In a fast-moving world, leaders need to become skilled improvisers. That’s the message from Robert Poynton, associate fellow at Oxford’s Said Business School. In a recent interview Poynton talks about seeing the world through the lens of ‘offers’ – an improving term which means possibilities for constructive action. He says:
“Offers are everywhere if you are prepared to see them. Seeing a world full of offers means looking at everything as something you can use to create flow—even something that seems to be a problem. This is a very different attitude from seeing the world as full of problems that you want to get rid of.”
This is an excellent attitude to cultivate. It seems to us that the key aspect here is in the phrase ‘if you are prepared to see them’. Leaders who are intent on executing their plan will find it very difficult to notice these offers and opportunities. Leaders who, like those who follow host leadership principles, are more concerned with enhancing the quality of the interactions around them, may be in a better position.
Our model of ‘four positions of a host leader’ helps you to set aside time to be ‘in the gallery‘. This is a stepped back position, where the leader is not rushing around trying to urge people on. Instead it’s important to take a moment, every now and then, to step back, take a breath, and survey the scene in front of you. What’s going on? Who is doing what? Are there people who seem unengaged or confused? Are there things happening which you didn’t expect?
It’s this last kind of observation, noticing the unexpected, that makes for a potential ‘offer’, in Poynton’s terms. Rather than immediately jumping up and stamping out the unexpected, there are a few questions which might make better sense:
- How might this be a ‘useful gift’? This is another improvising term – it means something that you hadn’t planned for, but might be an opportunity to open new doors and create new possibilities.
- How could I make a constructive response? Rather than responding with a No! to the unexpected happening, think ‘Yes…and…’. What’s the next small step to take in embracing and using the situation to create something new? (It only needs one step – the step after than will probably come from some of the others, and you’re away).
- If things are getting very emotional, consider a Yes…And on the emotions which are appearing. “I can see you’re getting very annoyed at this…” acknowledges what’s happening without trying (yet) to sort it out. A step at a time. This often starts to take the heat out of the situation, leaving everyone in a better place to be constructive.
Host leaders know that excellent preparation and good improvisation are not opposites – they support each other very well in judging how to ‘go with the flow’ – but in the kind of direction that you’re seeking.
The international Host Leadership Gathering 2018 is in Paris, France on 28-29 May 2018. Come and join us for workshops, keynotes, open space discussions and social time with some very interesting leaders and leadership developers.
Hat tip to the excellent Nick Burnett for pointing out the Robert Poynton interview. Thanks Nick!
Dr Mark McKergow is the co-author of Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements (Solutions Books 2014).