INVITING LEADERSHIP: Invitation-Based Change in The New World of Work


By Daniel Mezick and Mark Sheffield. Published by FreeStanding Press. 386 pages.

Foreword from Doug Kirkpatrick

Daniel Mezick is a force of nature, an imposingly tall and striking figure with strong opinions that just happen to be fully supported by decades of experience and research. I met Daniel in 2012 at a self-management symposium, where we became friends and occasional collaborators. A master of the art of invitation, he invited me to speak at a pair of Agile events that year in Boston and Philadelphia while riding in a sort of “future of work” party bus between the two venues. We periodically crossed paths over the years, often in conjunction with sudsy beverages, talking about how to create better workplaces. I wrote a review of his first book, “The Culture Game: Tools for the Agile Manager”, and incorporate its themes into my own consulting work. I know Mark Sheffield by his sterling reputation, as the co-author (with Daniel Mezick, Deborah Pontes, Harold Shinsato, and Louise Kold-Taylor) of “The OpenSpace Agility Handbook”, a highly- rated guide for successful Agile adoptions and a valiant forerunner to this volume.

Technology matters greatly as a source of innovation—as the authors note, your competition is only one click away. Technological change is accelerating, and is often disorienting: blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, nanotechnology, robotics, genetic engineering, 4D printing and many more are forcing leaders and the organizations they lead to react at a dizzying pace. The Millennials, and Generations Y and Z, are in no mood for traditional slow-moving career escalators. Bureaucracy is exacting a financial and moral toll on organizations and the people who work inside them. The organizational status quo (or as the authors might say, the liminality between present and future of work) seems almost unsustainable. Daniel and Mark write that: “Regardless of what business your company is in, if it does not have a strategy for keeping pace with ongoing changes in technology, then competing in the markets you serve becomes more and more difficult and may ultimately lead to a crisis: an urgent need to radically change.” Would anyone disagree?

Leaping into this chaotic vortex, Daniel and Mark display an exquisite sense of timing. Their new book “Inviting Leadership: Invitation-Based Change in the New World of Work” is a splendidly accessible work that emphatically turns the traditional view of organizational change on its head at a pivotal moment in history. In the authors’ ideal world, leaders would never invoke their formal position power to impose a risky, top-down organizational transformation. Instead, leveraging the power of involvement, they would invite employees to discuss change initiatives and give them the choice of opting into the conversation or not. Such a simple paradigm shift, yet one wi th enormous potential consequences, facilitates employee engagement (and ultimately, success). As the authors note, the freedom to choose demonstrably doubles the chances that a person will agree to a request.

Since brittle, weak Command-and-Control (or C2) is a proven loser when it comes to engaging people in change initiatives, how do the authors propose to transcend its flawed logic? By shifting power to the invitee, who is free to respond to an invitation in a manner of his or her choosing. The authors note an additional benefit: if someone accepts an invitation, it’s a pretty sure bet they’re deeply engaged in the subject matter at hand—a good place to start. Daniel and Mark call this the shift from Command- and-Control (C2) to Invitation-Based Change (IBC) (and its enabler, Inviting Leadership). The anxiety-provoking rumblings in the background are from the unstable tectonic plates of rapidly shifting paradigms.

Daniel and Mark pack an enormous amount of actionable content into a few hundred pages. I learned a lot of useful stuff that I can put into practice for interested clients right away. The tables, diagrams, definitions and appendices alone are worth the price of admission. The authors have a canny knack for zooming out into space for a panoramic view of the territory and then zeroing in on targets for comparative analysis. I was happy to see an old friend, John Boyd’s OODA loop (one of my favorite models) play well with the Agile Manifesto. It’s all about being empirical and iterative, as the authors conclusively demonstrate time and time again.

Daniel and Mark extensively explore multiple polarities: self-management vs. self-organization, invitation vs. delegation, power vs. authority, leadership vs. management, engagement vs. disengagement, formal vs. informal, Sense-and-Respond vs. Command-and-Control. Engagement and Engagement Models are big deals, of the make-or-break variety—and decisive for effectively Inviting Leadership. Kudos to the authors for adroitly weaving the crucial threads of decision-making, people, boundaries, culture, constraints, signaling, storytelling, Agile, Scrum, leadership and self-management into a durable tapestry of supremely valuable application. Their decades of hard-won experience shines in the quality of every thread and the elegance of the whole.

For leaders with any interest in organizational change, this book is Inviting Leadership of the most sustainable kind. Bring on the stigmergy!

Doug Kirkpatrick, November, 2018

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