Blog Archive

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.

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)

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 Leadership Hint #5: Step into, and out of, the six roles

Our next Host Leadership Hint comes from Leah Davcheva, a member of the Host Leadership Stewards group who has been using hosting ideas in her work as an educationalist, cross-cultural consultant and community builder. She writes here about the power of stepping into, and out of, the six roles of a host leader in her community work.

“On the left side of the street leading to the house where I live in Sofia, there stretches a smallish plot of land, triangular in shape. It belongs to nobody. Overgrown with bramble, and coarse grass, rubbish scattered all over, the place presented a graceless sight. An eyesore which bitterly contrasted with the well-trimmed gardens in our neighbourhood.

This had to change! In my mind, I could see this small piece of land transforming itself into a beautiful spot and making the neighbourhood proud.

A first small step was to share the idea with our next-door neighbor. She was keen and within less than an hour we initiated a small-scale gardening project and named it – The Triangle. Together, we composed a short text, inviting our neighbours to join. Not knowing their names, let alone any email addresses or phone numbers, we tucked the A4 pieces of paper into their mailboxes. Hoping to break the ‘silence’ of the neighbourhood, we opened the gates wide for contributions. Some neighbours responded, others ignored the message.

Within a month, we had the place cleaned and dug through. A gardener was employed to design the garden and plant the new trees and shrubs.  Beautiful white stones frame the plot.

As the work unfolded, we got to know each other, shared news and simple stories. Something of a community started emerging. My neighbour and I hope that The Triangle might eventually turn into a space where neighbours gather together in – for a chat simply, and, why not, for initiating new projects.

Applying  the lens of host leading, we can discern the stepping forward and back dance, as well the stepping into and out of the roles of initiator, inviter, space creator, gatekeeper, connector, co-participator.

Leah is leading a free 90 minute webinar about Host Leading on Wednesday 27 January 2021 at 6pm UK time – register here.

You can see a short video about The Triangle, made by Leah’s grand-daughter Alia aged 11! It’s only one minute, well worth watching.

Host Leadership Hint #4: Listen out! What is your organisation calling for?

One of the six roles of Host Leadership is the Initiator – the person who starts thing off, notices a priority and brings it into focus.  Before you can do that, there is a necessary first step: listen out for what your organisation is calling for. 

  •   What’s coming over the horizon? 
  •   What challenges are starting to appear in the marketplace? 
  •   How are your distribution channels shifting? 
  •   How are people finding out about you? 
  •   How are you tracking your success with customers and user groups? 

It could, of course, be any of these, all of them, or all kinds of other things.  This month’s hint is to listen.  Not rush in. Not jump to a snap decision.  Listen.  Listen to the conversation in the office and outside it.  Listen to what you are hearing on social media. And most importantly listen to your own heart about what’s really important and that you want to take forward.  

Our top tip for this is go somewhere quiet.  Listening is usually best done with a little focus and a little peace.  So why not go out at lunchtime and find a seat someplace, or take a moment on your way into work tomorrow. Take five minutes to see where you are and what’s coming along.  And then park it, store it away, and see what happens next. If it just vanishes, it probably wasn’t that important.  If it stays with you, and you start seeing other signs that this is important, then it probably is.

Listen. Listen again. Then act.

You can find a more detailed exposition of ways to listen for what is being called for in Mark McKergow’s chapter of the Host Leadership Field Book.

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Nigel Gann: Enabling the community to be a host leader

Nigel Gann

Educator Nigel Gann has been an enthusiastic adopter of Host Leadership for some time, and was hoping to contribute to the Host Leadership Field Book last year. His piece arrived too late for that, but we are delighted to feature it now. This topic of welcoming strangers has never been more relevant, and the work in Lichfield is a beacon of hope and brave practice. The picture above shows a less picturesque side of the city seen by some arrivals.

One of the stories of the growth of civilisation is of the tension between the good of the individual and the needs of the community. Where the latter is disproportionately strong, we find tyranny and absolutism. Where the former is, there is the danger of anarchy. This conflict exists in every nation state, but also in cities and towns, and in organisations of all types. Where it is unresolved, people may look for a hero leader to sort it out, where the organisation seeks a single individual to articulate and embody it.

We may be at that stage in a number of nations now. Despite the plain and disastrous history of the model, the image of the hero leader remains seductive to many. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Thomas Carlyle’s study “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History” was published in the exact same year – 1841 – as was Charles Mackay’s catalogue of communal folly “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”.

Political parties, businesses, schools and voluntary organisations have come spectacular croppers over the last thirty years or so by becoming over-reliant on flawed “heroes” who have refused to be accountable to their supporters, their shareholders, their boards and their members. When the delusion of heroic leadership sidles into politics – international, national or local – we need to find a coherent response.

So what has the model of host leadership to offer to communities? Or rather – what might community activism have to offer the development and implementation of host leadership? One movement, initiated by a small group of concerned citizens in Sheffield some 15 years ago, considers how, in an era of mass migration – whether fired by need, political will or climate change – we can create a culture of welcome to people who are displaced. The question they address is, “How can a city, a town, a village, an organisation or institution celebrate and host new arrivals?” Their answer was a new and at the same time age-old concept – a City of Sanctuary.

Can a community simultaneously “step forward and step back” like a host? Of course it can. It invites, it welcomes and it embraces newcomers. It sets up the possibility of new relationships, with existing guests and new arrivals, with sources of help and support, and it offers help in understanding how to engage with the community. And it allows, encourages, enables new arrivals to protect and celebrate their own culture – the one they bring with them, with all its richness and history, to share with us. Central to this is the ability to encourage the less active members of the community to engage positively with guests – this is where host leadership of communities takes on the role of creating and maintaining a community-wide ethos of welcome.

There are now hundreds of cities, towns and villages of sanctuary. There are also countless streams of sanctuary – schools, churches, businesses, organisations, theatres and so on. Here, in a small city in the English midlands, we felt the time had come to commit to the idea. In autumn 2019, some 30 leaders of organisations met together to talk about their shared concept of the community as host, not only to internationally displaced persons, such as migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, but to all disadvantaged people who find themselves challenged by a society where tolerance and understanding seem increasingly endangered, among them people living in poverty, people with disabilities, those with mental health issues, those without homes.

Between May and October 2019,71% of people from ethnic minorities in Britain reported facing discrimination (in January, 2016, the figure was 58%); in June of that year, a Survey by BritainThinks showed that “Britain is a more polarised and pessimistic nation than it has been for decades”; in September, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner (the top anti-terrorism officer) said: “Far-right terrorism is the fastest-growing threat in Britain.” In the same month, a “Record number of anti-semitic incidents in first half of 2019 – 892, a 10% increase on the first half of 2018” was recorded, while according to a HopenotHate survey “more than half of black and minority ethnic British voters think a no-deal Brexit would worsen race relations in the UK”.

Many, but by no means all, of those who gathered here represented faith groups from Christian and Muslim communities.

The vision is simple. Movement and change within and across nations is inevitable. It has been going on for thousands of years, sometimes in strong and powerful surges, sometimes in persistent streams. It brings, as it always has done, risks as well as economic and cultural benefits, and it offers challenges. But history shows that attempts to stem the flow at best fail, and at worst end in disaster for would-be guests and reluctant recipients. Host leadership in Lichfield, personified by the Cities of Sanctuary movement, has four key actions at its heart:

We support people in Lichfield, especially newcomers, who face discrimination or exclusion due to displacement, immigration, racism, poverty, abuse, sexuality, disability or violence

We come alongside individuals and organisations throughout the district of Lichfield to coordinate welcome and support for those who need it

We challenge visions of Lichfield that exclude any individuals and groups that live and work here

We hold events, exhibitions, campaigns and meetings to engage and inform about the issues that concern us all.

We see the participation element as particularly powerful – this is not about providing people with things, but about working with them towards a fair and accessible provision of what they need.

So those were early days for us. What came next was recruitment – the need to address key organisations and individuals face-to-face and explain the universal benefits of a welcoming culture, reinforcing the values, addressing the adverse impacts of much of current political British thinking – and reshaping the narrative of the communities we inhabit.

This year has imposed on us time to think about our next steps. Next year, in partnership with local arts organisations, community groups, schools and faith groups, we plan a season of sanctuary in the city. It’s that stage in a social event when you, as host, say – “May I introduce you to . . .? I think you’ll find each other really interesting.”

I think that should be fun.

Nigel Gann, Lichfield, November 2020

Nigel Gann taught in schools and now coaches school leaders. He has written a number of books on leadership: “The Great Education Robbery” will appear in 2021.

A more picturesque view of Lichfield and its famous cathedral

Host Leadership Hint #3: Connect with people at the threshold – even in online meetings

As a host leader, we seek to meet people at the threshold. There is a key moment as people arrive when we want to be in a position to welcome them into the space, say hello, make a direct connection and perhap explain any house rules or routines.  This is in contrast, of course, to the hero leader who keeps themselves hidden away to maintain the mystique, or the old-fashioned teacher who shows up last into the room and expects everyone else to leap to their feet.  

This is true in online meetings as well. In fact, there are all kinds of good reasons to be first online in meetings you are hosting. You get to say hello as people arrive, have a quick catch up, sort out any technical problems and e available for quick exchanges on emerging issues. 

There are two other options, neither of which are as good. You could make everyone wait until you arrive at the appropriate time, which sounds efficient but actually encourages the others to come along late (not wanting to hang around for you).  Or you can allow people to join the meeting without you, and give them a space to talk about you behind your back. (Zoom, for example, has a setting for this in the unlikely event that you want to do it.) 

So be the first person in, and perhaps also the last person out.  People will feel welcomed into your space, and be encouraged to give of their best. 

What are your top tips for getting productive by welcoming people at the threshold online? Please add comments below and we’ll share them (with acknowledgement, of course).

Host Leadership Hint #2: Be an Initiator and make the first move

This second Host Leadership Hint in our new series comes from Dr Mark McKergow, co-author of the Host book. 

As I write this, people around the world are starting to emerge from a strange time of physical separation combined with high levels of mutual interdependence.  We have to stay separate, and yet we may be even more reliant on others – to bring supplies, to connect for conversation, to stay clean and safe, to contain the virus. In such a world, acting as a Initiator – making the first move – is even more important than usual. 

I live in a rather splendid street in central Edinburgh.  I and my wife Jenny had met a few neighbours once a couple of years ago, but nothing since – people largely seemed to keep themselves to themselves.  When the lock-down came, Jenny thought to dig out the email addresses she had, write to everyone and suggest that we might keep a note of each other’s contact details in case of emergencies, anyone needed shopping or whatever. There was an immediate and enthusiastic response; good idea, great to hear from you, adding new people, and so on. 

A Whatsapp group then started. Information was shared about local greengrocers and fishmongers who were delivering. One brave neighbour even requested that Mark might play his saxophone in the street, which has developed into a weekly performance for eleven weeks. And all this started because  SOMEONE stepped forward to get it moving.  

This is the Host Leadership role of the Initiator – the role of seeing that something needs to happen, could be a priority, might be important.  SOMEONE has to make the first move. And that move, in Host Leadership, might lead to an invitation to others to get involved. 

There are opportunities out there right now with things needing to happen, and people wondering who might do something.  What can you start? How can you make the first move? How can you give other people something to notice and respond to? 

PS Mark has been initiating himself in the last couple of week with his new Village-In-The-City Manifesto – take a look on the Host Leadership website

The Village-In-The-City Manifesto version 4

This is the original version of the Village In The City concept. Due of the very large interest in this topic, we are continuing the project at a dedicated website, Please go there for the latest news, manifesto, village-building resources, calls and how to Put Your Village On The Map.

As the post-pandemic ‘new normal’ emerges and develops, the usefulness and resilience of very local connections has become increasingly clear.  The levels of local can be seen as house; street; village; town; district; city.  The potential for connection at the village level – even in much bigger settlements like towns and cities – is clear. Architect Richard Rogers (2017) identified over 620 ‘High Streets’ in London alone, each of which is central to its own village. 

Village-level activity can:

  • improve all our lives in the short term and long term. Both building an active community and being part of one are positive experiences
  • build inclusive cross-generation and cross-demographic community, to expand our awareness of how the world is for those around us
  • build resilience and mutual support with people right there on the doorstep, continuing and expanding the positive developments seen during the COVID pandemic
  • connect businesses, support groups, families, churches, secular groups and everyone else with an identity and local participation
  • act as a necessary counterbalance to the recent amazing developments in online communication; access to global communication produces a space for micro-local in-person interaction
  • help citizens become more empowered and purposefully connected than they have been in recent years.

 This manifesto sets out the village-in-the-city concept as a way of consciously building on this in ways which expand on the best of micro-local. Villages (in this sense) have:

  • A name –  usually this already there
    • Recognisable, distinctive, widely known and used
  • Inclusivity
    • Everyone who lives there is a ‘member’
    • Addressing multiple hopes, needs and interests
    • Drawing on the ‘treasure within’ – skills, resources, desire to participate 
  • Meeting places (accessible to all and within walking distance)
    • Indoor – halls, pub rooms,
    • Outdoor – public spaces, green places
    • Places for chance encounters as well as planned events
  • Connection within the village
    • Papers, newsletters, emails, Facebook groups, Whatsapp available to all
    • News and updates which go to everyone
    • Fostering two-way communication (not just ‘us’ to ‘them’ or ‘hub’ to ‘rim’)
    • Has a way to reach out to newcomers and engage them
  • Hosts
    • This role should be shared around – multiple hosts make for wider participation and less burn-out
    • Can be an informal role (people just doing it) as well as more structured
    • Not just ‘organisers’ but also co-participants, joining in along with everyone else
  • Inclusive gatherings
    • Milestones in the year to bring people together – summer garden party, Hogmanay, Christmas Fayre, music weekend,
    • Regular inclusive opportunities to meet, build community and reflect – perhaps including churches, teas/coffees, drop-ins, perhaps a Sunday Assembly
    • Open community events like homeworker meetups, film club, play streets, quizzes etc etc
    • The more specific and locale-relevant the better
  • And… an ‘identity’
    • What makes this a special place?  

Note that this is not:  

  • A formal administrative unit
  • Somewhere with a formal leader/governance
  • A rules-enforcement body
  • Something with a budget or funding (when the funding stops, the activities stop)

Build your village – balance your life  

This is almost certainly going on already in some ways where you are; find it, build on it, engage others, reinvent old traditions and start new ones. Interested? Join the Facebook group. Post on social media #VillageInTheCity. Then download the Village Builder Worksheet and start your local conversations.

Mark McKergow is an author, consultant and coach based in the West End, Edinburgh, Scotland. He has written extensively on the role of hosts in building communities and organisations, and is the author of Host: Six New Roles of Engagement (with Helen Bailey, 2014) and the Host Leadership Field Book (with Pierluigi Pugliese, 2019). Find out more about Mark at and

Relevant articles and links:

2 June 2020: Draft 1, 4 June 2020 Draft 2 including more detail, Facebook group and worksheet, 12 June 2020: Draft 3 with expanded preamble 18 June Draft 3.1, expanded preamble. 14 July, Draft 4, expanded preamble and opening statements.

(This is a draft which I want to develop with your help – please leave comments below or contact me at  Many thanks to Dr Wendy Ellyat (Flourish Project), Jim Mather (Heriott Watt University), Adrian Hodgson (Berlin) and Lara Celini (Willowbrae) for their initial support and ideas.)   


Rogers, R., Brown, R. (2017). A Place For All People: Life, architecture and the fairer society. Edinburgh: Canongate Books