Leadership Invitations: The Core Concepts

Copyright © 2018-2019 Daniel Mezick & Mark Sheffield. All Rights Reserved.



This part of the book introduces the concepts and facilities of invitation as a leadership art. Because invitation triggers decision-making, human agency and action, it is related to many important topics including self-management, self-organization, employee engagement and results. The diagram below illustrates these relationships:



Invitation is a broad and broadly applicable topic. While this book is written for those holding formal authority in organizations, the concepts can be applied to every aspect of life and in fact every interaction.

Now let’s investigate invitation as it applies to your role in the workplace.


Invitation in the Workplace

There’s a crisis in most workplaces. The pace of change, driven by technology, is accelerating. Change is happening more frequently. And the impact of these changes is usually not small.

The workforce is also changing in composition, and a new generation is changing it. They bring with them their distinct values, biases and opinions. And nowhere are these distinctions more striking than in the way they view leadership and “management.”

Executives- the highest level “formally authorized leaders”- are largely unprepared for this. Old-school management science and traditional leadership training does not provide any tools that address these challenges. That’s because leadership solutions that actually work in this new world are rooted in complexity science. But executives, directors and managers today do not need more theory. They need more (and better) actionable guidance.

And that’s what this book is all about.

This section of the book introduces the fundamental building blocks for understanding and then applying the dynamics of invitation in your leadership work.

Invitations from executive leaders to members of the workforce causes a small, temporary, but very important change in how leadership communicates. The mechanics of this change are super-efficient. This small change in what you do can lead to higher efficiency across your entire organization. Self-management is what actually scales, and invitation encourages it. This chapter introduces underlying concepts (and a supporting language) for discussing and applying these ideas.


Invitation Defined

Here is a dictionary definition for invitation:


• A written or verbal request inviting someone to go somewhere or to do something.
• The action of inviting someone to go somewhere or to do something.
• A situation or action that tempts someone to do something or makes a particular outcome likely.

So an invitation is a kind of test, a test of the receiver’s willingness.

An invitation tests the willingness of the receiver to go somewhere or do something.

The essential characteristic of this test is that it has to be OK for the test to fail. That is, is has to be OK for the receiver to decline (to not accept) the invitation. If the recipient of an invitation cannot opt-out, the so-called invitation is actually a directive rather than a request.


Invitation and Gaming

People enjoy a good game and invitation is part of any good game.

Often, the term game is actually a “loaded” term. We often think of “gaming the system,” or “corporate games.” We also tend to think all games always imply competition, although this is certainly not the case. Some games (such as puzzle-making) are purely cooperative. Games can be competitive or cooperative, or both at the same time. Consider the “game inside the game” of being on a football team. The team is 100% competitive when playing opponents. Yet inside that team, a mixture of collaborative, cooperative and competitive games are all being played.

Games have many dimensions. They can be competitive, cooperative or collaborative. They can have a specific end point, or they can continue indefinitely. Some games even have rules that dynamically change, as part of game play.

For our purposes, it is important to study and commit to memory the following four properties of a good game:

Good games (games that are actually fun to play) have four essential properties…

• A very clear goal
• Very clear rules
• A way to track progress
• Opt-in participation


Here we can see that the opt-in aspect is essential. Every good game is optional to play, and for this reason players are invited and not compelled to participate.

This connection between gaming and invitation is fundamental. It can be used to structure invitations so that they are easier for the receiver to understand and therefore accept.

We have all been in situations where we are not sure what we are actually being invited into. This ambiguity can make it hard to accept (to say “yes” to) the invitation. To avoid this problem, structure your invitation using the 4-part game properties structure. Clearly describe the goals, the rules and the progress tracking.

And of course, make it optional to play.


Invitation Structure

Let’s say you are having a dinner party and want to issue a very excellent invitation that is easy for the receiver to understand and respond to. Here is how you do it:

“I am inviting you to dinner for next Saturday night. We are planning a group of 8 people. It’s at my house and starts with beverages at about 630PM. We’ll sit down at about 7pm and enjoy a 5-course meal and 7 kinds of wine. The intent is to enjoy fine food and finer conversation as we dine. We plan to end at around 10pm. I hope you can make it. Can you please let me know by this coming Wednesday?”

Here can see the elements and the structure:

1. Goals
a. Enjoy fine food
b. Enjoy finer company, and socialize

2. Rules
a. Who: 8 participants
b. Where: It’s at my house
c. When: It’s on Saturday, it starts at 630PM and ends around 10PM
d. Details: Can you please let me know by this coming Wednesday?

3. Progress Tracking
a. By time, from 630PM to 10PM
b. By the progression of food consumed: “a 5 course meal.”
c. By the progression of wine consumed: “7 kinds of wine”
d. By the progression of conversation: “conversation as we dine.”

4. Opt-in participation
a. No one is compelled to participate; participation is 100% voluntary.


Here we can observe how an invitation to a social event (a dinner) can be structured in the 4-part format, with all of the key aspects of a good game included and clearly defined. This is a well-formed invitation. All the key elements are in this invitation, and all the elements are easy to identify. This is an easy invitation to understand. This dinner party invitation is in fact an invitation to play a kind of game.


It is important to see that even though the 4-part invitation structure is precise, it quickly translates to free-form, conversational language. Your highly structured invitations do not need to sound or feel clinical in delivery.


When your invitation has these 4 elements, the receiver can quickly understand what the invitation means, and reply confidently because they understand what they are actually being invited into.

You want to structure all of your leadership invitations in this way.


Every invitation is a test of willingness to go somewhere or do something. For this reason, your leadership invitations are best structured with these 4 parts: with well-defined goals, well-defined rules, an explicit progress-tracking mechanism, and opt-in participation.




Interpreting the Big Data Generated By Leadership Invitations


Invitations generate “big data” on what the receivers (the members of the organization) are ready for. That big data is extremely useful in the following ways:


1. Identifying Support: The responses signal who is “in” and willing to support and participate in a new initiative. NOTE: Those who respond in the affirmative respond that way because they like the invitation. It is important to note that those who decline an invitation may do so for many reasons. They may have something else scheduled, or they may have a previous obligation that prevents saying yes, etc. People decline invitations for many reasons, but they typically accept an invitation primarily because the invitation was appealing and attractive. So, you cannot attach too much meaning to a “no” or an invitation that is declined. But you can almost always assume that those who accept the invitation do so because they find it attractive. Got that?


2. Identifying Organizational Readiness: The responses offer a signal about what the organization is ready for. At any given time, the group has a kind of “adjacent possible” into which they can grow and expand. Invitations are small leadership experiments that help to gauge the group’s willingness and readiness to move in a new direction.


3. Identifying New Leaders and Champions: Some of the responses will be very enthusiastic. Those that accept your invitation in this enthusiastic way are potentially very helpful and may be new leaders, the kind who can strongly assist you in moving your plans forward.


4. Identifying Poor Bets: Some of the responses (perhaps the majority of them) may not be enthusiastic and in fact may be mostly a “no” or decline of your invitation. In that case, you just saved yourself potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in budget by not attempting a change initiative that the organization clearly is not ready for yet.


Invitations provide rich feedback. You send the invitation; after a delay, feedback (in the form a response) provides rich data on who is willing to accept the invitation by doing something (like attend a meeting) or go somewhere (for example moving from one team to another.) Since self-organizing, self-managed groups rely on feedback to sense and respond, invitation aligns with and strongly supports the goal of more employee engagement, more self-management, and the ability to leverage enterprise-wide collective intelligence.

To engage in Inviting Leadership is to engage in leveraging all of these invitational concepts, in service to a very large improvement in your overall leadership effectiveness.