Author Archives: Mark

The VALUE of a great invitation – super blog from Chris Corrigan

Chris Corrigan 2My friend and colleague Chris Corrigan from Canada has proposed an excellent model for thinking about how we use the power of invitation.  He offers five key points to consider:

  • Verb: ‘Invite’ is a verb, and it requires action and responsiveness to do it
  • Attractors and Boundaries: Invitations should have an attractive purpose at their centre, but also give a sense of the ‘container boundaries’ into which you are inviting people. What’s NOT part of this?
  • Leadership: To invite is to lead, and following through on an invitation requires great leadership.
  • Urgent: What’s the zeitgeist to which you are responding? What’s needed right now?
  • Embodied: Invitation are person-to-person, and inviting is a whole-body sport where people see your enthusiasm and reactions close-up (so they’d better be congruent and convincing).

This all adds up to the VALUE of a great invitation!  Here at Host Leadership we’re right behind this way of thinking and acting.  We might add the importance of making the invitation Acknowledging of the person being invited, bringing out not only the attractiveness of the purpose but also the reasons why THIS particular person is being invited – what are we hoping they can bring to the ‘party’ in terms of experience, strengths, outlook or whatever.  And remember, all invitations have an element of Choice about them – in order for there to be a heartfelt ‘Yes’ in response, there has also to be the possibility of ‘No’.

I particularly admire Chris Corrigan’s work on containers and boundaries, and it’s very interesting to see this kind of language included in the vocabulary of an invitation.  Great stuff Chris!

Chris is coming to Scotland soon to run a two-day workshop on ‘Working In Complexity’ in Glasgow with our own Bronagh Gallagher later in the year (perhaps November 2017) so there is a chance for UK folks to experience his excellent and skilful work in person.  Now please go check out Chris’s blog if you haven’t already –

The Kgotla – group decision making in Africa

P1000029I recently returned from the ‘Solution Focused Safari’ conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a marvellous event, the first large-scale international SF meeting there, with presenters from all over the world and a good contingent of South Africans eager to learn and join in. One particular workshop which stood out was my good friend and colleague Stanus Cloete (pictured on the right during a trip to Soweto along with his wife Riekie and my wife Jenny) presenting on his experience with the Kgotla.

The Kgotla – pronounced ‘hotla’ to our Western ears (the K is silent) – is a form of participative leadership process developed by African tribal groups. It has survived in some places, particularly in Botswana, and it’s this example which Stanus presented to us. If there is a question concerning the whole community, then a Kgotla may be called. Stanus started from the African concept of ubuntu – “I am who I am because of who we all are”. This stance is about the importance of connection and social process, and sits very well alongside a host leadership perspective.

The Kgotla is a group meeting to which the whole community is invited. (OK, so in the traditional form only the men are invited, but this is about learning from ancient wisdom rather than criticising it. (Nowadays woman also partake though there is still some criticism about the role of women in the Botswana community.) There are five key principles for a Kgotla:

1. Neutral ground – it’s held in the open air, and is open to all, with an expectation of mutual honesty.
2. No time limit – any one may speak, but everyone has a chance to speak before the same person can speak again. All points of view are listened to.
3. Focus on the now and the future – the discussion is about where we are and how to move forward helpfully, rather than a recounting of the past (as seen in western legal courts, for example). The focus is on reconciliation, restorative justice and reintegration.
4. Collective responsibility – the focus is on how to do things together rather than separately, building consensus and compromise.
5. Proverbs – there are some wonderful sayings which help to connect and understand the way of the Kgotla which are used as reminders for those present, including:

• All words spoken at the Kgotla are beautiful
• Everyone is entitled to their own views no matter what they are
• The king is king by the grace of the people
• The chief is the shepherd of the people
• The chief is a tree branch on which every bird seats (sic – not sits. This gives a different meaning)
• The wealth of the king is in the affections of his subjects.

One important aspect is that the chief and elders sit somewhat outside the discussion. Their role is not to speak in the first instance – it is to listen and understand. When all has been said (and remember, that can take a while) then the chief and elders will come forward to summarise what has been said. Then, they reach a conclusion, in front of everyone, about what might happen next

From a host leadership perspective, there are a number of interesting aspects to the Kgotla.

  • Attendance is invited rather than compulsory and is open to all. This means that those with an interest are free to come, rather than only certain representatives.
  • Everyone can speak, and there are mechanisms for allowing all voices to be heard.
  • The neutral ground also reinforces that the process is open to all.
  • The proverbs set an atmosphere and expectation of constructive and future focused contributions.
  • The role of the chief and elders is most interesting. Rather than chair or lead the discussion, they are expected to listen and then summarise. This means that any summary must be seen to be a fair reflection by those present, which itself brings the need for appreciative and constructive listening from the elders.

It would certainly be interesting to use this form of dialogue in difficult and confrontational situations here. There are echoes of circle practices (with everyone given the opportunity to speak) and also reflecting teams (with the chief and elders listening to the whole discussion before responding). I hope that Stanus can continue to share and develop the ideas of the Kgotla more widely in South Africa and beyond.

Use a Visitors’ Book at your trainings or workshops – better than feedback forms!

VisitorsbookPautI was contacted by Paut Kromkamp, a Dutch colleague, last week.  Paut is a keen follower of Host Leadership ideas, and had started with the idea of using a Guest Book (in Dutch Gastenboek, or in French le livre des invités) in her trainings, to allow participants to leave their names and record some comments about their experience.  I had never heard of this idea, and on reflection I think it’s a fantastically useful development.

A Guest Book – we might call it a Visitors’ Book in colloquial English, though terminology varies – is traditionally found in country houses or perhaps at some museums.  It’s a book available to the public to sign their names and therefore record their visit, and perhaps add some words about their stay and experience.  Often, of course, these words are positive and enthusiastic – not many people want to go publically on the record expressing their distaste.

I have been thinking about the possibility of using a Visitors’ Book as part of the furniture at training courses.  As part of the host leadership philosophy it’s nice to respect guests and offer them a chance to ‘make their mark’ in some way.  And of course it’s a very different way to solicit remarks than the traditional way after a training course or workshop – the dreaded ‘feedback form’ or evaluation sheet.  These are popular with trainers (though usually not with trainees) as a way of gathering comments and feedback about what people liked and what they didn’t, ostensibly as a way to improve things next time.

Let’s compare and contrast the way these two options – the Visitor’s Book and the Feedback Form – work in practice.

Visitor’s Book Feedback Form
An optional invitation to write something Usually compulsory or at least expected
A public space – other people’s names and comments can be seen Confidential – only the writer and the receiver know what’s said
A free-form invitation to record one’s presence and (if desired) a comment or reaction Usually structured by the trainer or organisation
A chance to ‘make your mark’ in a way that is visible to future guests or visitors No public trace remains afterwards – your comments disappear into the ether
Written in the knowledge that the contents will be potentially seen by all Written in the expectation of a private communication to the organiser/trainer


These two forms clearly have different purposes and possibilities.  If one really wants to get feedback and criticism, then having a private Feedback Form is clearly one way to go about it.  (Another might be to quietly ask people about their experience, and be genuinely interested in what they have to say!) A Visitors’ Book, on the other hand, is a very different offer – the chance to publically record one’s presence and reactions, in the knowledge that they can (and will) be read by future visitors.  This is less about gathering comments about the shortcomings of the chairs or the temperature of the room.  It’s much more about inviting people into a kind of community of those who have passed this way, want to acknowledge that and stand up to recognise the efforts of their hosts in the process.

Once upon a time I visited the training centre of systemic coach Sonja Radatz in Vienna.  Piled up at one end of the room was a series of red cubes, perhaps 35cm on each side, each of which was signed by guest trainers who had delivered seminars there.  Ms Radatz had entertained many of the greats of systemic thinking and management – Peter Senge, Diana Whitney, Humberto Maturana, Matthias Varga von Kibed… (these are household names in the world of systemic thinking, if not perhaps in wider society).  And imagine my delight, as a relative newcomer to that field, to be asked to add my own signature to my own cube, to be placed on the pile with the rest!  This is a form of Visitors’ Book in that it’s a lasting reminder of who else has been this way, and sets an exciting extended context for what might happen next.

So, imagine going onto a training and being able to leaf through and see who has joined in the past, what they thought, how long it’s been going, what kind of people have been here, how things have evolved… All this is possible with a Visitor’s Book, but not at all with a Feedback Form.  Of course, it’s quite possible to use both these methods.  It would be amazing to see in years to come that the Visitor’s Book might become just as much part of the training/workshop scene as the Feedback Form – perhaps a more loved and treasured part?  In some ways that wouldn’t be difficult.

VisitorsbookLaurentTo start using a Visitor’s Book or Guest Book, here are some tips from our French colleague Laurent Sarrazin, who has also started experimenting with the idea in his trainings:

  • Be led by local terminology and tradition. In France a ‘livre des visiteurs’ does not resonate with people, but a ‘livre des invitées’ does.
  • To help people get going, it might be worth inviting them to write something like a reflection or invitation for those who might come on future events, and will therefore see the written ideas.
  • As hosts for an event, we can also use the book to record our own reflections, thoughts, gratitudes, and as part of our own history and connection with our work.

Get started today.  Laurent did – you can see one of his trainees completing their book on the right.  This is a great way to build learning, refection and communication with your learners and customers.

Encouraging people to create their own space helps productivity

I’m a big fan of economist and writer Tim Harford’s work.  Tim has a column every week in the cleardeskFinancial Times as the ‘undercover economist’ and has written several excellent books about how economics applies in the real world. 

His recent piece on ‘Why every office should scrap its clean desk policy’ for TED caught my eye.  Most of us have experienced a clean desk policy at some point – where the company insists that everything is removed from desks at the end of the day and personal effects like photos are limited or even banned. Harford reports on experiments at the University of Exeter in the UK which study the connection between productivity and workspace. 

It turns out that people who are allowed to decorate and personalise their workspaces can be some 30% more productive than those where a clean desk policy is enforced.  That’s a HUGE figure – like an extra day-and-a-half a week!  Harford writes about the difference between ‘hard’ spaces where clean standards are rigorously enforced and ‘soft’ spaces where personalisation is permitted encouraged. 

This connects with the Host Leadership concept of the Space Creator role.  One of the key elements of leading as a host is to take care in creating spaces which support the kind of interactions you wish to encourage between people.  The work reported by Tim Harford shows not only how environment and space really makes a difference in how people work, but that an giving them a role in creating it, decorating it and maintaining it can add to its effectiveness.  

The importance of space and creating an effective space is hardly ever discussed in most leadership work – but from the Host Leader perspective, it’s clearly vital and a key element for the leader to consider.  Now – read Tim Harford’s piece and even get hold of his book ‘Messy: The power of disorder to transform our lives’ from which this work is taken.   


Acting WITH people: Host Leadership and Restorative Practices

I was contacted recently by Sonia Mayor, who was interested to combine host leadership ideas with her work in the area of restorative practice.  I wasn’t familiar with that field, and have been investigating – and it looks like a very interesting connection with great potential. 

I had heard of restorative justice – my friend Lorenn Walker in Hawaii uses Solution Focused therapy ideas in the furtherance of this, which is about getting offenders to get involved in repairing the harm done and building relationships with victims and others, rather than simply being punished.  These ways of working echo practices from many indigenous traditions, including native American, African, Asian and many others. 

In an extension of this philosophy, restorative practices are about applying similar thinking proactively rather than simply reactively – acting before offences are committed, to build community and connection in ways that reduce offending. 

One key element of restorative practice is shown by the ‘social discipline window’.  This model reflects the work of Australian criminologist John Braithwaite, who argues that conventional punishment stigmatises offenders and pushes them out of the community, rather than drawing socialDisc_windowthem in.  The social discipline window (right) shows four different ways of acting with offenders (and indeed with people in general) based on varying levels of control and support – not acting, acting for, acting on, and acting with.

Restorative practices are very focused on doing things WITH people – combining high degrees of support and control.  It’s easy to see how there are dangers of slipping into the neighbouring quadrants – by acting paternalistically and ‘doing things for’ people (attempting to support them, but in your way rather than theirs), or slipping into punitive mode and ‘doing things to’ people (where they become the object of action rather than an active subject). 

I see Host Leadership as working towards a very similar objective.  Hosts and host leaders strive to reach out and engage people with their active co-operation, rather than compelling participation.  Once engaged, though, the developing relationship allows structures to be used which help all involved to know where they are with each other.  In the same way, accepting an invitation to visit someone may mean using their ‘house rules’.  These structures can serve a controlling purpose, but they are entered into as part of a bigger process rather than as a means of obtaining submission. 

This idea of acting WITH people, rather than for them or on them, is central to host leadership.  And yes, occasionally we might want to do things for people (when they can’t do them themselves) – but with their permission and agreement, rather than from our own assumptions.  It’s nice to help an old lady across the street, but first check that she wants to go! 

I look forward to building on this initial connection with restorative practices in future blogs and articles – it’s an exciting prospect.  Please add your reactions, comments and connections below, as well as thoughts on particular angles and connections between these fields. 

Watch Mark’s keynote on host leadership at StretchCon 2016

I was very privileged to be invited to give a keynote at the prestigious StretchCon conference in Budapest last week.  The event was excellent and I had lots of interesting conversations.  The event was live streamed and recorded, and so you can watch my talk online for free at


During the 40 minute talk I discuss leadership challenges today, leading as a relationship not a role, the different relationships implied by various leadership metaphors, and expanding the metaphor of leading as a host.

There were other speakers too – see the conference page on ustream at



Host is turning into a favourite leadership book!

On our twitter account @thehostleader recently we had a tweet from Barry Overeem. Barry has listed his six favourite leadership books – and Host is one of them!  Thank you Barry.

My 6 favourite leadership books. Thanks @james_m_kerr @ldavidmarquet @thehostleader! What are your favourite leadership books?

Barry’s six favourites also include!

What are YOUR favourite leadership books?  Host author Dr Mark McKergow is a fan of Obliquity by John Kay – not totally a ‘leadership book’ but a very good look at what to focus on and what to approach sideways.   Add your suggestions and comments below – and we’ll tweet about it!

Expanding, growing, building… Host Leadership Gathering 2016 report

gathering-1September 2016 saw leaders and leadership developers from around the world congregating in London for the very first Host Leadership Gathering.  What emerged from the three days was an exciting air of new growth and development.

Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey opened the proceedings on Wednesday 14 September with a one-day Meet Host Leadership workshop to introduce the concepts developed from their book Host: Six new rules roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements.  Mark and Helen quickly had the participants connecting the ideas to their own situations and contexts.  They also took the opportunity to trial a new versiongathering-mm of their Host Leader self-assessment questionnaire. Developed by Jonathan Bowyer, this simple tool is a great way to provoke insight and reflection, initially into how people perform in the six roles of a Host Leader.  Mark and Helen are working with Jonathan to further expand their suite of tools, to look at the four positions of a host leader and also to build a 360 online version of the tool for use with client organisations.

gathering-hmThursday 15 September saw the main conference day of the Gathering opened by Harry Murray MBE.  Harry has a lifetime’s experience at the top of the hospitality industry and really knows what great hosting looks like. In conversation with Mark, Harry recalled his experiences – about the key role of empowering staff to look after guests. of the importance of attention to detail, about ‘always start with a question’ when talking to staff.  His memories of meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994/5 were clearly very moving, as he recalled how Mandela would always pay great attention to the backroom staff and even the bell-boy: returning to the hotel, the South African president nodded to the young man by the lift and said “You must be doing something right – you were here last week, and you are still here!”  What excellent attention to detail and connection with people.

gathering-4The programme moved on to look at ‘Why Host Leadership now?’.  Annessa Rebair (Northumbria University) looked at the challenges facing nurses in the NHS and how the host metaphor fitted well with the rising profile of nurse leadership.  Pierluigi Pugliese, an Agile consultant from Munich, shared his positive experiences of helping Scrum coaches connect with hosting as a leadership practice, with the help of some very effective and simple drawings (see his slides on Slideshare).  Helen Bailey looked at how hosting combines feminine and masculine aspects, and offers a route towards valuing more feminine traits than the simplistic ‘more women on Boards’ route.  Ashridge Business School’s Mike Brent shared the latest research about what ‘Generation Y’ and millennials want from their jobs, workplaces and leaders – friendship, as well as support, featured prominently.

img_2347The keynote was given by Professor Elena Antonacopoulou from Liverpool University School of Management.  Taking the room by storm, Elena produced a series of dazzling connections and ideas in support of the idea that the biggest challenge facing leaders today was indeed to cultivate friendships with Generation Z.  Using imaginative word-plays, she deconstructed everyday phrases to give them new meanings –for example ‘Impossible’ becomes ‘I’m possible’ with the simple addition of an apostrophe and a space.  Elena said that one challenge was to ‘put the man back into management and the ship back into leadership’, referring to the leader’s role in developing the vessel in which the whole community sank or swam.  She offered many sources and ideas, including using a rubber band to illustrate how tension and ex-tension worked and also pointed us to Jorge Munoz’s video An Angel In Queens to illustrate extraordinary leadership by ordinary people.

After a lateish lunch, we continued with two parallel workshops.  Mike Brent drew on his book The Leader’s Guide to Influence to share different ways that host leaders could bring their influence to bear, while in the other room Leah Davcheva from Bulgaria provoked a fascinating discussion about hosting in online contexts with her personal experience as ‘steward’ of an online community in the educational world.  She helped us to tease apart some differences between steward and host, and had us looking at how we used language in online contexts and how to invite people into participation in particularly effective ways.

gathering-5The last part of the day was given over to some short inputs about the experience of using host leadership ideas in different settings.  Executive coach Stephen Josephs joined us from the USA by Skype to talk about his work with Silicon Valley senior executives, who certainly seems to be finding ideas about roles and positions helpful in tackling their often-overloaded lives.  Housing association CEO Angela Gascoigne shared her story of leading her organisation through a particularly tough patch, and how rethinking her position as a host had helped her to tackle these difficulties in a way which helped others to engage.  Laurent Sarrazin and Géry Derbier talked about using and teaching the concepts and roles with in the world of software development, particularly in France.  They asked us to consider dropping the ‘leader’ from host leader and simply refer to the people concerned as ‘hosts’ – an interesting and potentially significant development.  Leah Davcheva gave us all some final reflections before we wrapped up the day and went off for a very nice Italian meal.

gathering-ffThe final day of the Gathering was in Open Space format, and we had lots of excellent conversations convened by participants and also by some of the speakers.  Everyone wanted to explore their questions, and there were some great meetings of minds, from the conceptual (leader/follower relations and connections to happiness, for example) and the practical (sharing activities for teaching host leadership).  One key discussion was about how we can all contribute to spreading the word, and the group agreed to support the Host Leadership Linkedin group as the public place to share and converse.  We are also exploring a Practitioner’s Community for sharing resources etc – this is in its gathering-7early stages but we are optimistic about creating something to support people who really want to specialise in sharing and developing host leadership ideas in different contexts.  Watch out for more news!

We closed tired but happy, with much renewed enthusiasm and looking forward to future developments.  There was considerable interest in a next Host Leadership Gathering – perhaps in France, Germany, Bulgaria or even Singapore?  For up to date news of future events please sign up on our website, follow @thehostleader on twitter and join the Linkedin group.


Building team spirit for Team GB at Rio Olympics 2016 – the host leader way

team-gb-medal-winnersTeam GB (as the UK national team is rather oddly known at the Olympics) have had an extremely successful games in Rio.  A record medal haul, success in an unprecedented number of sports, London 2012 winners defending their Olympic titles, new stars emerging – it’s all gone very well.  And why?  This Guardian article by Owen Gibson lists five factors: Lottery funding, a no-compromise culture, the high-performance system, new stars emerging,… and team spirit. 

From the perspective of host leadership, building team spirit is a key element – engaging these rugged individuals together is not straightforward, particularly when they have spent years training either alone or with team-mates from their discipline.  It seems that one key is the experience of the patriotically-named Mark England, the ‘chef de mission’ (head of the whole delegation) since the Salt Lake City winter games in 2002.  England has been working to engage the larger numbers in various ways, such as making more of the pre-games training camp to help the athletes meet and bond.

From a host leadership perspective, two things are mentioned that are particularly interesting.  Firstly, all the team members are now given their official Team GB kit at special ceremonies.  This is an excellent example of using the Gatekeeper role in host leadership, defining boundaries and welcoming people across them.  If you want to be part of the team, you participate in the ceremony of joining it.  This kind of event can be seen as a sort of ritual, a marking of transition, where both the person concerned and the rest of the team can see them publically joining and committing to the team.  Host leaders know the power of these welcoming events and take care to organise and execute them well. 

Rituals like this have until recently felt a bit alien to the British sensibility.  We have watched other nations like the USA and Canada swearing allegiance to the flag and that sort of thing with a sense of ‘oh come on, don’t take yourself so seriously’.  However, it’s becoming increasingly clear to even the self-deprecating Brits that there is a value in marking transitions seriously and publically – we started welcoming new citizens the country at ceremonies in 2004.  Although many of my fellow countrymen and women still find the idea toe-curling, the ceremonies are popular with the new citizens and their families who feel welcomed and included.

Along with this, Owen Gibson mentions that senior and world-famous athletes like tennis star Andy Murray, top golfer Justin Rose, cycling hero Sir Bradley Wiggins and rower/nost decorated female Olympian Katherine Grainger all get involved, be there, talk with the younger athletes and set a good example is also vital.  In host leadership we call this Co-participation; if you want to lead something, you need to find ways to join in with it as well.  It’s not good telling everyone to participate (in for example, a ceremony of welcome) and then not doing it yourself – one rule for the leader and another for everyone else won’t build the kind of engagement and relationships that are important. And this goes for the team in the office or the factory floor as much as in the Olympic Games.

Come and find out more about the leadership roles of Gatekeeper and Co-participator, as well as many other aspects of leading as a host, at our first Host Leadership Gathering in London from 14-16 September.  The main gathering is on Thursday 15 September, preceded by an introduction workshop and followed by a day of Open Space where everyone is welcome to raise questions and topics, as well as getting live help with leadership challenges.  Details at, booking at, download the programme at

Host Leadership and boundaries: The power of being near the front door

One of our six ‘roles of engagement’ for host leaders is the Gatekeeper – the one who sets boundaries, welcomes newcomers over the threshold and perhaps (in extremis) ushers them out when they’ve overstepped the mark.  One strong tip which emerged in our research was the power of leaders being located near the front door; being aware of comings and goings, being in a position to say hello and goodbye, being able to meet people are they arrive, engage with them and help them understand the ways things work here.  These are all key elements of leading as a host, and being near the door makes them much easier to achieve. 

Mark recently visited Abbotsholme School, where he was educated (some might say) in the 1970s.  Founded in 1889, Abbotsholme has always had a reputation for educating the whole person rather than focusing exclusively on exam success.  Then and now, elements such as music, art, drama and outdoor education played key roles, with the whole school heading off (not all together!) for hikes and expeditions  on a regular basis.  The school has always had its own farm, run in part by the pupils, which Abbotsholme doors2recently featured on the BBC Countryfile programme.  Part of the visit was a tour led by Headmaster Steve Fairclough (pictured below, in front of a portrait of Abbotsholme founder Cecil Reddie), and Mark was intrigued to notice that the Head’s office was no longer in its secluded location upstairs and at the end of a long corridor but is now right next to the front door (see photo). 

“It’s quite deliberate”, says Steve Fairclough.  “The old office was very quiet. Being by the door means that everyone knows I am there, those who want to see me can find me, and I can keep engaged with what’s going on day to day.”  Steve is a keen supporter of servant-leadership, and was very interested to discover the additional concept of leading as a host.  “I make tea for Abb Steve Fabout fifty people every day”, he says.  “People criticise me for doing it, but I can get so much, find out so many useful things, by engaging with people in this way.” 

This kind of involvement has been a key to Abbotsholme’s ethos over the past 125 years.  Right from the start, all the school was involved in activities such as hay-making, with lessons suspended while the precious hay was gathered.  Mark was left wondering that his recognition and development of host leadership might owe something to this remarkable educational establishment – not well known, but the world’s first ‘progressive’ school and still a beacon for balanced education where all – pupils and staff – are encouraged to do their best for others. 

So – where is your office?  How do you know who’s coming and going?  How can you meet them, engage with them – even make them tea?

Dr Mark McKergow is an international leadership speaker and teacher, and is co-author of ‘Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements’ (Solutions Books, 2014).  He was a pupil at Abbotsholme from 1972-77. 

The first international Host Leadership Gathering is happening in London on 14-16 September with a packed programme, speakers and panels, open space discussions and much more.