Is The Circle Way for men?

This month we’re delighted to have Tenneson Woolf, a long-time teacher-practitioner of The Circle Way share his thoughts about men and The Circle Way.  Below is a revision for our newsletter from his May 2016 blog, Human to Human.

Is The Circle Way for Men? – A Call for an Emerging Masculine

In my nearly twenty years of being a practitioner of The Circle Way, there have been many times I’ve found myself in circles in which the participants were primarily women. Thirteen women, two men. Sometimes more women, yet the same number of men. If the ratio of men exceeds 25% of total participants, it has been noteworthy and surprising. I’ve been a bit puzzled with this observation over the years.


It’s OK by the way. These have been good circles. I’ve learned a lot. Participants learned a lot together. We built strong and trusting relationships. We got some good work done. I contributed what I could, with full honesty, which is always the intent.

In those groups, there have been many times when I, or someone from the group, have eventually asked, “where do you think the men are?” That question usually evokes a group chuckle — it’s a kind of tension release valve that occurs when something really obvious but unspoken is verbalized into the room.

When I ask that question, to be clear, I’m not asking about men’s work. That is important and related, but a different kind of circle. I’ve been lucky to be a part of those over the years also. And, to be clear, I recognize that gender identity includes a larger spectrum than a binary choice.

I’ve heard others talk about circle as a more feminine form. “It is for listening, which is what women tend to do better.” Or, “It is for feeling, which, again, is what women tend to do better.”

Um..., OK..., ur.... sure. All of that is true. But it is a bit niggly and not true also.

In those Circles in which I have sat over the years, wondering, I’ve asked myself a few related questions that seem just a bit bizarre. Like, “are men on the whole unable listeners?” I know, the stereotype of never asking for directions does come to mind. Sure, sometimes not good listeners, but that’s an old story, right? “Are men just fixated on command and control?” OK, sure, I get it that embedded in the male DNA are unique remnants of essential survival behaviors. Fair. But that feels old too. Or that needs to become old.

I want to re-language the gender-typing just a bit as it pertains to The Circle Way. The Circle Way is a methodology and way of being that is bedrock to the kind of leadership so often needed in these times and in today’s organizations. It is the leadership that is listening, which also happens to be a lifelong practice. It is the leadership that is being smart together. Yup, that’s gender free. It is the leadership that is diving deeply into purpose. It is the leadership that is shared discernment. The Circle Way creates leadership process, and container, that invokes the best of what people, men and women, masculine and feminine, can offer as gift.

I’m glad to continue to learn such things. I have known a few men in my life that have transcended many male stereotypes. There is a noticeable softness in these men. I’d call it a mature masculine, that knows a little more about how to be with others. That knows how to be curious. That knows how to ask questions, together. That knows how to lean into inherent mystery and intuitive traditions of knowing. That doesn’t need to be the star of the program. Men that have lived a shift that my friend Margaret Wheatley names, “from leader as hero to leader as host.”

The Circle Way
is a methodology and
way of being
that is bedrock
to the kind of leadership so
often needed
in these times and
in today’s organizations.


There continue to be many gatherings and practicums in which men are invited. Many of these gatherings are listed on The Circle Way website. I’m proud to be to be part of these gatherings. I’m proud to be part of restorying what it means to lead, in connection to an emerging masculine and feminine.

Along with those I get to host with, I remain committed to inviting and cultivating good leaders everywhere. I remain committed to working with whomever shows up, and to growing added collaborative sense-making. I continue to learn that it takes circle, the structure of connection, often, to give us enough trust to empower the more triangular and hierarchical structures of accomplishment and efficiencies. I remain committed to a unique bridging, held with some deliberateness, to invite us all to The Circle Way, women and men.

Please men, there is an evolution afoot that calls for us to evolve how we go together. It’s true that men may find themselves in a context that they don’t find themselves in every day. Sitting in a Circle. Sitting on the floor. Taking long and spacious breaks. Listening to the quiet. Taking turns. But then again, men know this too, and I believe, more and more, are remembering these key aspects of leadership.

I hope that the next twenty years grow us, all of us, men and women, in doing good together. In a way that, together, we as society, can mature a collective psyche through practicing together.

The Circle Way is a call for all of us.


Tenneson Woolf is a facilitator, workshop leader, teacher, blogger, and coach committed to improving the quality of collaboration and imagination needed in groups, teams, and organizations — to help us be in times such as these with consciousness, kindness, and learning. His work over 20+ years has been to design and lead meetings in participative formats. From strategic visioning with boards to large conference design to communities just learning to listen again to one another. Lately he has been working with faith communities, educators, and community organizers. He posts a daily blog, Human to Human, in which he offers reflection on varied aspects of participative leadership practices, insights, and human to human depth. Living systems, self-organization, and emergence inspire all of his work. So does emptiness, breath, or a fresh-picked garden tomato. Tenneson’s work lineages include The Berkana Institute with Margaret Wheatley, The Circle Way with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, and The Art of Hosting with Toke Moeller. He lives in a small town where urban meets rural in Lindon, Utah, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, and is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. A new love for Tenneson is kayaking.