Different conversations

Last Saturday morning I was having a cup of team with Andy talking about Friday night and trying to explain how the annual evenings hosted by David Towell work.

Last year I blogged about person-centred leadership. I commented that you know it when you see it – just from being in the same room with someone. Friday night was like that. David has a gift for connecting people, and asking questions that lead to different conversations.

He generously, around the time of his birthday, hosts an evening at the Kings Fund in the name of the Centre for Inclusive Futures. He jokes that paying for the food and wine entitles him to ask us to work, and talk to each other around a particular question. This year it was:

        Where are the current opportunities for making and shaping 

        positive differences in the lives of disabled people?

This is a different kind of community building – intentional community building around a shared passion and interest, often called communities of practice. David achieves this through the questions he asks, his generous hospitality, the way he structures the evening and the diverse group of people he invites – his circle. On Friday night it was an international group of family leaders and campaigning self advocates, people from organisations who may in other times see themselves as competitors (going for the same tenders), an actor, writers, leaders in all senses of the word.

A little after eight pm, David takes the mike and invites people who have been ‘listening posts’ to share what they have been hearing and learning.

I do not enjoy being in a room with lots of people that I don’t know, trying to make small talk, so at any other time I would be avoiding situations like this. However, because conversation is focused on a question, I have ‘permission’ to ask this directly, and this leads to deeper conversations, quickly and easily. This year I met another Andy (Andy Bradley) who inspired me to think about compassion and mindfulness in my work, and we have been in contact since Friday thinking about opportunities to connect our work. I also met Julia from NEF and took the opportunity to tell her how personally powerful I have found the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ that they had developed.

It is also a great way to connect with people I do know, but may only see once a year. The work that Sally Warren and Paradigm are doing about An Ordinary Life is excellent, and seeing Sally gave me an opportunity to tell her this. I talked with Nic Crosby about where he is seeing good progress in children’s budgets, and I now have some people to contact to learn more.

I leave with new people to contact; having contributed to a wider conversation; inspired by a different way to think about compassion; and appreciated and gently challenged at the same time by David himself.

So here is my challenge back to you David – please help more people learn from the people in your circle – the David Towell blogs for example? And thank you, for your leadership, and intentionally connecting diverse people through powerful questions and great hospitality.