Author Archives: Mark

Host Leadership Hint #10: Choosing – and using – your boundaries makes ‘difficult’ decisions easier

There has been a lot in the British news recently about Nadim Zahawi, a cabinet minister who was sacked by prime minister Rishi Sunak at the weekend. Zahawi had been penalised by the UK tax authorities for errors which he had not revealed when asked at various stages. The final straw came when Sir Laurie Magnus, recently appointed ethics advisor to the prime minister, found that Sunak had clearly breached the ministerial code (a code of conduct which ministers are supposed to follow) no less than seven times.

From the perspective of a host leader, this issue is wound up in the Gatekeeper role and the negotiation of boundaries. In the Host book we talk about the negotiation and observance of boundaries as a key part of leading as a host. Host leaders are clear about where boundaries are, and what happens when people cross them.

One kind of boundary is around a space or container where things happen. ‘In this team/project/community we work like this and not like that’. When people join the team or step into the space, it’s the role of the host leader to introduce these boundaries and help folk get accustomed to them. This kind of ‘enforcement’ is more like a routine than a rule; something to be learned and habitually used than enforced with punishments. (Remember, host leaders prefer to work with the soft power of invitation than the hard power of coercion.)

Another related kind of boundary is choosing what is acceptable and encouraged within the space, and what is not. The ministerial code is just such one of these, and is quite clearly written. What’s the problem then? One problem is that in recent times, prime ministers have chosen to ignore it. When home secretary Priti Patel was found to have breached the code by bullying her staff, then-prime minster Boris Johnson announced that he had full confidence in her (prompting the understandable resignation of his ethics advisor Sir Alex Allan).  (Some pedants will point out that as the code is the pm’s to write and enforce, they can’t break it – as if such a flexible interpretation would build confidence rather than point out the essentially feudal authority of a British prime minister!)

However, there is another more subtle difficulty here. In all these cases the prime minister has relied on their ethics advisor to make inquiries and deliver a verdict. It seems to me that this means that the prime minister washes their own hands of making what might be a politically difficult decision by passing it on. And I am not alone; constitutional law commentator David Allen Green writes in his excellent Law And Lore blog that:

…it really should not be the job of an adviser, however independent or distinguished, to work out whether a Prime Minister should sack a minister.

A good host leader would surely take their own code and boundaries more seriously? Outsourcing such decisions is a sign that the code is not something that the leader takes seriously but rather will overlook until the evidence is damning from all sources. Rishi Sunak would be a lot stronger by taking his own boundaries seriously and using them decisively. Unless the Conservative government is a party of rogues who are all routinely stepping over the line… perish the thought.

One great example of a boundary making hard decisions easier (and one which is not in the Host book) is from mineral water company Perrier. In 1990 some bottles of the water were found to contain benzene, a toxic chemical. Although the contaminated bottles were found in Denmark and the Netherlands, Perrier withdrew every single bottle on sale everywhere in the world. Perrier’s chairman Gustave Leven said:

”I have built up this company over the past 40 years around an image of perfection, I don’t want the least doubt, however small, to tarnish our product’s image of quality and purity.”

Perrier took a huge financial hit and the damage to their reputation was serious. But the decision to withdraw all the stock from sale was easy.

Dates and mates

Join me at the Host Leadership Gathering 2023 in Vienna, Austria on 12-13 June 2023. We’re looking for interesting participants and (even better) people who’d like to bring along a workshop, a topic for conversation or some thoughts about leading as a host. Full details at https://sinnvoll-fuehren.com/hostleadershipgathering2023/.

Hosting Generative Change online course March 2023 – work with Mark himself

There is a rare opportunity coming up to work with Host author Mark McKergow in his online four-part workshop Hosting Generative Change. The material is built on Mark’s 2020 book of the same name, published by the Bushe Marshak Institute.

The course follows the idea of supporting generative dialogues and conversations – new perspectives, new ideas, with as much listening as talking. The way into these dialogues is hosting: the way we bring people together has a huge impact on what happens. In this course Host author Dr Mark McKergow will work with you to help you host dialogues, people and organisations in ways which underpin, not overshadow, this fascinating, delicate, and essentially human practice.

The programme is based around learning and applying some key frameworks to a real-life organisational development challenge or project. The modules will be varied, each one featuring input, discussion, application and reflection. The group will form a learning community with everyone both learning and contributing. Dr. Mark McKergow has been leading online courses for over a decade and is looking forward to working with you.

Online on four Tuesdays: March 21 and 28, April 4 and 11 2023. Sessions will run from 1pm-5pm UK time (14h-18h CET, also good for Asia and USA). Registration is €490 for the whole course (+ VAT if applicable).

For full details download the flyer here. To register please contact Katrin at info@connexxo.com. The course is happening partly for a group from Connexxo, and will definitely run. We are inviting a few outsiders to join in. Please consider yourself an inside outsider and join us!

Mark McKergow’s new Substack: Steps To A Humanity Of Organisation

Mark McKergow has started a new writing project on Substack. He’s building on his work in Host Leadership, Solutions Focus and Village In The City to explore how we might organise both humanely AND effectively.

It’s easy to see how to be humane and ineffective. It’s even easier to see how to be effective and inhumane. But how to combine both?

Mark’s career has been exploring this question from various angles in learning, coaching, organisational change and community development. Now he’s building on his 30 years of experience to put this work together in new ways, explore the gaps, look at unanswered questions and try to be as clear as possible.

It’s free to subscribe and read, with new work every Wednesday. http://markmckergow.substack.com.

Join us in Vienna for the 2023 Host Leadership Gathering: 12-13 June

NEWS: I’m very excited that the 2023 Host Leadership Gathering is going ahead face-to-face in Vienna, Austria on 12-13 June. We’d love to see you, get your proposals for a workshop/topic and have you join us there. Two days full of inspiration .

https://sinnvoll-fuehren.com/hostleadershipgathering2023/

By the way… the excellent SOLWorld international conference is happening in the same venue just before our gathering, on 8-10 June 2023. You may well be interested to join both events – many people are! More information on SOLWorld 2023 at https://www.solworld2023.at/.

NEW online Host Leadership video course with Mark McKergow

We’re very excited to announce the launch of this new online learning opportunity!

You can learn about Host Leadership and how to use it with your own team, organisation or community right now with Ideas For Leaders new online Host Leadership course.

In this accessible and engaging video-based course, Host co-author Dr Mark McKergow takes us through the background to the metaphor and model of Host Leadership, and a deeper dive into the useful and innovative Six Roles and Four Positions of a host leader.

There are eight modules, each consisting of three 5-7 minute video sections. The videos contain specially created animations and graphics to help you learn, remember and apply the ideas of Host Leadership. Mark also presents some short activities for you to do to relate the ideas to your own situation. There are also further reading suggestions, links and ways to continue your development after the course.

Use code HL-LAUNCHMONTH20 to get 20% off the course until the end of November 2022.

See more information, watch Mark talk about the course, see an excerpt from one of the modules and register at:

https://ideasforleaders.teachable.com/p/host-leadership

“In Mark’s new course, he becomes the guide by your side while you’re exploring Host Leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed how he combined a sociable, motivating tone with precise wording, and luckily, his reflective questions exercises about my own practice stopped any possibility of thinking ‘I’ve-already-been-there-done-that’ dead in its tracks.”

Rolf F Katzenberger, facilitator and team coach, Pragmatic Teams

“Mark McKergow pioneered the concept of “Host Leadership”. This course is a welcome and needed enhancement to the subject. Whether you have read his book and want to embed the ideas in yourself and your organisation, or you want to dive straight into this intuitive yet (for some) elusive concept, this course is an excellent option to choose. Not only does Mark bring expertise in the subject area, he is also a skilled, good humoured and experienced communicator and trainer. I strongly recommend the course – understanding how to be a host leader will give you added impact in both personal and professional settings.”

Richard Lucas, Founder TEDx Kazimierz 

Host Leadership course logo



Hosting Generative Change: 16 hour online masterclass with Mark McKergow starts 1 November 2022

Dialogic OD is about creating generative dialogue and conversation – new perspectives, new ideas, with as much listening as talking. The way into these dialogues is hosting: the way we bring people together has a huge impact on what happens.  In this course Host author Dr Mark McKergow will work with you to help you host dialogues, people and organisations in ways which underpin, not overshadow, this fascinating, delicate, and essentially human practice. 

Four online sessions on 1, 3, 8 and 15 November at 4pm UK time ( 17h CET, 11am EST, 8am Pacific)

Download the PDF brochure

Full details and registration 

This series has other courses through the winter 2022/23, and also includes a course from Solution Focused coaching expert Haesun Moon in March 2023.

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.