we wear the hero hat, we talk at people and do presentations to them. And we expect people to be clear, satisfied and motivated! 

Instead, what if we wore the ‘host’ hat? That’s the hat we wear when we tell ourselves “It’s my job to create the conditions for us to get the outcome we need.”

The host brings people together. They create the conditions for people to do the work that’s needed. That work might be sense-making, or it might be decision-making. Or maybe it’s simply connecting with each other.

What’s clear is that in our ever-hurried world, people value space to slow down. To connect. To think. 

Enlightened leaders know this, and they know how to create the conditions for it. 

They channel the wisdom of the philosopher Lao Tzu: “The best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say 'We have done this ourselves.”

The hero puts themselves at the centre. The host puts the outcome at the centre, and invites people to play their part in creating that outcome.

It’s not all about you. And it’s not all on you.

People don’t need your expertise. They want an experience that they can be a part of. Set up the experience, and then get out of the way so people can do the work they need to do together.

Dial Up Your Host

How do you dial down your hero and dial up your host? 

We know you’re wearing the host hat when:

  • You’re OK with saying ‘I don’t know’
  • You invite us to shape ideas with you, not show us a finished idea
  • You ask more questions than you provide answers
  • You listen more than you talk
  • You put significant time into thinking about the outcomes you want to see, and the conditions that will enable that.

Here’s a question to ask yourself in any meeting or conversation: what hat can I wear that will best serve the outcome we need here?

For more like this, check out:

Stepping Into Complexity

Come Down From The Stage

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