Host Leadership and boundaries: The power of being near the front door

One of our six ‘roles of engagement’ for host leaders is the Gatekeeper – the one who sets boundaries, welcomes newcomers over the threshold and perhaps (in extremis) ushers them out when they’ve overstepped the mark.  One strong tip which emerged in our research was the power of leaders being located near the front door; being aware of comings and goings, being in a position to say hello and goodbye, being able to meet people are they arrive, engage with them and help them understand the ways things work here.  These are all key elements of leading as a host, and being near the door makes them much easier to achieve. 

Mark recently visited Abbotsholme School, where he was educated (some might say) in the 1970s.  Founded in 1889, Abbotsholme has always had a reputation for educating the whole person rather than focusing exclusively on exam success.  Then and now, elements such as music, art, drama and outdoor education played key roles, with the whole school heading off (not all together!) for hikes and expeditions  on a regular basis.  The school has always had its own farm, run in part by the pupils, which Abbotsholme doors2recently featured on the BBC Countryfile programme.  Part of the visit was a tour led by Headmaster Steve Fairclough (pictured below, in front of a portrait of Abbotsholme founder Cecil Reddie), and Mark was intrigued to notice that the Head’s office was no longer in its secluded location upstairs and at the end of a long corridor but is now right next to the front door (see photo). 

“It’s quite deliberate”, says Steve Fairclough.  “The old office was very quiet. Being by the door means that everyone knows I am there, those who want to see me can find me, and I can keep engaged with what’s going on day to day.”  Steve is a keen supporter of servant-leadership, and was very interested to discover the additional concept of leading as a host.  “I make tea for Abb Steve Fabout fifty people every day”, he says.  “People criticise me for doing it, but I can get so much, find out so many useful things, by engaging with people in this way.” 

This kind of involvement has been a key to Abbotsholme’s ethos over the past 125 years.  Right from the start, all the school was involved in activities such as hay-making, with lessons suspended while the precious hay was gathered.  Mark was left wondering that his recognition and development of host leadership might owe something to this remarkable educational establishment – not well known, but the world’s first ‘progressive’ school and still a beacon for balanced education where all – pupils and staff – are encouraged to do their best for others. 

So – where is your office?  How do you know who’s coming and going?  How can you meet them, engage with them – even make them tea?

Dr Mark McKergow is an international leadership speaker and teacher, and is co-author of ‘Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements’ (Solutions Books, 2014).  He was a pupil at Abbotsholme from 1972-77. 

The first international Host Leadership Gathering is happening in London on 14-16 September with a packed programme, speakers and panels, open space discussions and much more.   

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