General Archive

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?

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).

 

Host Leadership – responding to the unexpected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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