Blog Archive

Ronnie Scott: Host Leader! His famous club is 60 today

Ronnie Scott (photo credit Freddie Warren)

As some of our readers will know, Host author Mark McKergow is a keen semi-pro (occasionally!) jazz saxophonist.  When he was writing Host, Mark was looking for great examples of host leaders in different contexts. One of those was Ronnie Scott – saxophonist, club founder and manager, and general leading light of British jazz between the 1950s and the 1990s. Here’s the section from the Host book about him (from the chapter on the Initiator role, page 92):

Hosting around the world: Keeping going for British jazz at
Ronnie Scott’s
Ronnie Scott was a British tenor saxophonist bewitched by modern jazz. In the 1940s, he had worked his passage on the liners to New York to see the giants of bebop perform in the clubs around 52nd Street, and came back filled with a desire to have something similar in London – a place where young adventurous UK musicians could perform their edgy music without being booed off by unhappy diners, and where the best American stars could perform to a sympathetic audience.

He finally raised £1000 with his colleague Peter King and opened in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street, Soho in 1959. The club was a success, and attracted the musicians and audiences that Scott had envisaged (though they had to fight a union ban on visiting Americans to make it happen). A generation of British players grew up around the scene, with Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans and many more taking up residencies. Rollins liked the atmosphere of the club so much that he asked to be locked in overnight while he worked on the music for the 1966 film Alfie, starring Michael Caine.

During the 1960s, the club moved to bigger premises in Frith Street, where it remains to this day. Despite being in perpetual financial trouble, Scott and King managed, by hook or by crook, to keep going. Scott died in 1999, but his name and spirit live on – the club still runs late-night sessions of the kind that inspired him in New York. Ronnie Scott was a good tenor saxophonist, but is remembered throughout the jazz world as a brave and persistent Initiator who managed to adjust, keep going and maintain a special place for British musicians.

Today is the 60th birthday of Ronnie Scotts! The club has produced this excellent little video narrated by Stephen Fry about Ronnie and what he ‘initiated’.  Check it out!

 

Why Gatherings and not conferences?

We at Host Leadership are very excited that the fourth international Host Leadership Gathering will be held in Vienna, Austria next year from 13-15 May 2020. I am sometimes asked why we style these events ‘gatherings’ and not ‘conferences’. This might be a good moment to share some thoughts about why this is an important distinction for a host leader.

What’s a conference for? Well, to confer, I guess. The etymology of conference shows it coming from the Latin word conferre, which means “to bring together; deliberate, talk over”. It seems to me that In the modern world conferences have become more and more talky, programmed and pre-organised. A series of speakers (often with too much Powerpoint and too little audience engagement) parade their thoughts with little time for questions, discussion or emerging topics and issues. In face, the term ‘unconference’ has been coined to promote events which value the latter engagement over the formal inputs.

The word gathering, however, comes from the Old English word gaderung, meaning “an assembly of people, act of coming together”. This is already much less talky than a conference. Firstly, to the English speaking ear at least, there is a distinction between old English-derived words and Latin-derived words. The former are earthier and more homely, the latter are higher-register and ‘fancier’. Secondly, the purpose of a gathering IS the coming-together – for all sorts of reasons, not just talking.

A ‘clan gathering’ is a term in Scotland (where I now live) for events which the ancient Scottish clans organise from time to time. These take place perhaps every few years and attract people from around the world to a varied programme of events – including dancing, music, food, social events, walks, parades, religious services, reconciliation meetings with other clans (really!), discussions, connections and re-connections and, yes, perhaps a formal Clan Society meeting. The purpose of these events is much more than simply talk – it is about meeting others with shared connection in community, about re-establishing relationships, about taking stock, about re-connecting with traditions (and perhaps forging new traditions as well).

I hope that Host Leadership Gathering will continue to be more like gatherings than conferences. Yes, of course we will have speakers and talking – but every event so far has had a social element as well, included in the programme rather than as an add-on. We started with at the first SOLWorld conferences in Bristol in 2002 and 2003 – a conference dinner for all, included in the ticket price, where we could all sit down together and eat. From 2003 we also had a cabaret, with entertainment by the people and for the people. I am still surprised by the number of events to which I go these days which seem to think that a series of speeches is a satisfactory way to bring people together.

So, a gathering is about being together, sharing, doing things that build connections, with as much joining in (co-participating) as possible. Sounds familiar? Host a gathering for your community, and see what difference it makes.

Acknowledging others in Denmark – ‘tak for sidst’

I was in Copenhagen, Denmark last week for a very enjoyable conference with the Public Funk consultancy.  I have a keynote and some workshops about Host Leadership, and was talking about how hosting is universal for humanity but it sometimes looks different depending on the culture. Public Funk’s Jens Kristian Pedersen mentioned that there is a very specific way of acknowledging people in the Danish culture – ‘tak for sidst’.  This happens after a party or some other gathering; when people see each other the following day or whatever, they say ‘tak for sidst’ to each other as a kind of acknowledgement that they were both present.

It’s like ‘I saw you and acknowledge you’ – said by both parties. What a lovely way to give and receive recognition and respect!  Now watch Kristian describing it on the video below.  What other ways do we have of mutually acknowledging people briefly and effectively?

YOU can contribute to the Host Leadership Field Book – here’s how

Following a very successful Host Leadership Gathering in Munich at the end of June 2019, we already have a healthy start to the Host Leadership Field Book.  Using group writing processes in a Open Space (see the photo on the right), we are now working on an initial set of chapters/pieces including these topics:

  • Host Leadership to support a company in ‘Agile Transition’
  • Coaching and mentoring tech teams/software development teams
  • Engaging families in poverty in a social project
  • “Hearing What Is Being Called For”: What’s next in your team, organisation and life?
  • Host leadership models in child care consultation
  • The trainer as a host leader
  • How to train Host Leadership: Attracting people to the Host metaphor
  • How to train Host Leadership: Introducing the Inviter
  • Host Leader vs Manager role – what’s the difference?
  • Host Leadership as an Integrating Metaphor
  • Hosting Company-wide Process Improvements

Now, YOU have the opportunity to add your ideas and experiences to the new book, which will be published by Solutions Books later in the year in both paperback and e-book format.  We are looking for short ‘chapters’, between 1200 – 3000 words, which both share your experience of using host leadership (or some aspect of it) in a way which offers something that others can use. That might be a tool, a tip, a framework, a lesson you’d like to share, a mini-case study – anything that comes from your experience and could help others.  Detailed guidelines are below.

What to do next

Contact Mark McKergow (mark@sfwork.com) as soon as possible with  your idea.  This is to let us know what might be coming and also to make sure that we are not duplicating ideas.  Mark will help you refine your proposal to make it a great contribution.  The deadline for initial writing is Sunday 11 August 2019.  I know that’s not very long, but we are looking for short and punchy contributions which I hope you will already have in mind.  We are looking forward to hearing from you!  Go on, get involved – it’s a great way to get your name in print in a book which will receive global attention.

Detailed guidelines

Content: A practical way you have found to use host leadership ideas at work. Each piece should focus on ONE way (although it may be applicable in lots of situations). If you have more than one idea, that’s more than one piece (which is fine).

Length: 3-10 (max!) pages (about 1200 – 4000 words)

Writing: Please write in English. Don’t worry if English is not your first language, we will be editing and tidying the pieces before formal publication and you will have a chance to review the edited version. Short sentences are better than long ones.

Structure: A good contribution will contain:

  • Title and subtitle: Preferably something catchy and interesting which conveys the purpose of the piece
  • Author details: Your name, affiliation/company and country. Please share credit where there have been several people involved – it costs nothing and makes you feel good!
  • Introduction: What is this about, what does it do, who will be interested
  • Field Work: What you did, what happened, why it’s useful to others and in what ways, what you learned
  • The ‘Knack’: Tips and guidance for doing this really well, learned from your experience and reflections. What should we take care with?
  • Key words: 5-8 key words connecting to this piece
  • References: (if any) should be given in APA 6 format. We like authors who acknowledge their sources! See https://www.ukessays.com/referencing/apa/generator/
  • About the author: One paragraph (no more) about the author, their experience and qualifications, which builds their credibility as someone to be listened to.

Terminology: You may use ideas from the Host book without needing to explain them in detail, such as the six roles and four positions for a host leader. We may well add an introduction setting these out at the start. Or you may use your own words of course!

Permissions: If you name any other individual or organisation in your piece, please ensure that they are OK with this. There are ways to refer to people and organisations without naming them if you prefer. If you use content from existing sources (apart from Host) you have to ensure permission.

Rights: Solutions Books will share the rights with you. This means that they can publish your piece, and you can also use it yourself in whatever way (on your website, for example).

What’s in it for me? You will get a copy of the published paperback book, as well as the opportunity to buy further copies at a good discount if you wish. You will also get a wider international profile and a very warm feeling for having made a valuable contribution to leadership development.

Get in touch now! 

The Faroese ‘Host’ – shared hosting in the Faroe Islands

I’m just back from a super holiday in the Faroe Islands. This archipelago in the North Atlantic is a beautiful collection of mountainsides, fjords and the occasional village, with twice as many sheep as people! It’s a picture to look at, especially if it’s not raining (the usual situation).  Despite being a part of the Danish Kingdom, the islands have their own language (more like Icelandic than Danish), their own culture and their own traditions, and also their own international football team.

Part of our fly-drive holiday was an excellent evening of Faroese food, music and dancing.  Arriving at the venue we were greeted by Niklas Hjallnafoss (pictured with Mark McKergow), smartly dressed in his Faroese national dress and acting as the host for the evening – Faroes style.  He offered us each a shot of local akvavitt (liquor) to knock back – from the same glass! This is how it’s done in the Faroes – everyone drinks from the same glass on arrival.  Niklas told me that this is partly to symbolise togetherness, and partly because in the old days there were very few shot glasses to go around!

As the evening went on, we were told that the role of the Host in the islands is taken not by the person giving the party, but by a close friend or family member.  That person welcomes everyone (with a drink) and then goes around offering people more drinks and getting them involved – and also making sure that they don’t have too much!  This leaves the party-giver free to enjoy themselves, knowing everyone is in good and trusted hands.

In leadership terms, there is a clear lesson here about the possibilities of shared hosting.  The ‘host’ doesn’t have to be the lead person – it can be someone else charged with the responsibilities for a specific event.  When might be a good time for you to offer a hosting role to someone you trust?  Who might it be?  When can you ask them?

We want YOUR proposals for workshops at the Host Leadership Gathering 2109

Plans for the Host Leadership Gathering 2019 are coming together. We have already received some excellent workshop proposals from around the world.  These include:

  • How to host a successful agile stand-up meeting (Rod Sherwin, Australia)
  • Using the Diversity Icebreaker to explore host leadership roles with a team (Leah Davcheva, Bulgaria)
  •  Hosting ‘Change’: what if we treated ‘change’ as a guest, alongside the people (Rolf Katzenberger, Germany)
  •  Attentional practices for hosts: how to step into and out of the flow more naturally (Stephen Josephs, USA)

As you can see, the offerings so far range from the practical to the personal to the conceptual. We are very keen to hear from as many people as possible in all these domains (which all have some kind of practical element). And we would like you to come along and join us.  Please send in your proposal by email to hl-gathering-2019@connexxo.com with: 

  • Title
  • 100 word abstract 
  • Participant take-aways
  • Your biographical details
  • Desired time slot (20/60/90 minutes).

Deadline for workshop submissons is Tuesday 30 April 2019.  If you’d like to test out an idea, please email Mark McKergow (mark@sfwork.com) directly and he’ll get back to you.  Now’s your chance – go on, take it! 

Host Leadership in the hospitality sector: Hampton Inn

The philosophy of host leadership is based, of course, around hospitality – the welcoming and caring for guests. In ancient times this was something experience by all; in a world without hotels, travellers relied upon hospitable householders to accommodate them. This still happens in parts of the world which are sparsely populated and where the going is tough, such as the steppes, the desert and so on.

In the modern world the basics of accommodating travellers has become the ‘hospitality industry’. Hotels large and small, guest houses, B&Bs all cater for guests.  And of course some of those operations are very large and employ many staff in their quest to host their visitors.  As part of the research for the Host book, we interviewed some leading hoteliers and discovered that there is an awful lot to running a successful hotel, a great deal of detail, and many hours of effort every day.  After the book was published Philip Newman-Hall, then General Manager of the famous Le Manoir Au Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, UK, was kind enough to say that:

“Having been a host and leader for nearly 40 years, the insights in Host were as refreshingly relevant to me as they will be for any young manager, be they in hospitality or anywhere else where results through others are needed.   These easy-to-apply principles will last you a lifetime.”

We recently heard about how one hotel, the Hampton Inn in Woodinville (Washington state, USA) is using these ideas behind the scenes, in particular in their housekeeping department.  They are applying many of our six roles of a host leader in the running both of the hotel and of their own unit. We particularly like the key question posed by the manager: “What to focus on today?”.  That’s a great way of reducing our ‘User’s Guide To The Future’ into one sentence!

Read the whole story at https://sway.office.com/BEEsHZgMnIEHooNk.

Watch your ‘thresholds’!

One of the six roles of a host leader is the Gatekeeper; the person who watches over the ‘gate’ (or door, or threshold), welcomes people in, lets them know what’s happening and what their expectations are, negotiates about the boundaries and – potentially – excludes people who don’t play by the house rules.  It’s a very rich and  important element of leadership which is not always captured by the other metaphors and approaches.

Our good friend Chris Corrigan wrote a blog recently about the many ‘nested thresholds’ which might apply when thinking about a workshop or event.  It’s easy to see the way that the idea of thresholds works on the day – people arrive (though the threshold), they work together (inside the threshold) and then they leave again (out of the threshold). Chris has identified a full fifteen ‘thresholds’ – not all of then physical – which may be considered when entering and leaving a conversational space.

These start from the instant that people notice and start to engage with an invitation to join.  In our experience that’s a really key moment – after all, deciding to move along and not enter at that point will pretty much rule out any subsequent benefits or possibilities (though it may be the right thing to do for the individual).  We spend a lot of time and effort on working up great invitations to our workshops and talks; when people arrive in good heart and with worthwhile expectations, then a useful session is in sight.  If people show up with misaligned expectations, then difficulties immediately begin to encroach.

The role of a leader in helping people to understand, approach and cross thresholds is an undervalued part of what creates engagement and therefore performance. When it goes well, it seems almost inevitable. When it goes wrong, it’s a mess.

Now read and enjoy Chris Corrigan’s excellent blog on ‘Designing nested thresholds’.  

Space Creator: Everyone Deserves A Great Workplace!

elemental workplace portOne of our six new ‘roles of engagement’ is the Space Creator, the role of creating, maintaining and enhancing the space where interactions take place.  In many organisations this is synonymous with the workplace – the space where many of us spend 40+ hours every week and which can have a sparkling (or indeed crushing) affect on how we work, feel and perform there.

We came across Neil Usher some years ago when he was working to transform the workspace at global mining giant Rio Tinto’s London office. This move, from a traditional City office with wood panelled corridors and many individual offices to an innovative space near Paddington station, was a real masterclass in 21st century thinking about space and contact, with different kinds of space, kitchens, conversation areas, reading points and a café (a key meeting place between inside and outside the organisation, kept outside the security cordon for maximum convenience).  Neil was generous in his time and ideas when we were writing the chapter on Space Creator, and his contributions are prominent in our book.

Neil has been writing on his WorkEssence blog about how work and workplace are intimately connected.  Now he’s gone one step further and authored his own book The Elemental Workplace: 12 Elements for Creating a Fantastic Workplace for Everyone.  Starting from the rallying cry that ‘everyone deserves a great workplace!’, Neil builds the Why (the case for great workplaces), the How (to develop a great workplace) and the What (the 12 workplace elements themselves).  Interestingly, he includes two How sections – the second being how to flex, adapt and redesign the workplace as people use it and discover their own ways of being in it.  Change is happening all the time!

This book is absolutely overflowing with great thinking and practical points about workplaces.  The opening manifesto shows the breadth of wisdom contained within the book:

The Elemental Workplace: A fully inclusive, sufficiently spacious, stimulating and daylight-flooded workplace, providing super-connectivity and localised environmental control, while allowing individual influence over a choice of comfortable, considered settings, offering convenient and secure storage for personal and business effects, affordable and healthy refreshments, and clean well-stocked washrooms. 

The following 200 pages of entertainingly written and thought-provoking text shows all the ins and outs of moving towards an elemental workplace, with lots of personal (and hard-won) experience to the fore.  There are so many great points. Just one random example (produced by flipping the book open and starting to read) on page 172, Neil talks about the relationship that facilities management people have with their workspace users.  He says this should NOT be thought about in terms of ‘customer service’, but rather as a collegiate relationship – we are all ‘in it together’ when it comes to the organisation delivering to its external customers, we all use the space, and therefore we want to make the workplace as positive as possible – for everyone.  In host leadership we think of this as the ‘Co-Participator’ principle – yes, we’re providing for our colleagues, and we’re also providing for ourselves and metaphorically eating the same food, working in the same space.  This balance between serving and participating is key in host leadership and it’s great to see it coming over here too.

In short, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in creating better workplaces and interaction spaces.  And if you’re reading this blog, that probably means you.

Get the book at Amazon.co.uk

Get the book at Amazon.com

Read Neil’s blog

 

“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).