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.
Sign up on the right to get these tips direct to your inbox, along with news of new developments and events.
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”.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
support people in Lichfield, especially newcomers, who face discrimination or
exclusion due to displacement, immigration, racism, poverty, abuse, sexuality,
disability or violence
alongside individuals and organisations throughout the district of Lichfield to
coordinate welcome and support for those who need it
challenge visions of Lichfield that exclude any individuals and groups that
live and work here
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.
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.”
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 email@example.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.)
Rogers, R., Brown, R. (2017). A Place For All People: Life, architecture and the fairer society. Edinburgh: Canongate Books
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.