Author Archives: Mark

Host Leadership Gathering update – lots of great topics and people!

Plans for our 2018 Host Leadership Gathering on 28-29 May 2018 are firming up.  Some of the workshops and topics on the agenda include:

  • Rolf Katzenberger on the dynamics of moving between roles and positions while hosting
  • Helen Bailey on the latest work on a Host Leadership behavioural questionnaire – we’ll be sharing the latest prototype and discussing how to use it
  • Alistair Cockburn on ‘guest leadership’ – his latest idea and an intriguing take on the host-guest relationship
  • Mark McKergow on how the use and application of host leadership ideas is spreading around the world
  • Géry Derbier and Laurent Sarrazin on using host leadership as part of their approach to agile projects and trainings.

There will also be experienced host leadership practitioners from across Europe, open space sessions so you can bring along your own challenges, topics and questions, plenty of time to be together in an exciting and developing part of Paris, and a wonderful opportunity to get some new ideas and practices.  We’re hoping you will join us!

For more information:

For booking:

For information and questions, contact Mark McKergow himself at

HL Gathering 2018 pic crop

“Be like water” – flowing as a host leader

belikewaterA recent article from Dr Colm Foster, Director of Executive Education at the Irish Management Institute, sets out the idea that, particularly in a fast-moving VUCA environment, leaders might start to aim to ‘be like water’.  Foster points out that a lots of leadership education is still done on the basis of ‘great men’ such as Jack Welch and Steve Jobs.  These guys, and many others, sought to impose themselves on a situation and definitely influence people, pushing them to exert control in difficult times.  Interestingly, research from Richard Boyatzis at Case Western Reserve University showed that these influencers’ ended up a lot less happy with their lives and careers than others.

Foster wonders whether, in more turbulent, close-to-the-edge times, it might be better not to push people but instead to be more adaptive.  He writes:

“This will require a cadre of new leaders who are less ego-identified with success and winning, who don’t see problems as opportunities to impose themselves and demonstrate mastery of the environment.

“Rather we will see the emergence of leaders who can go with the flow, adapt to new realities quickly, work through and with others as either leader or follower and pivot gracefully as cherished paradigms fall away and hard-earned experience proves ineffective as a guide to new problems.” (Foster, 2018)

Foster notes that this is reminiscent of martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s instruction to his students to ‘Be like water’.  This idea of ‘going with the flow’ and adapting quickly is built into the Host Leadership paradigm; a good host both makes a (good) plan, and is prepared to let go of the plan when needs arise.  In this piece I would like to focus on one particular element of Foster’s selection above – working through and with others either as leader or follower.

Once of the key aspects we’ve discovered in our research about what great hosts (and host leaders) do is the act of stepping forward and back.  Sometimes we want to step forward, set the scene, make people aware of what is going on, direct attention and set out what might happen next.  Then, we might step back  – leaving people to get on with it, giving them space to respond to what’s going on.  Then we, having stepped back, can take a look around, see how things are going, what needs attention, who needs to be engaged, before we step forward again.

One of our ‘six roles of a host leader’ is the Co-Participator role.  When we step forward in this role, it is as one of the team, doing what needs to be done whatever the status of the job.  This might be taking a turn at the customer service desk, helping out on the shop floor, or even just doing the photocopying – there’s a great story in the book about a very senior director helping out in just that way during a late night rush to get things ready for the morning.  He did what needed to be done – and what there was no-one else to do at that particular moment.

This willingness to join in, throw our shoulders to the wheel in whatever way is necessary, is a practical implementation of switching between leader and follower and back again.  Note that doing some of the team’s work, being a follower for a while, doesn’t mean relinquishing the leadership role overall.  In fact, when the team members see the leader helping out in this way it very much strengthens the relationships and respect, so that when the leader steps back into a their leading role once more it is with a new degree of awareness from all parties.  Trying it tomorrow – where can you be a Co-Participator and help your team out for a while?  What difference does it make for you? For the team?

The international Host Leadership Gathering 2018 is in Paris, France on 28-29 May 2018.  Come and join us for workshops, keynotes, open space discussions and social time with some very interesting leaders and leadership developers. 

Hat tip to the Alan Lyons in Dublin for pointing me to the Colm Foster piece online. Thanks Alan!

Dr Mark McKergow is the co-author of Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements (Solutions Books 2014).


Host Leadership – responding to the unexpected

Poynton-331x254In a fast-moving world, leaders need to become skilled improvisers.  That’s the message from Robert Poynton, associate fellow at Oxford’s Said Business School.  In a recent interview Poynton talks about seeing the world through the lens of ‘offers’ – an improving term which means possibilities for constructive action.  He says:

“Offers are everywhere if you are prepared to see them. Seeing a world full of offers means looking at everything as something you can use to create flow—even something that seems to be a problem. This is a very different attitude from seeing the world as full of problems that you want to get rid of.”

This is an excellent attitude to cultivate. It seems to us that the key aspect here is in the phrase ‘if you are prepared to see them’.  Leaders who are intent on executing their plan will find it very difficult to notice these offers and opportunities.  Leaders who, like those who follow host leadership principles, are more concerned with enhancing the quality of the interactions around them, may be in a better position.

Our model of ‘four positions of a host leader’ helps you to set aside time to be ‘in the gallery‘.  This is a stepped back position, where the leader is not rushing around trying to urge people on.  Instead it’s important to take a moment, every now and then, to step back, take a breath, and survey the scene in front of you. What’s going on? Who is doing what? Are there people who seem unengaged or confused? Are there things happening which you didn’t expect?

It’s this last kind of observation, noticing the unexpected, that makes for a potential ‘offer’, in Poynton’s terms.  Rather than immediately jumping up and stamping out the unexpected, there are a few questions which might make better sense:

  • How might this be a ‘useful gift’? This is another improvising term – it means something that you hadn’t planned for, but might be an opportunity to open new doors and create new possibilities.
  • How could I make a constructive response? Rather than responding with a No! to the unexpected happening, think ‘Yes…and…’.  What’s the next small step to take in embracing and using the situation to create something new?  (It only needs one step – the step after than will probably come from some of the others, and you’re away).
  • If things are getting very emotional, consider a Yes…And on the emotions which are appearing. “I can see you’re getting very annoyed at this…” acknowledges what’s happening without trying (yet) to sort it out.  A step at a time. This often starts to take the heat out of the situation, leaving everyone in a better place to be constructive.

Host leaders know that excellent preparation and good improvisation are not opposites – they support each other very well in judging how to ‘go with the flow’ – but in the kind of direction that you’re seeking.

The international Host Leadership Gathering 2018 is in Paris, France on 28-29 May 2018.  Come and join us for workshops, keynotes, open space discussions and social time with some very interesting leaders and leadership developers. 

Hat tip to the excellent Nick Burnett for pointing out the Robert Poynton interview. Thanks Nick!

Dr Mark McKergow is the co-author of Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements (Solutions Books 2014).


An invitation to celebrate: Host Leadership in Australian schools

Maria SerafimNew South Wales Director of Public Schools Maria Serafim is a keen exponent of both host leadership and solution-focused approaches. She has been inviting school principals to take the role of host, with some marvellous results.  Here is Maria’s guest blog for Host Leadership. 

“I can get a better grasp of what is going on in the world from one good Washington dinner party than from all the background information NBC piles on my desk”

“Lend an ear, give a hand, provide assistance to the weary, generosity makes a gracious host.”

Imagine being invited to host a ‘dinner’ with your choice of guests, to celebrate and highlight what you have achieved in your leadership of a school over the course of an academic year. In 2017 a group of more than 30 principals engaged in this co-designed approach to reflect on their professional goals based on Mark and Helen’s metaphor of leaders as hosts (Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements, 2014). The idea came from my experience of applying a solution focused approach complete with a toolkit of treasured strategies to engaging with colleagues.

This led to learning about the leader as a host. Moving from being the hero or the servant as leader to the host – learning the ‘dance’ of knowing when to step forward and when to step back, how to keep the conversation flowing and create the right atmosphere for celebration and growth. As a metaphor it provides a doorway into building quality, trusting relationships. It sparked in me the idea of sitting amongst people, being invitational, being a co-participant.

So began the sharing of this novel idea of hosting a ‘dinner party’ and all that entails for it to be memorable, pleasurable, a psychologically safe environment for conversation, connecting with others and leaving people feeling and thinking ‘what a great and authentic experience that was’. The invitation to participate was co-created by the principals so that they were empowered to ‘host’ in the way that suited them best. The invitation below was what we co-authored:

Invitation sent to Principals:


Host leadership, a leadership style alternative developed by Marc McKergow and Helen Bailey, where the leader behaves as a host would where they receive and entertain guests. 

In keeping with our co-designed approach to working together, I am writing to invite you to engage in an innovative approach to our discussion about your goals.  I invite you to apply the notion of host leadership as a way of creating a purposeful space for us to share successes and reflections of your goals for 2017.  Consider the leader as host in the context of hosting a dinner party. As a dinner host we put thought into who to invite, how to cater, topics of conversation and setting the scene for everyone to enjoy themselves. This is your opportunity to host, or for me to host you, to celebrate and share the end of year reflection of your leadership. The dinner party is a metaphor for a leadership style so you certainly aren’t expected to cook up a storm…in fact, you are not expected to cater, rather create the space and atmosphere for us to talk in a purposeful, refreshing and supportive way. Like all great dinner parties, let’s create a space that is relaxed, can allow for plenty of conversation and an opportunity for your invited guests to share stories and/or artefacts that affirm their reflection of your goals. The duration of our time together is 90 minutes.

So, what could this look like? In keeping with the ‘dinner party’ metaphor you could, or request that I, host:

  • A ‘dinner party’ for two – you and me meeting to discuss your goals.
  • A ‘dinner party’ with invited guests – you may choose to invite staff, students, community members to support and reflect your perceptions and evidence towards your learning goals. For instance you may involve administrative staff if you had a goal around finance, members of your leadership team if you were building capacity in others, students for your focus on enhanced student voice.

Consider what type of ‘meal’ this will be – another metaphor for the approach you want to take for instance you may want guests to join us at different ‘courses’. It could be a degustation meal with many different ‘tastings’ and so it goes. You can be as innovative as you choose.

My experience highlighted that when colleagues are trusted and backed to apply their own approach to leading, to sharing and collaborating the results can impress and amaze. Our host leadership experience led to incredibly creative ‘dinners’ including degustation menus that had tastings of achievements and highlights, a buffet meal that included a smorgasbord of feedback and reflection from students, community members and staff, a Hollywood Star Highlights meal, Mad Hatters Tea Party, Chinese Banquet complete with giving guests the name of Gods and a Thanksgiving dinner that included students, staff and a neighbouring colleague principal.

Many meals included a menu that guided the conversation. During our Thanksgiving ‘meal’ the host principal was our guide, stepping forward and asking ‘What are we thankful for in our school?” smoothly stepping back to hearing the reflections from her guests. When we came to ‘The Stuffing and the Gravy’ our host asked what was hidden and what the school showcased well. What I experienced was that the atmosphere set the scene for honest reflections with suggestions for future and ongoing improvement and all the while there was feedback and acknowledgement of what was working well. This was true for every ‘dinner party’.

One reflection I received via text from a colleague after our discussion that I hosted at a nearby café spoke volumes to me about never underestimating the way we can use our influence as leaders to harness new and even more valuing ways to connect with colleagues:

Maria PDP cropThe inspired idea of being a host leader has opened a new door to the empowerment of others. To see myself through the lens of a host and apply this in the way that I interact has led to giving myself permission to affirm and say, “I’m really impressed with what you’re doing.” In a coaching context, I previously thought that was more of a judgement, and what I’ve realised now, affirm, affirm, affirm and build that positivity. It’s built trust in ways that I don’t believe I have ever have experienced before. From these collaboratively developed ways of working together we have been able to change the way we connect as leaders.

There’s more to do and even more exciting possibilities to be had from this approach. If leadership is about inspiring and influencing, then sustainability is in what you leave behind when you’re not there and that’s what we want for the children and people we impact on. So, for me every conversation is an opportunity to model and have someone experience what it feels like … because we know that’s what people remember … for them to have come away feeling better off as a result of the interaction. Did I leave them better off? Did I leave them feeling valued? Did I leave them feeling like they were in a place where they could continue to inspire? Do they want to host me or for me to host them again?

“It’s not what’s on the table that matters, it’s who’s in the chairs.”

Maria Serafim is a Director, Public Schools with the New South Wales Department of Education in Australia. Her work involves collaborating with colleagues at a school and system level to ensure that principals are positioned and supported and challenged to successfully lead their school communities. Maria is recognised for her capacity to develop leaders through a positive, solution-focused approach to educational and transformational leadership. She is focused on enhancing the potential for leaders to apply an agile and innovative approach to leading their learning communities. Maria’s leadership is defined by an unwavering approach to applying a positive, growth mindset to change and future focused approaches to coaching and mentoring for success. She began her work in education as a primary school teacher having wanted to be a teacher from an early age and is a proud student of public education. 

Maria is on Twitter @mserafim1 and well worth following.  Below is a selection of photos taken at some of the different events hosted by school principals in New South Wales, Australia.  If you look closely you can also see some of the ‘menus’ for discussion and celebration- click on the individual images to be able to see the details better.

IMG_5263IMG_5265IMG_5264   IMG_5266 IMG_5267 IMG_5269 IMG_5211 IMG_5212 IMG_5221 IMG_5223 IMG_5227 IMG_5229 IMG_5231 IMG_5236 IMG_5237 IMG_5241 IMG_5242 IMG_5243 IMG_5245 IMG_5246 IMG_5248 IMG_5249 IMG_5250 IMG_5251 IMG_5252 IMG_5253 IMG_5254 IMG_5256 IMG_5257


‘In The Gallery’ all the time – lessons from a master host

steven-2Part of our model of leading as a host is the idea of four positions – In the spotlight, With the guests, In the gallery and In the kitchen.  These are four different ‘places of perception’, viewpoints that a host leader can take to get different interactions and possibilities going.  With skill and practice, you can learn to move very quickly between them.  It’s rare to find someone as skilful at this at Steven Devlin from the Rocpool Restaurant, Inverness in the North of Scotland.

I’ve just returned from a trip up north to celebrate a family birthday.  Jenny and I were staying at the Palace Hotel – we’d gone a day earlier than planned to avoid incoming blizzards here in Edinburgh, and so arrived in search of a good meal with no particular plans.  The Rocpool was very close by and well reviewed, so we dropped in at 7pm on a cold Wednesday evening and… it was packed! Fortunately the lively Maitre’D quickly had us at the bar getting a drink and a table came free, so we sat down.

Steven Devlin (pictured above outside the restaurant) is more that just a Maitre’D – he is the owner, and the inspiration behind this restaurant.  After 16 years of success, Michelin listings, Good Food Guide recommendations and AA rosettes he knows what he is doing.  And one of the things he is doing is being incredibly observant as he moves about the restaurant.  He took a little time to chat with us and find out how come we were in town.  As the evening went on, he quickly noticed again and again when we had an empty glass, or if something hadn’t arrived yet.  And it wasn’t just us – walking through the restaurant, I could see that he was quickly noticing where every table was, how things were going, what needed to happen next.

Steven is no one-man band of a restaurateur; he has many very well-trained and skilled staff both waiting tables and in the kitchen.  However, he sets such a great example with his observation skills that it gives the whole place a wonderful atmosphere of inclusion and care.  In terms of our model of host leadership, he is In The Gallery all the time, being aware of what’s happening, how things are going, what needs to be taken care of next. And then he can swiftly move into being With The Guests as he talks to each party and moves things along.

In leadership terms, the lessons to learn from Steven are:

  • Spend time out of your office, walking around and taking an overview of what’s going on
  • As you do this, you’ll notice things to respond to – good and not so good. Respond right away.
  • Let people know you’ve noticed, then you can either talk to them about it or get something done, depending on the situation
  • Then move on quickly. There are always more things to notice and more people to engage with.

We liked watching Steven, the vibe and the food so much that we returned two nights later for our birthday celebration meal. And of course Steven was at it again.  Always interested, always observant, always moving.   A great example, and a great host.

Host Leadership Gathering 2018 – Paris, 28-29 May! Tickets available now

HL Gathering 2018 pic crop (2)Wonderful news from us here at Host Leadership.  Plans are coming together for our next Gathering, which will be in Paris, France on 28-29 May 2018.  Tickets are now available.  For more details and to book, head to the Gathering page on this site.  To simply book tickets, go to the booking site.

This event will be of great interest and value if you are:

  • Already using Host Leadership ideas in your work
  • Wishing to learn about Host Leadership in all kinds of settings
  • A leadership development professional wishing to learn about these latest ideas
  • Someone who wants to explore leadership in the context of working with complexity, emergence and uncertainty
  • Someone who wants to hang out with some very interesting people from around the world and have a great time!

We’re looking forward to meeting you in Paris in May. Fantastique!

From Heroic to ‘collective and collaborative’ leadership – new Henley report

Research report HenleyPeter Hawkins, one of the most experienced and respected voices on the leadership and transformation scene in the UK, has just published a new research report for Henley Business School.  Tomorrow’s Leadership and the Necessary Revolution in Today’s Leadership Development brings together interviews, surveys and leading edge thinking in a succinct summary of the state of play in leadership – an important and very approachable read.

One of the key sections (p 18) is about the need to move from Heroic to ‘collective and collaborative’ leadership.  Prof Hawkins writes about how much we hear about the end of heroic leadership, and yet how much leadership development activity is still focused on producing individual heroic leaders.  He quotes a couple of very nice quotes from the research:

“Leadership will increasingly become the skill of enabling a collaborative co-creative process amongst peers.” Mark Drewell, Senior Partner, Foresight Group

“Leadership is becoming less about being the smartest in the room and much more about how we collaborate, work with diverse stakeholders, inspire and bring the best out of others. Being more inclusive and collaborative. It’s about developing our ability to be curious; our ability to explore new approaches, new perspectives, engage different stakeholders and view points, and empathise with diverse perspectives.” Interviewed global HR director

Both of these look to us like reasons for building host leadership into leadership development processes as soon as possible!  We’ll be in touch with Peter Hawkins to discuss this.  In the meantime, the report is an excellent read.

Download the report here.  

NEW! Host Leadership introduction video

We’re delighted to have a new video to share, featuring Mark McKergow himself introducing the concept of host leadership through three leadership metaphors – hero, servant and host.  This intimate presentation was recorded live at a workshop in Helsinki, Finland, and thanks go to Taitoba’s Peter Sundman who both organised the workshop and made the recording.  It’s around seven minutes of Mark’s engaging live presentation style – check it out below.

2017 – the year ‘soft power’ went missing?

trump-unAs we look back on world developments in 2017, I wonder whether this will come to be seen as the year that ‘soft power’ went missing.  On one side of the Atlantic, we have the British Government’s attempts to negotiate Brexit by threatening from the start to walk out of the talks because ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. On the other side of the Atlantic, we see President Trump overtly threatening nations who fail to support that US’s policy on recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  These are ‘hard power’ moves – the power that comes from force, threat and coercion.  Whatever happened to ‘soft power’?

The concept of soft power was developed by Harvard academic Joseph Nye as the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.  Rather than falling back on tough-guy stances and strong-arm tactics, proponents of soft power point to the influence that can be gained from an outstretched hand of welcome, the desirability of co-operation rather than the pain of dispute.  Soft power is based, in the end, on the attractiveness of positive consequences and outcomes.  Hard power, on the other hand, is rooted in the pain of negative consequences.

Countries like the UK and USA have been able to develop huge soft power over the years, in no small part down to cultural exports like music, TV and (for the USA in particular) films.  For decades, other countries have taken on western thinking and customs almost by osmosis, by watching, listening and engaging.  These countries have also had long-term diplomatic and voluntary programmes such as the Peace Corps and the British Council, who in various ways have built connections based on common interests and the furthering of humanitarian and social progress.

Of course, hard power tactics are always hovering in the background and can’t be completely set aside in international relations.  The question is about the relative positions that hard and soft power can take on in building progress. In our book Host, Helen Bailey and I talk about ‘smart power’, which is using both hard and sort power in appropriate combinations.  As proponents of host leadership, we advocate starting with soft power and using it as far as it can go.  Good hosts – and good leaders – tend to leave the hard power options hanging in the background, perhaps as a gentle reminder of possible alternative ways and as a last resort when other routes have failed.

So what’s going on today?  We see the UK and USA, so often leaders in soft power diplomacy, resorting to overt and public hard power bargaining.  I suspect that in both cases the administrations have been co-opted by groups who have been fuming on the sidelines for decades, without experience of actually getting things done.  In the UK, the Brexiters look back to an imagined past where Britannia ruled the waves and the world marched to the Empire’s drum.  (This Empire was, of course, primarily a hard power construction.) The role of ‘experts’, at least in international relations, trade, economics and business, has been explicitly rejected by those who now find themselves Cabinet ministers.

In the USA Donald Trump, a businessman of dubious record and practices, seeks to play the zero-sum game that he and his supporter base understands (predicated on winning and losing) rather than the longer-term more ambiguous soft power of partnership building and mutual gain – where both sides can ‘win’ by enhancing their positions together.  Trump’s rejection of science, knowledge and expertise is surely unparalleled in modern times – who else would appoint to the role of Education Secretary a billionaire with no previous experience, or an EPA (environment) head wilfully ignorant of the scientific consensus about global warming and air quality?  On both sides of the pond, there seems to be no way to sustain a rational basis for debate and discussion – and so the emphasis immediately shifts to clumsy execution of threats and hard power tactics.

What will happen in 2018?  It seems to me that the role of soft power, and host leadership overall, has never had a more important part to play, in both trying to ensure that the worst results of failed hard power tactics are avoided and in bringing relations back onto a more productive level.  The trouble with making chest-beating threats is that one quickly finds oneself in a position where one must carry through (and damage everyone in the process) or back down (and find oneself in a much weaker position long-term).  Perhaps given the noise made by these administrations, we might hope to see soft power being used behind the scenes to attempt to find creative ways out of the knots inflicted on us by one-eyed simplistic leaders.

In the longer term, whatever happens, our societies will surely need to be reforged into some kind of greater unity and connection. This simply can’t happen using hard power leadership – Governments can impose their will for a while, but the democratic pendulum will eventually swing back and new visions will ensue.  The question is how long this will take, how much damage will be inflicted in the mean time, and who has the vision, skill and courage to do it.  Because – and get this – soft power is actually more difficult, more subtle, more effortful – than hard power. But the results are immeasurable more, the potential hugely greater.  Let’s make 2018 the year where soft power reveals itself in new ways and gains new traction in this always difficult emerging world.

By the way… we will have some exciting news about Host Leadership in January!  Keep 29 May 2018 free to come and join our next international Gathering.

Mark McKergow PhD MBA is a consultant and author bringing new ideas into the world of organisations.  He is the co-author of the best-selling The Solutions Focus which has sold some 30,000 copies and is in 11 languages.  His latest book (with Helen Bailey) is Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements (Solutions Books, London, 2014).  Mark has worked on every continent except Antarctica, and is known around the world for his winning combination of scientific rigour (as a ‘recovering physicist’) and performance pizazz.  His work presents ways of acting which fit, rather than fight, the complex emerging world in which we find ourselves.

A great invitation – from nearly 2000 years ago!

Vindolanda inviteChristmas time is always a time for parties and gatherings, and so it’s also a great time to practice your inviting skills.  Jenny and I spent last weekend in the Scotland/England Border region – an amazing place, very sparsely inhabited, now a Dark Skies park area (the low artificial light levels make for excellent stargazing conditions).  In the midst of all this, we stumbled on one of the earliest surviving written invitations in the world.

Some of you will know that this area is crossed by Hadrian’s Wall – the Vallum Hadriani, as they called it – which runs for 73 miles across the island of Britain.  Construction started in 122AD, and it’s the largest Roman artefact anywhere.  What is less well known is that the Romans were in this area for several decades before they built this wall, building forts and encampments which were inhabited not just by soldiers but also by their wives, families, traders and so on.  The best-preserved of these places is Vindolanda, built initially around 85AD near what is now the town of Corbridge.

Vindolanda has proven to be a rich source of archaeological discoveries, not least the Vindolanda tablets. These fragile wooden sheets were used for all kinds of written records, from inventories to personal communications, and date from the last decade of the first century, around 92-102AD.  When the first garrison at Vindolanda were given orders to move on to with is now Romania (what a march that would be!), orders were apparently given to destroy the records and a bonfire was constructed to burn the tablets.  However, a rain shower intervened and many of the tablets survived.  They then fell into boggy wet ground which preserved the fragile wood in anaerobic conditions, until being uncovered by archaeologists in recent decades.

The most famous tablet is the ‘birthday party invitation’ (above), written by a woman to her friend around 100AD.  The wording is beautiful and striking even today:

“Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival… Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.’

As you can see from the image, the writing is in a scribe’s shorthand rather than spelled out in conventional lettering, and so is not easy to read directly.  The part in ‘2nd hand’ is where Claudia Severa has added a peroration herself, in her own hand, before giving the tablet back to the scribe.  This is the oldest knowingly female handwriting in Europe.  It’s amazing that this everyday document has survived for us to read.

The wording of the invitation bears close examination, even 2000 years later.  “Make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival…” is a powerful sentiment.  “I shall expect you, sister” is perhaps even more assertive, particularly given that Claudia has added this in her own hand.

The invitation is a fine display of our three elements of a great invitation from the Host book.  These are:

  • Make it attractive – to what are we being invited?
  • Make it personal and acknowledging – why is our presence particularly important?
  • Make it optional – it’s an invitation after all, and in order for an authentic ‘Yes’ response there must also be the possibility of ‘No’.

Is it attractive? It’s a birthday party!  Is it personal and acknowledging? Absolutely – it’s personally addressed, and we are told that our presence will ‘make the day more enjoyable for me’.  Wow.  Is it optional? Well, just about… the invitation is clearly a strong one, but an invitation it is, not an instruction or a demand.

These three facets were in use 2000 years ago and they still hold good.  Next time you are inviting people to get engaged in a project, business or activity, invite them using these three elements and see what response you get.  All the very best for a peaceful and engaging 2018 from us at Host Leadership!