We’re delighted to have a new video to share, featuring Mark McKergow himself introducing the concept of host leadership through three leadership metaphors – hero, servant and host. This intimate presentation was recorded live at a workshop in Helsinki, Finland, and thanks go to Taitoba’s Peter Sundman who both organised the workshop and made the recording. It’s around seven minutes of Mark’s engaging live presentation style – check it out below.
As we look back on world developments in 2017, I wonder whether this will come to be seen as the year that ‘soft power’ went missing. On one side of the Atlantic, we have the British Government’s attempts to negotiate Brexit by threatening from the start to walk out of the talks because ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. On the other side of the Atlantic, we see President Trump overtly threatening nations who fail to support that US’s policy on recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. These are ‘hard power’ moves – the power that comes from force, threat and coercion. Whatever happened to ‘soft power’?
The concept of soft power was developed by Harvard academic Joseph Nye as the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. Rather than falling back on tough-guy stances and strong-arm tactics, proponents of soft power point to the influence that can be gained from an outstretched hand of welcome, the desirability of co-operation rather than the pain of dispute. Soft power is based, in the end, on the attractiveness of positive consequences and outcomes. Hard power, on the other hand, is rooted in the pain of negative consequences.
Countries like the UK and USA have been able to develop huge soft power over the years, in no small part down to cultural exports like music, TV and (for the USA in particular) films. For decades, other countries have taken on western thinking and customs almost by osmosis, by watching, listening and engaging. These countries have also had long-term diplomatic and voluntary programmes such as the Peace Corps and the British Council, who in various ways have built connections based on common interests and the furthering of humanitarian and social progress.
Of course, hard power tactics are always hovering in the background and can’t be completely set aside in international relations. The question is about the relative positions that hard and soft power can take on in building progress. In our book Host, Helen Bailey and I talk about ‘smart power’, which is using both hard and sort power in appropriate combinations. As proponents of host leadership, we advocate starting with soft power and using it as far as it can go. Good hosts – and good leaders – tend to leave the hard power options hanging in the background, perhaps as a gentle reminder of possible alternative ways and as a last resort when other routes have failed.
So what’s going on today? We see the UK and USA, so often leaders in soft power diplomacy, resorting to overt and public hard power bargaining. I suspect that in both cases the administrations have been co-opted by groups who have been fuming on the sidelines for decades, without experience of actually getting things done. In the UK, the Brexiters look back to an imagined past where Britannia ruled the waves and the world marched to the Empire’s drum. (This Empire was, of course, primarily a hard power construction.) The role of ‘experts’, at least in international relations, trade, economics and business, has been explicitly rejected by those who now find themselves Cabinet ministers.
In the USA Donald Trump, a businessman of dubious record and practices, seeks to play the zero-sum game that he and his supporter base understands (predicated on winning and losing) rather than the longer-term more ambiguous soft power of partnership building and mutual gain – where both sides can ‘win’ by enhancing their positions together. Trump’s rejection of science, knowledge and expertise is surely unparalleled in modern times – who else would appoint to the role of Education Secretary a billionaire with no previous experience, or an EPA (environment) head wilfully ignorant of the scientific consensus about global warming and air quality? On both sides of the pond, there seems to be no way to sustain a rational basis for debate and discussion – and so the emphasis immediately shifts to clumsy execution of threats and hard power tactics.
What will happen in 2018? It seems to me that the role of soft power, and host leadership overall, has never had a more important part to play, in both trying to ensure that the worst results of failed hard power tactics are avoided and in bringing relations back onto a more productive level. The trouble with making chest-beating threats is that one quickly finds oneself in a position where one must carry through (and damage everyone in the process) or back down (and find oneself in a much weaker position long-term). Perhaps given the noise made by these administrations, we might hope to see soft power being used behind the scenes to attempt to find creative ways out of the knots inflicted on us by one-eyed simplistic leaders.
In the longer term, whatever happens, our societies will surely need to be reforged into some kind of greater unity and connection. This simply can’t happen using hard power leadership – Governments can impose their will for a while, but the democratic pendulum will eventually swing back and new visions will ensue. The question is how long this will take, how much damage will be inflicted in the mean time, and who has the vision, skill and courage to do it. Because – and get this – soft power is actually more difficult, more subtle, more effortful – than hard power. But the results are immeasurable more, the potential hugely greater. Let’s make 2018 the year where soft power reveals itself in new ways and gains new traction in this always difficult emerging world.
By the way… we will have some exciting news about Host Leadership in January! Keep 29 May 2018 free to come and join our next international Gathering.
Mark McKergow PhD MBA is a consultant and author bringing new ideas into the world of organisations. He is the co-author of the best-selling The Solutions Focus which has sold some 30,000 copies and is in 11 languages. His latest book (with Helen Bailey) is Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements (Solutions Books, London, 2014). Mark has worked on every continent except Antarctica, and is known around the world for his winning combination of scientific rigour (as a ‘recovering physicist’) and performance pizazz. His work presents ways of acting which fit, rather than fight, the complex emerging world in which we find ourselves.
The Bulgarian language edition of Host is now out. Published by Istok-Zapad, it goes under the Bulgarian title of ‘Гостоприемно лидерство’, or (literally) Hospitable Leadership. The ISBN is 978-619-01-0105-5. More details from the publisher at http://iztok-zapad.eu/books/book/2007/гостоприемно-лидерство-марк-маккъргоу-и-хелън-бейли.
Come and join Mark McKergow for an action-packed conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. Mark will be leading a half-day session about using host leadership ideas to engage people for performance and results, and then participating with seven other speakers in a packed conference day about all kinds of new organisational thinking. More details at http://2017.reinventingorganizations.eu/.
I was very privileged to be invited to give a keynote at the prestigious StretchCon conference in Budapest last week. The event was excellent and I had lots of interesting conversations. The event was live streamed and recorded, and so you can watch my talk online for free at
During the 40 minute talk I discuss leadership challenges today, leading as a relationship not a role, the different relationships implied by various leadership metaphors, and expanding the metaphor of leading as a host.
There were other speakers too – see the conference page on ustream at http://www.ustream.tv/stretch.
September 2016 saw leaders and leadership developers from around the world congregating in London for the very first Host Leadership Gathering. What emerged from the three days was an exciting air of new growth and development.
Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey opened the proceedings on Wednesday 14 September with a one-day Meet Host Leadership workshop to introduce the concepts developed from their book Host: Six new rules roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements. Mark and Helen quickly had the participants connecting the ideas to their own situations and contexts. They also took the opportunity to trial a new version of their Host Leader self-assessment questionnaire. Developed by Jonathan Bowyer, this simple tool is a great way to provoke insight and reflection, initially into how people perform in the six roles of a Host Leader. Mark and Helen are working with Jonathan to further expand their suite of tools, to look at the four positions of a host leader and also to build a 360 online version of the tool for use with client organisations.
Thursday 15 September saw the main conference day of the Gathering opened by Harry Murray MBE. Harry has a lifetime’s experience at the top of the hospitality industry and really knows what great hosting looks like. In conversation with Mark, Harry recalled his experiences – about the key role of empowering staff to look after guests. of the importance of attention to detail, about ‘always start with a question’ when talking to staff. His memories of meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994/5 were clearly very moving, as he recalled how Mandela would always pay great attention to the backroom staff and even the bell-boy: returning to the hotel, the South African president nodded to the young man by the lift and said “You must be doing something right – you were here last week, and you are still here!” What excellent attention to detail and connection with people.
The programme moved on to look at ‘Why Host Leadership now?’. Annessa Rebair (Northumbria University) looked at the challenges facing nurses in the NHS and how the host metaphor fitted well with the rising profile of nurse leadership. Pierluigi Pugliese, an Agile consultant from Munich, shared his positive experiences of helping Scrum coaches connect with hosting as a leadership practice, with the help of some very effective and simple drawings (see his slides on Slideshare). Helen Bailey looked at how hosting combines feminine and masculine aspects, and offers a route towards valuing more feminine traits than the simplistic ‘more women on Boards’ route. Ashridge Business School’s Mike Brent shared the latest research about what ‘Generation Y’ and millennials want from their jobs, workplaces and leaders – friendship, as well as support, featured prominently.
The keynote was given by Professor Elena Antonacopoulou from Liverpool University School of Management. Taking the room by storm, Elena produced a series of dazzling connections and ideas in support of the idea that the biggest challenge facing leaders today was indeed to cultivate friendships with Generation Z. Using imaginative word-plays, she deconstructed everyday phrases to give them new meanings –for example ‘Impossible’ becomes ‘I’m possible’ with the simple addition of an apostrophe and a space. Elena said that one challenge was to ‘put the man back into management and the ship back into leadership’, referring to the leader’s role in developing the vessel in which the whole community sank or swam. She offered many sources and ideas, including using a rubber band to illustrate how tension and ex-tension worked and also pointed us to Jorge Munoz’s video An Angel In Queens to illustrate extraordinary leadership by ordinary people.
After a lateish lunch, we continued with two parallel workshops. Mike Brent drew on his book The Leader’s Guide to Influence to share different ways that host leaders could bring their influence to bear, while in the other room Leah Davcheva from Bulgaria provoked a fascinating discussion about hosting in online contexts with her personal experience as ‘steward’ of an online community in the educational world. She helped us to tease apart some differences between steward and host, and had us looking at how we used language in online contexts and how to invite people into participation in particularly effective ways.
The last part of the day was given over to some short inputs about the experience of using host leadership ideas in different settings. Executive coach Stephen Josephs joined us from the USA by Skype to talk about his work with Silicon Valley senior executives, who certainly seems to be finding ideas about roles and positions helpful in tackling their often-overloaded lives. Housing association CEO Angela Gascoigne shared her story of leading her organisation through a particularly tough patch, and how rethinking her position as a host had helped her to tackle these difficulties in a way which helped others to engage. Laurent Sarrazin and Géry Derbier talked about using and teaching the concepts and roles with in the world of software development, particularly in France. They asked us to consider dropping the ‘leader’ from host leader and simply refer to the people concerned as ‘hosts’ – an interesting and potentially significant development. Leah Davcheva gave us all some final reflections before we wrapped up the day and went off for a very nice Italian meal.
The final day of the Gathering was in Open Space format, and we had lots of excellent conversations convened by participants and also by some of the speakers. Everyone wanted to explore their questions, and there were some great meetings of minds, from the conceptual (leader/follower relations and connections to happiness, for example) and the practical (sharing activities for teaching host leadership). One key discussion was about how we can all contribute to spreading the word, and the group agreed to support the Host Leadership Linkedin group as the public place to share and converse. We are also exploring a Practitioner’s Community for sharing resources etc – this is in its early stages but we are optimistic about creating something to support people who really want to specialise in sharing and developing host leadership ideas in different contexts. Watch out for more news!
We closed tired but happy, with much renewed enthusiasm and looking forward to future developments. There was considerable interest in a next Host Leadership Gathering – perhaps in France, Germany, Bulgaria or even Singapore? For up to date news of future events please sign up on our website, follow @thehostleader on twitter and join the Linkedin group.
Our book Host has another review – this time from Kevin Barham of Ashridge Executive Education, one of the leading business schools internationally and now a part of the Hult group. The review is on an internal website for Ashridge people so I can’t link to it, but here is what he says:
“Host offers a genuinely original approach to leadership which, while it is new to contemporary management, is based on a philosophy with ancient roots. It is founded on the metaphor of the leader as host – someone who receives guests. Rules will not deal with the complexity and uncertainty that face leaders today. There are no simple answers, and no one individual can possibly know what to do. Engagement is key – getting people together to work on the issues. This demands a shift of mindset from the leader as hero to the leader as “engager” – someone who engages fellow participants in a worthwhile endeavour. Instead of rules we need to think of “roles of engagement”. Six roles for the Host Leader are described: Initiator, Inviter, Space Creator, Gatekeeper, Connector, Co-Participator. Host Leadership may become one of the most pioneering concepts in 21st century management. The book is definitely inspiring reading.”
Reviewed by Kevin Barham
The Australian teaching magazine Principia – published by the Queensland Secondary Principal’s Assocation – has published a feature about host leadership. The article, by Nick Burnett and Jason Pascoe is entitled ‘Getting the balance right – a new metaphor for school leaders’. You can read it as a pdf by clicking on the image or via this link.
The first international Host Leadership conference is coming! We’re very excited to announce that there will events in London from 14-16 September 2016. The broad outline is:
- Wednesday 14 September 2016: Pre-conference workshop: Meet Host Leadership with Host authors Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey
- Thursday 15 September 2016: Host Leadership conference 2016 – featuring international speakers, activities, networking, and an open space session so you can host your own discussions
- Friday 16 September 2016: Post-conference workshop: Developing your awareness as a Host Leader with Stephen Josephs (USA) and Mark McKergow
Booking details will be available soon. In the meantime, get the date into your diary! We’re looking forward to welcoming you to London for a fantastic event.
We are thrilled to announce two opportunities to discover Host Leadership with Mark McKergow in the near future – in different parts of Europe.
Mark is also giving a one-day masterclass about coaching, leading and host leadership for Coaching At Work on Tuesday 11 October 2016 – more details coming soon at http://www.coaching-at-work.com/masterclasses/ .
Do come and join Mark for one of these exciting and interactive sessions!