General Archive

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, http://villageinthecity.net. 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 hostleadership.com and sfwork.com.

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 mark@sfwork.com.  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.)   

References

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

The ‘User’s Guide To The Future’ as a coaching tool – new video

Peter Roehrig and Mark McKergow led an online webinar for SFiO about applying the ‘User’s Guide to the Future’ (from Mark’s book Host) as a coaching tool. The webinar is now available online, and is packed with useful ideas.

Mark explains the concept and framework of the Users’ Guide, which helps people to take huge ideas and quickly bring them into focus as coherent small actions.  Peter has added a couple of very useful elements to the framework to make it even more useful as a coaching too.  Peter demonstrates this by coaching one of the webinar participants. We then hear feedback from the coachee, and there is a discussion.  This is a valuable resource for any coach working with people who want to translate ideas into focused action.

Flatten your power gradient with Host Leadership

I was delighted to meet Turn The Ship Around author L. David Marquet last week in Edinburgh.  David was in town to speak about his new book Leadership Is Language: The hidden power of what you say and what you don’t (an excellent read, by the way), in which he goes into detail about the concept of ‘power gradient’

Power gradient, as David writes, is how much more authority or power does a person higher in the hierarchy feel like they have compared to someone lower in the hierarchy. A steep power gradient is where the senior person ‘bosses’ folk around, speaks a lot, marks themselves as different, doesn’t listen much, and encourages people to do what they are told and shut up.  A flatter power gradient, by contrast, has the senior encouraging others to speak up, listening more, reducing the differences and engaging with their people.  Steep power gradients are vestiges of the Industrial Age where thinking was separated from doing, and cultures of control and comply ruled the day.

There are many examples in Marquet’s book of how steep power gradients are suboptimal, ineffective and even downright dangerous in today’s world.  Some of these are in operational settings such as airplane cockpits or ships bridges.  Others (close to home here!) are about corporate settings – Marquet writes entertainingly about Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, under whose rule the Royal Bank of Scotland collapsed – huge offices, thicker carpets, security guards preventing access to the Executive Suite (also known as the ‘Torture Chamber’… The UK Government bailed the bank out to the tune of £45bn, and Goodwin (as I have discussed here) infuriated all concerned by ignoring the norms of host/guest relations and keeping his huge payoff and pension.

Marquet is quite clear that he is not advocating zero power gradient – that would lead to confusion, ambiguity and uncertainty about responsibilities.  However, flattening the power gradient is a key piece of engaging your people and building shared commitment. It’s up to the senior person /leader to do this, as it’s very difficult for your team to initiate such moves (particularly if you’re not looking!).

One effect of embracing a Host Leadership style is that power gradients are flatter. Whereas the hero boss is looking for one-way communication (“Do this! Yes, sir.”), a host leader is seeking to look after their team as well as taking responsibility for them.  Three very practical ways you can make flatter power gradients are:

  • Step back and invite contributions from your team members. In meetings, in briefings, in one-on-one chats, take time to be quiet and let them say what’s important.
  • Ask what they need – to do their jobs, to improve their work, to connect with customers and colleagues better.  (You might not like the answers – but at least everyone will be better informed.)
  • Co-participate! Take time at the sharp end occasionally – you’ll see how things are, how it’s working and what are the challenges faced by your people from day to day. 

What other ways are there you can flatten the power gradient?

Dr Mark McKergow is the co-author of Host: Six New Roles Of Engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements (Solutions Books, 2014).  He speaks, writes and teaches about post-heroic leadership development and solution-focused organisational change. http://hostleadership.com  

The Producer Competences: The art of the impossible

How do you like diverse groups of creatives and managers, build connections, help everyone to do their best work and produce something amazing that nobody’s ever seen before? Be a Producer! That was the message from producer Suzy Glass and Graham Leicester of the International Futures Forum at a fascinating workshop in Edinburgh.

We are at the start of the wonderful Firestarter festival, which has grown from 2016 to be an annual treat of workshops, presentations and learning opportunities to celebrate and build creativity and innovation in public services with a focus on Scotland. There is a packed programme of events over the coming weeks – all free to attend (if you can get a ticket – many are now sold out).

The event on the ‘Producer Competences’ was a new and interesting take on how create and build new things – ‘climbing the mountain that isn’t there’, as Suzy Glass put it. Around 50 people gathered at Whitespace in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle for an instructive and inclusive morning of talks, discussions and sharing. Graham Leicester led off by recalling Jacques Delors’ report from the last century on learning in the 21st century (now!) being about learning to Know, to Be, to Do and to Be Together. He positioned producing as the last two of these, connecting the role to his Three Horizons model.

The Producer has a role in linking up with could be (in the future) with what is now in the present. This role is widely understood (I think) in the arts and creative industries, but it’s relatively new (to me and others in the room today) in terms of organisational initiatives and community development. The Producer is often an outsider who makes connections to allow something – an event, a display, a performance, an exhibition – to be created. Suzy Glass is just such a person, and was lively and generous in sharing her experiences, freewheeling as she sometimes grappled for the words to talk about something she does but less frequently discusses.

Suzy was very clear that producing is NOT ‘project management’ (although project management skills are very useful). It is about finding a vital idea (with life and agency) which often means working with mavericks (not the easiest people sometimes, by definition). Then the idea takes shape, and the producer builds a team, helping everyone to feel comfortable as this shared space appeared and then to (we hope) learn to speak something like the same language. This is a gradual process! Often there are contradictory priorities like artistic coherence and financial accounting in the team, and the producer helps to bridge gaps, bring people together (and occasionally, I sensed, keep them apart). Helping everyone to take the next step confidently is vital – there is no existing map, and possibly not even an existing step to stand on, as the whole endeavour is ‘making it up’.

If the Producer does all this right, then the implementation of the project becomes obvious. We discussed how this means that good Producers are rather invisible, as they are deliberately shining the light onto those out front. Discussions emerged from the group about the challenges of all this in the organisational world, with some finding ‘high people’ who were blocks to change while others had supportive ‘high people’ but immobile middle managers. Suzy picked up an important point when she said that “getting the right people in the room isn’t a diary scheduling problem, it’s a leadership issue”. Graham came back to innovation, saying that there was ‘innovation driven by desperation’ which was about propping up the (failing) current system, and ‘innovation driven by inspiration’ which was about moving to something new.

From a Host Leadership perspective, it seemed to me as if there is a lot of good hosting involved in producing, perhaps rather more extreme than usual, with a very diverse group and apparently divergent priorities being brought together, perhaps initially against their better judgement, to do something not only new but never seen before. This surely requires both a tongue of silver and balls of steel! And a lot of patience, boundary-spanning, connecting, container building and inviting (at the right moments). This was a really fascinating start to Firestarter 2020 – many thanks to the organisers and to Suzy and Graham for putting themselves out front to give voice to some new ideas and possibilities.

There are some new developments coming soon in this area. Graham Leicester has produced a downloadable pamphlet on the Producer Competences, and a Producer Competences programme is planned by IFF based on the Watershed (Bristol) creative producers programme to tease out further learning for outside the arts sector. Contact Graham at the IFF if you’re interested! I’m hoping to keep an eye on these new developments myself as Edinburgh once again appears at the heart of innovation, the arts and community.

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?

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?