Author Archives: Mark

Host Leadership as a practical framework for dialogic leaders

Chris Corrigan, one of my long-time friends and inspirations, has just started blogging again. This is good news – his ideas and views from the western shores of Canada about hosting, facilitating, conversing and including are always worth catching.

Today’s blog is a list of 10 interesting things from his ‘parking lot’ – the place where he stores ideas and material pending making use of it. My eye was caught by a short video of Patricia Shaw on the characteristics of a good leader from a dialogic perspective. It’s only six minutes long and well worth a watch.

Patricia Shaw

I have summarised her characteristics, which are well-observed and very concisely delivered. She says leaders could do more of these:

  1. Think about convening conversations that might not happen otherwise. Opening spaces for reflective inquiry.
  2. Taking action visibly. Taking up a voice, speaking out, creating ripples where you don’t quite know the consequences.
  3. Leaders shift the conversational life of the organisation. Having the courage and skill to invite and sustain free-flowing conversation which is not simply following a highly structured agenda.
  4. Invent and improvise shifts in the configuration of speaking with each other – all together, in small groups, listening carefully. Work with conversation as an art.
  5. Encourage talk linking large-scale abstract concepts to the small-scale realities of everyday life.  Many leaders are excellent at giving accounts of the former and are unable to translate these to the latter.
  6. Know how to balance and move between written documentation with oral communication. The former leads to a narrowing and reduction of the richness of the latter.
  7. Leaders can be very good at explanation and yet very poor at description. They are too eager to move towards simple cause-and-effect linkages, where a descriptive-reflective capacity to inquire into the way circumstances happen and change.  
  8. Being able to evoke and notice ‘vivid moments of experience’, moments of common reference which have meaning for people in their everyday activity.
  9. Pay less attention to generating yet another action plan and more attention on what is opening up in front of us in terms of small steps.

Each of these nine micro-practices can be seen to be part of a host leadership stance, particularly when combined with the detail and descriptive work of Solutions Focus. My eye was particularly drawn to:

  • Using convening power – even when you don’t have formal authority to do so.
  • Work in different ways with language and conversation – all together, in small groups, individually and so on, using the Four Positions of a host leader.
  • Bringing people together to join forces to exchange, converse and emerge new ideas (rather than have a constraining agenda), in the same way that a good party is not scripted but flows this way and that.
  • Taking small steps (as in the User’s Guide To The Future framework) as a way of positively exploring and learning, rather than as part of a huge action plan.

Now take a look at Patricia’s video below. Enjoy!

Host Leadership Gathering 2022 – full programme now out!

The full programme for the Host Leadership Gathering 2022 is now online. It looks great – there are 12 excellent workshops from around the world including presenters from education (in Australia) and healthcare (in the British NHS) and multinational FMCG (“the beer that reaches the parts others can’t”) contexts. There are also top leadership development, coaching and agile professionals sharing their experience.

Host author Dr Mark McKergow will start the event with a keynote exploring ‘Host Leadership in the age of the strongman’. There will also be an Open Space session for you to bring along your ideas, challenges and questions. If you are keen to learn more and use Host Leadership in your work, this is the place to be, 

We had hoped to offer an in-person option but that is not possible. So, the event is online only. You can participate from the comfort of your own place anywhere in the world. And you will have exclusive access to recordings of all the sessions! 

Registration is just €99. Join us on Thursday-Friday 26-27 May 2022https://connexxo.com/events/host-leadership-gathering-2022/

Host Leadership Gathering 2022: Milan/online 26-27 May – Building a Host Leadership Practitioner Circle

We are very excited to announce that there will be a Host Leadership Gathering in 2022! We are hoping to gather in Milan, Italy on 26-27 May 2022 – and there will also definitely be an option to join online.

The theme of the event is ‘Building A Host Leadership Practitioner Circle’. Some of our longest-standing practitioners will be there to share their work. If you would like to make Host Leadership a key part of your own practice – as a leader, as a consultant or as a coach – then this is the moment to step forward and come to join in.

There is already a strong list of workshops on the menu, and we are seeking your proposals for sessions too (by Friday 18 February please). Presenters include Mark McKergow (UK), Veronika Jungwirth and Dr Ralph Miarka (Austria), Rolf Katzenberger (Germany), Dr Leah Davcheva (Bulgaria), Mike Brent (UK/France), Jason Pascoe (Australia) and Pierluigi Pugliese (Italy/Germany). You can see the current menu at https://connexxo.com/events/host-leadership-gathering-2022/.

The event is being hosted by our friends Pierluigi Pugliese and Katrin Seger of Connexxo. Registration is just €99 which guarantees online participation. As the travel situation comes clear, there will be an option to join in person if you can.

Come and join us – expand your practice, join our practitioner circle as it forms, and meet some great people!

Host Leadership Hint #9: Take time In The Kitchen

When we go into organisations and groups to help them learn about Host Leadership, we talk about our four positions for a host leader. These first appeared in the Host book by Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey.  Briefly, they are: 

  • In The Spotlight – upfront, public, talking to everyone, giving a speech or address 
  • With The Guests – still in public, talking to people one-on-one or in very small groups
  • In The Gallery – stepping back to take an overview of how everything is going and what might need to happen next 
  • In The Kitchen – a private space, where you can go behind-the-scenes and reflect, learn and recharge 

There is great value in taking all these positions from time to time. They all offer something different in terms of what you can discover and how you can interact with your people, your ‘guests’. What we hear again and again from real-life leaders and hosts is along the lines of…

  • “I would love to take time in the kitchen, but I’m just too busy!”
  • “There is always so much to be done, and I want to get time with the people out there”
  • “I try to find Kitchen time, but it gets pushed to the end of the day when I am too tired to really use it well”

We can sympathise with this – there is indeed always a lot to be done. And – it’s possible both to find effective ways to build in Kitchen time and use it well. 

Time in the Kitchen is time with the pressure off for a few moments. It’s time for: 

  • reflection, 
  • learning, 
  • talking to key advisors/mentors, 
  • sounding new ideas with colleagues
  • getting coaching
  • developing yourself  

The secret of getting the time for all this is – basically – to SCHEDULE it. Get it into your calendar and protect it. Value it so you don’t just take another meeting over the top of it. One good way to do this is to set aside a time (perhaps the same time) each week. An hour in the kitchen. It can take a few weeks to really get into the swing of this so you’ll very likely have to persist. 

As well as just scheduling your kitchen time, you can also effectively make the time yours by also including others. So for example you could: 

  • Make time with a coach or mentor – and put it in the diary
  • Keep a regular learning journal – say at the start and end of each week?
  • Organise away days or retreats for your closest team
  • Join a mastermind group, action learning set, supervision group or similar to meet and draw on ideas from others
  • Use mindfulness methods to create brief respites from the busyness of the day. 

It’s interesting to note that the word ‘busyness’ is so similar to business… 

Whichever way you do it, taking time every week In The Kitchen, away from the daily hubbub, will help you be a better leader and a better host.  Which way will you try next week? 

You can download a free 2-page pdf about all the four positions from this website to use and distribute in your team or organisation.


NEW: Mark McKergow talks to ‘Kindness Chef’ Harpal Dhatt about ‘welcoming the stranger’

A new podcast about hosting has been released by Harpal Dhatt, the ‘Kindness Chef’. Harpal is interested in how to build kindness and has been going through the alphabet seeking different people to talk to about how we can make kindness more of a part of our own lives, and of those around us. Harpal introduces the episode:

Inclusion recipe – Welcoming a stranger – Sitting with Dr Mark McKergow

The Kindness Chef

Episode Description

I sit with Dr Mark Mckergow to talk about his work over three decades, has been about humanising organisations in learning, changing and leading. He is the co-author of six books including The Solutions Focus and Host: Six new roles of engagement.

We talk about the old Arabic proverb, “the host is both the first and the last: first to arrive and last to leave” and how this applies to leading. This idea of host fits perfectly with kindness.

I wanted to encourage people to be kindness hosts.

Some of you may already be doing this. The idea of a host stepping forward and stepping back when necessary and creating the conditions for guests to feel comfortable.

One way to do this, is to explore how you welcome people. We create a recipe for how to welcome a stranger.

Practical ways that you can observe and pay attention and help someone in a moment of need.

One of his latest ideas combining his experiences is The Village In The City as a post-COVID initiative to encourage people to build on the micro-local communities which emerged during the pandemic.

As a response to the local connections which appeared in his own street during the pandemic. Neighbours talked, email and Whatsapp groups started, people ran errands for each other and even entertained one another from their front steps.

He thought that it would be good to build on this connection, by moving up a level from the street to the ‘village’.

Using his background as an organisational and leadership consultant, Mark devised the Village In The City Manifesto to set out the benefits and building blocks for connection.

Listen on Spotify or Apple.

Host Leadership Hint #8: Using ‘Convening Power’

Here in the UK we have just had a set of city mayor elections. This is quite a new thing for us; these ‘metro-mayors’ are directly elected as figure heads for local government in their area. They have a certain amount of authority (while having to work alongside the various elected councils and other bodies, of which there are usually several) and some executive power. However, perhaps THE key strength they have is ‘convening power’.

The idea of convening power has been around for a decade or more. Harvard business guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote about it in 2011. The Commonwealth sees it as a key element of their mission. It’s about using what recognition and authority you have, which may or may not be a lot, to gather people together around an issue or cause. Essentially, it is the ‘power of the ask’ writ large. If you don’t ask, you don’t get – so not even asking is to give a No answer before anything has actually happened.

Convening power is mostly a form of soft power. You invite people to gather with potential positive consequences. You can also offer them an enjoyable time, the chance to meet others also interested in the issues, and a seat at the table. This is invitation on a grand scale. Organisations are often keen to be seen to be playing their parts in creating solutions and can be drawn in – with a compelling invitation and a good cause.

Hints for using convening power include:

  • Find a really good topic, cause or issue to gather people around. If it really matters to people, they will come (or at least start to get engaged)
  • Thing big. Find the best-known and most widely connected person you can, and start from there. Once the crowd starts to hear that key people and organisations are joining, they’ll soon get interested.
  • Think outside the box. Don’t just ask the usual suspects, get people together from a wider range of places and contexta. Invite those affected by an issue as well as those who can help resolve it. Invite people with parallel experiences, or from fields with analogous situations.
  • Get to action. Prompt public commitments and next steps – when folk make these in front of others, they are more likely to follow through. In particular, look to make things start happening in the 48/72 hours after your event.

Anyone can use convening power. It’s a great element of Host Leadership. And if you don’t convene and gather people around what YOU think is important, who will?

Andy Burnham was re-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2021 (Photo Manchester Evening News)

Mark’s new online Hosting Generative Change course starts Tuesday 7 September 2021

Exciting news! Mark McKergow’s new online course for OD professionals, facilitators, consultants, and indeed anyone wanting to bring people together to build innovative and generative change is coming in September!

Mark has the honour of leading the first in a new series of programmes on Dialogic OD co-produced by the Bushe-Marshak Institute and the Cape Cod Institute. The programme is Hosting Generative Change and runs on four Tuesdays in September 2021, (7, 14, 21 & 28 Sept) at 4pm-8pm UK time. What’s more, you can build up several programmes in the series to gain a certification in Dialogic OD!

Register before 7 August to save $50. Details and registration at https://www.cape.org/bmi-series-courses/bmi-mckergow.  There are most courses coming as the year goes on, a different programme every month. 

Host Leadership Hint #7: Step back to move forwards

Everyone knows that leading is about stepping forward, right? Leaders are visible, go first and attract attention. Well, that’s right some of the time. And some of the time, there are other possibilities… like stepping back to move forwards.

In Host Leadership we think that leading is a dance of stepping forward and back. Yes, sometimes it’s good to step forwards, for the reasons given above. And also sometimes, there are very good reasons to step back for a moment. Good hosts don’t hog the limelight or dominate proceedings – we are more inclined to encourage our guests to be visible, to share the stage, and to build engagement and participation.

When is a good time to step back? When you’re just finished stepping forward. You have a role to play in setting the context, building a framework and perhaps asking a question. That’s a great time to step back, look expectant, offer the space to someone else.

But isn’t that losing control? Not at all! You’re still there. You can hear what’s going on. You are getting something back – what the others think, how they are seeing the situation (which may be different) and also who wants to step in next. You’re still there and can step in again when the time is next right.

So, as a host leader, think about this key question:

Are you going to step forward or step back next?

Stepping back may be more of an option than you thought…

Host Leadership Hint #6: The power of a positive No

As a host leader, we look to be clear about boundaries, what is appropriate in this particular space and what is not.  Occasionally, even with the best will in the world, we find ourselves having to say ‘No’ to someone or something.  There are some ways to do it, however, which are better than others… 

William Ury’s outstanding work on the power of a positive No10 gives some excellent pointers for this. Ury incisively points out the tension between the leader exerting their power on the one hand, and needing to tend to their relationship with the excluded person on the other. In real-life leadership situations, there is almost always a need to preserve and even build relationships for what may come next.

A positive No therefore maintains and builds relationship as well as getting the immediate need dealt with. It basically takes the form “Yes! No. Yes?” 

1. Yes! Acknowledge the interest, contribution, enthusiasm or whatever else the person has shown. Be specific if you can – let them know you have noticed the positive and useful elements of the situation so far.

2. No. State what you need to have happen clearly and as a matter of fact. Giving a justifiable reason for your position can help here – it shows that this is perhaps not the situation you were hoping for, and that you have not taken your decision lightly.

3. Yes? Offer an alternative action, role or possibility to the other person. This will both achieve your goal and also offer another way for the relationship with the person to continue. This may be another way to be involved with the project, another contribution that they might make, a point in the future where this can be revisited, another route for the person to take.

This third phase offers something for people to agree with, and so be able to maintain and even build relationships. So this No is not the end of everything, but a point of punctuation along the road of a continuing and valued partnership.

Let’s look at an example. Laura is Gillian’s manager. Gillian can act as a host, even when she isn’t one, with a positive No.

Laura: I’m looking for someone talented to chair our ethics committee. It’s a sensitive position, with lots of conflicting interests and delicate emotions. It’s also ideal for someone looking to get more visibility with the Board. So I think it would be the perfect fit for you – I’ve seen you get great results from some very tense meetings, and I know how much you want to make progress up the ladder.

Gillian: (Yes!) Thank you, Laura. That’s lovely to hear. I guess you’re thinking of those Draycox meetings I chaired. Yes, I was pleased with how they turned out, and it’s lovely to hear you say so too. I’m also very grateful to you for thinking of me in this way. [Pausing to think]

It is a very good opportunity…..
[Pausing again]

(No)… and I’m also thinking of the decontamination project. It’s getting me working seventy-hour weeks already, we’re two weeks behind on the deadline, and I really want to turn that around. The last thing I want is having you hauled onto the news at eight a.m. to explain why the beaches around here aren’t safe to swim in.

So I’m going to have to say no for n ow. (Yes?) If it can wait six months, I’d love to take up your offer. Otherwise, have you thought of John? I know he’s quite passionate in this area (remember all the extra research he did on Banyard; he was working Sundays for months). He’s brilliant at winning consensus too, don’t you think?

Notice how Gillian is genuinely pleased to receive the offer, and pauses to give the question genuine thought – which communicates how seriously she’s considering it. She is clear about her No, and offers not one but two possibilities.

(Adapted from Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements by Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey

Host Leading – Taking a practical new view on leadership

Join us for this free online workshop with Dr Leah Davcheva, coach and facilitator specialising in Host leadership and the Solutions Focus approach to building change. Wednesday 27 January 2021 at 6pm UK time.

We will aim to discover how to act in your organisation in order to build relationships and engagement while moving forward. You are also going to look into a leadership challenge you are facing right now and, thinking like a Host Leader, find possibilities for making progress.

During the programme, you will participate in activities designed to help you

  • experience the value of the host leadership metaphor in your own context of action
  • perform in ways that bring people together
  • use, to many practical benefits, the step- forward and step-back dance of the Host Leader
  • begin adopting the new roles and positions of engagement

All are welcome! Book now to reserve your place. Book free online at HOST LEADING: TAKING A NEW PRACTICAL VIEW ON LEADERSHIP