I am very excited that the website for the 2020 Host Leadership Gathering is already online, and it looks great! Many thanks to Ralph Miarka and Veronika Kotrba for this wonderful front-door to the event, 13-15 May 2020 in Vienna, Austria. Book your place now. https://hostleadershipgathering2020.sinnvoll-fuehren.com/.
Host Leadership Gathering 2019
Front-line report from Dr Mark McKergow
The third international Host Leadership Gathering was held in Oberschleissheim near Munich on 27-29 June 2019. This town is well known in Germany for its castle (more like a huge palace) and the sun shone throughout with June temperature records falling during the event. Participants came from around the world – Asia, America and right across Europe. Connexxo were our hosts for the whole programme, and their team led by Pierluigi Pugliese, Katrin Seger and Cecilia Maria Zannini did a great job in making sure everything went smoothly.
The first day comprised an introductory workshop led by Pierluigi Pugliese. This was a fascinating experience for me, as it was the first time I have attended a workshop/training in this topic; I am much more accustomed to being the presenter! Pierluigi kept everything moving well and did a great job of balancing his inputs with group discussions and activities. I particularly enjoyed the section he introduced about ‘Charlie and Jane’. Charlie is Charlie Chaplin in the film Modern Times, which shows a particularly grim view of assembly line work in the 1930s. Jane, by contrast, is a modern knowledge worker.
We had a very interesting time thinking about the managers of ‘Charlies’ and ‘Janes’, the many ways in which these were very different contexts and the different needs and desires of both parties in each situation. Of course, while both could benefit from host leadership, the benefits and fit of the approach stand out immediately for Jane and those like her. A lot of interesting cultural differences also appeared – even within Europe there are substantial differences between the Nordic countries where group participation is broadly a given, the northern European countries including Germany, Belgium and the UK where these things are becoming more familiar, and the south of Europe including Italy, Spain and France which still have a long way to come. The day concluded with a beer in the castle’s own beer garden, warm and shady after a busy time together.
The second day was the Conference itself. I gave a keynote about the development of host leadership so far, my journey with it, and some of the next steps that might come out of this gathering including more connection between practitioners, more development of practical tools and helping people discover the richness and multi-dimensional nature of the host metaphor for leaders at all levels of an organisation. The idea of a Field Book had already been proposed by Pierluigi, and those present were excited to get involved and contribute. Bjørn Z. Ekelund from Norway followed with a talk about using hosting methods including all the six roles in a project about connecting families living in poverty with housing agencies and social services. It was fascinating and inspiring to see how connections were built and engagement was promoted in this very tough context.
Bjørn is perhaps best know for his work in developing the Diversity icebreaker, which was presented by Leah Davcheva from Bulgaria in one of the morning workshops. Leah took us through the Diversity activity, which is about preferences in interaction, communication and problem-solving styles. The idea, of course, is that people work better together when they value the preferences of others as well as their own. We looked at some common ground with host leadership in this respect. In the other morning workshop, Rolf Katzenberger expanded ideas about hosting by looking at what happens if we treat ‘change’ as a guest, along with people. This was a popular choice and really expanded thinking about how host leadership can play a key role in leading change.
The parallel workshops continued after our vegan (Thai vegetable curry) lunch. Pierluigi led a group in applying host leadership ideas in some very different contexts, which is always a great way to stretch and build understandings about the approach. In the other room Athena Dadiz from San Diego wowed her audience with her experiences of being a host leader on a construction site – not on the face of it one of the most promising places for this idea, but Athena impressively talked about her ways of including the idea along with kaizen and other continuous improvement methods. She has been very bold and brave in taking host leadership into this very male and traditional environment, and deserves much applause and support. I loved her talking about her task at work as ‘extreme Sisyphus’ (see the picture!).
After tea another series of workshops saw Olga Kiss and Gabriella Peuker from Hungary bringing host leadership to bear on agile retrospectives. We have been finding quite some interest in the agile world which has been accustomed to working with servant-leader ideas, and many agile folk are finding the host metaphor a better and more productive fit for what they do. Jessika Jake energetically shared her VICTOR model as being six things which the ‘host with the most’ should be focusing on today, including Value Co-creation, Intersections and Continual improvement. The day concluded with a talk from Stephen Josephs, all the way from Santa Fe NM via Zoom, about the importance of developing attentional practices for leaders to, in his words, ‘get over themselves’. Moving beyond the post-heroic boundary in leadership agility, past relying on the individual power of expertise and effort, requires the leader to put themselves after the others, not before them.
The third and final day of this Gathering was an open space hosted by Cecilia Maria Zannini around the topic of creating the first host leadership Field Book. Pierluigi showed us examples of ‘mob-programming’ in the agile world and encouraged us to do mob-writing together around a computer and projector (see the picture on the right). This was a very rich day indeed! I convened a discussion on ‘hearing what is being called for’, the necessary precursor to initiating action and connection. How do we choose or at least beging to notice the next potential focuses, for our teams, our organisations and indeed our own lives? A rich discussion produced some great ideas, which I then turned into a 1600 word draft chapter! Other groups produced work in various states of completion from simple bullet point notes to quite complete texts, which those involved will continue to develop over the coming weeks. There will be more news about this coming soon, as we are seeking wider contributions as well – might YOU be interested to contribute something based on your experience?
As we gathered at the end of the day there was even more exciting news; Ralph Miarka and Veronika Kotrba from SinvollFUEHREN in Vienna offered to host the 2020 Gathering! We think it will be around June 2020 – more news to come when the dates and venue are confirmed. My huge thanks go to Pierluigi and the Connexxo team for hosting this gathering with such care and imagination, for keeping us all going in the record-breaking heat, and for suggesting the Field Book idea as a focus for the discussions. There was a lot of energy around continuing with the project, so expect more signs of progress in the days and weeks to come
We’re delighted to see the interest in host leadership and our book Host is continuing. A new review has been published on the Ideas For Leaders website, which rates it 5* as a ‘game-changer’! Fantastic. You can read the review at https://www.ideasforleaders.com/book-review/host.
We’re delighted to say that Host authors Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey have been invited to be the keynote speakers at PublicFunk’s conference Sensommerdage. The event will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 5-6 September 2019. Information (in Danish) at https://publicfunk.dk/sensommerdage/.
As England make somewhat unexpected progress in the World Cup, it’s interesting to take a look at the part played by manager Gareth Southgate. Southgate is unusual in terms of national team managers/coaches in that he didn’t have a long and distinguished club management career – he only coached one team, Middlesbrough, in the Championship (second tier) from 2006-2009. He came into the England job having been under-21 coach from 2013, and inherited the top role after Sam Allerdyce ‘left by mutual consent’ following allegations of malpractice. So, Southgate is not the usual England coach – he’s younger, he’s less encumbered by expectation… and he turns out to have elements of host leadership in his style.
This interesting and uplifting story was posted on Twitter recently by Jake Humphrey, sports commentator and currently host of football on the BT Sport channel. I reproduce it here – it bears close examination:
“Back in 2007 I was working on Sportsround on CBBC. I spent my time interviewing all kinds of sports people, plenty of whom were footballers. I quickly got used to being kept waiting 2-3 hours past the time the interview should happen, interviews being cancelled at the last moment, or doing interviews in nondescript rooms to keep us away from seeing training or interrupting players.
Some of the stories you wouldn’t believe!! I didn’t mind it, no worries, it was part of the job, and a kids TV show is hardly the top of everyone’s list!! However, our trip to @Boro about a decade ago couldn’t have been more different.
10 minutes after we were due to chat to Gareth he came running down the small hill from the training complex to the pitch where we were standing, apologising profusely that he got held up in a meeting. He immediately knew my name…and the name of all the crew I was working with!
Straight away he said ‘come and meet the players’ and took us right into the centre of the training pitch, stopped the players working, and told them about us and how crucial he believed sport was on children’s TV to inspire the next generation.
We were then asked what WE wanted to do. Which players WE wanted to speak to, whether WE wanted to stick around for the whole of training. Nothing was too much trouble. At the end of training, and our filming, he was the one shaking hands, thanking us for coming, seeing us out.
And 10 yrs later he leads his country into our biggest game in a decade. I’m so pleased a good guy is getting what he deserves, & from what I’ve seen of his press conferences, his relationship with the media, & how open his players have been, he has stayed true to his principles.”
It’s worth looking at this through the host leadership lens. Southgate is clearly treating his visitors as honoured guests. He welcomes them over the threshold (Gatekeeper), he knows who they are and introduces them to others (Connector), he offers them choice and possibilities (Inviter), he takes care of the space (Space-Creator)… so many aspects of great hosting and host leadership on show in this one short story. Following England’s last-16 win over Columbia, he was widely pictured consoling opposition players (right). Whatever your allegiances in footballing terms, it’s fascinating to see a new generation of leader who also brings a new generation of leadership with him.
Plans for our 2018 Host Leadership Gathering on 28-29 May 2018 are firming up. Some of the workshops and topics on the agenda include:
- Rolf Katzenberger on the dynamics of moving between roles and positions while hosting
- Helen Bailey on the latest work on a Host Leadership behavioural questionnaire – we’ll be sharing the latest prototype and discussing how to use it
- Alistair Cockburn on ‘guest leadership’ – his latest idea and an intriguing take on the host-guest relationship
- Mark McKergow on how the use and application of host leadership ideas is spreading around the world
- Géry Derbier and Laurent Sarrazin on using host leadership as part of their approach to agile projects and trainings.
There will also be experienced host leadership practitioners from across Europe, open space sessions so you can bring along your own challenges, topics and questions, plenty of time to be together in an exciting and developing part of Paris, and a wonderful opportunity to get some new ideas and practices. We’re hoping you will join us!
For more information: http://hostleadership.com/gathering.
For booking: https://www.weezevent.com/host-leadership-gathering
For information and questions, contact Mark McKergow himself at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Hawkins, one of the most experienced and respected voices on the leadership and transformation scene in the UK, has just published a new research report for Henley Business School. Tomorrow’s Leadership and the Necessary Revolution in Today’s Leadership Development brings together interviews, surveys and leading edge thinking in a succinct summary of the state of play in leadership – an important and very approachable read.
One of the key sections (p 18) is about the need to move from Heroic to ‘collective and collaborative’ leadership. Prof Hawkins writes about how much we hear about the end of heroic leadership, and yet how much leadership development activity is still focused on producing individual heroic leaders. He quotes a couple of very nice quotes from the research:
“Leadership will increasingly become the skill of enabling a collaborative co-creative process amongst peers.” Mark Drewell, Senior Partner, Foresight Group
“Leadership is becoming less about being the smartest in the room and much more about how we collaborate, work with diverse stakeholders, inspire and bring the best out of others. Being more inclusive and collaborative. It’s about developing our ability to be curious; our ability to explore new approaches, new perspectives, engage different stakeholders and view points, and empathise with diverse perspectives.” Interviewed global HR director
Both of these look to us like reasons for building host leadership into leadership development processes as soon as possible! We’ll be in touch with Peter Hawkins to discuss this. In the meantime, the report is an excellent read.
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.
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.