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