I am just back from organising the international SOLWorld 2016 conference in Liverpool. This is the annual gathering of Solution-Focused (SF) practitioners who work in coaching, management and organisational contexts. The SF tradition derives from the work of Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in solution-focused brief therapy, and offers a powerful and energizing way to build progress, even in tough situations, by focusing on what’s wanted and what’s working.
As part of the conference I hosted a discussion on the connections and links between SF practice and host leadership, particularly around the relationship of host and guest (which in the host leader metaphor is leader and others). The group produced lots of great ideas – here they are:
- The host metaphor is an excellent source of resources for leaders and would-be leaders – we already know at some level what a host does, and can start to put that into action right away
- A good host will want to please their guests – so finding out what the guests want is a key piece of this. (Note, simply giving the guests what they want is not necessarily possible, but it’s an important piece of the equation.) And it’s very good to have an idea of what the host wants too – they are also participants in this interaction.
- A host can get good at ‘being lazy’ – in other words, stepping back and allowing others to act, work etc.
- A link with teachers who work with students in helping them to learn when they are comfortable and stretched at the same time. This means moving in and out, adjusting all the time (and is connected with the ideas of the 20th century educational pioneer Vygotsky).
- Host as facilitator – making connections, with a focus on the interactions in the group. A good question to ask all the time is “How does this contribute towards our goals?”
- The six roles of a host leader give a nice route to leadership development. In particular the role of the ‘Space-creator’, focusing on the space and environment, offers a new and relatively overlooked angle on leadership.
- The roles are quite easy to link to behaviours, and therefore to put into action. They are also dynamic – there are possibilities for action in any situation, and the development of leadership is all about getting better at choosing.
- Attention to detail! Good hosts focus on detail, and good SF practice is all about discussing and noticing details.
- “What you invite is what you get.” There is a bigger picture here in terms of how we live and develop our own lives.
- Hosts focus on the resources which the guests are bringing. These may not be obvious at first, but getting better at noticing, inviting and engaging will help to tap into these resources when the time is right.
- The guest has a role too! Steve de Shazer always used to say to his therapy clients that ‘there are not guarantees – I’ll do my best, and I hope you will too…” (and would look to see if they were nodding at that point). Good hosting is about developing guests expectations about their role and how they can help create a successful interaction.
- Clear invitations are a key part of creating expectations – and as such are a very useful tool for leaders and anyone else wishing to engage people.
Perhaps you are a solution-focused practitioner? What do you think? Which of these is particularly important for you? And what else could you add?