Acting WITH people: Host Leadership and Restorative Practices

I was contacted recently by Sonia Mayor, who was interested to combine host leadership ideas with her work in the area of restorative practice.  I wasn’t familiar with that field, and have been investigating – and it looks like a very interesting connection with great potential. 

I had heard of restorative justice – my friend Lorenn Walker in Hawaii uses Solution Focused therapy ideas in the furtherance of this, which is about getting offenders to get involved in repairing the harm done and building relationships with victims and others, rather than simply being punished.  These ways of working echo practices from many indigenous traditions, including native American, African, Asian and many others. 

In an extension of this philosophy, restorative practices are about applying similar thinking proactively rather than simply reactively – acting before offences are committed, to build community and connection in ways that reduce offending. 

One key element of restorative practice is shown by the ‘social discipline window’.  This model reflects the work of Australian criminologist John Braithwaite, who argues that conventional punishment stigmatises offenders and pushes them out of the community, rather than drawing socialDisc_windowthem in.  The social discipline window (right) shows four different ways of acting with offenders (and indeed with people in general) based on varying levels of control and support – not acting, acting for, acting on, and acting with.

Restorative practices are very focused on doing things WITH people – combining high degrees of support and control.  It’s easy to see how there are dangers of slipping into the neighbouring quadrants – by acting paternalistically and ‘doing things for’ people (attempting to support them, but in your way rather than theirs), or slipping into punitive mode and ‘doing things to’ people (where they become the object of action rather than an active subject). 

I see Host Leadership as working towards a very similar objective.  Hosts and host leaders strive to reach out and engage people with their active co-operation, rather than compelling participation.  Once engaged, though, the developing relationship allows structures to be used which help all involved to know where they are with each other.  In the same way, accepting an invitation to visit someone may mean using their ‘house rules’.  These structures can serve a controlling purpose, but they are entered into as part of a bigger process rather than as a means of obtaining submission. 

This idea of acting WITH people, rather than for them or on them, is central to host leadership.  And yes, occasionally we might want to do things for people (when they can’t do them themselves) – but with their permission and agreement, rather than from our own assumptions.  It’s nice to help an old lady across the street, but first check that she wants to go! 

I look forward to building on this initial connection with restorative practices in future blogs and articles – it’s an exciting prospect.  Please add your reactions, comments and connections below, as well as thoughts on particular angles and connections between these fields. 

2 thoughts on “Acting WITH people: Host Leadership and Restorative Practices

  1. Sonia Mayor

    Just an update, I’ve run a number of sessions-‘Restorative Leadership in Times of Complexity’ with senior and middle managers across health, education and social care combining the ideas of restorative and authoritative practice with the host leadership metaphor. What’s proving most helpful is supporting practitioners to think through the tensions in their role. It’s difficult to always work within the boundary of ‘working alongside’ when you also have statutory powers to remove vulnerable children and adults from their homes. This is where the gate keeper role is really helpful as it enables an exploration of the use of positional power and the ability to sit in your authority as a restorative practitioner. People are invited to solve their own problems and there is an on going assessment of how this is developing with clear boundaries and expectations. Really looking forward to developing this wok further.

    1. Mark Post author

      Thanks Sonia. I think this same tension is often felt by Solution-Focused practitioners, who are always trying to find people’s own ways to co-operate, sometimes in very challenging circumstances, with some ‘hard power’ to intervene in their back pockets. The Gate Keeper role in host leadership – as you say, about clear boundaries and expectations – can indeed be a very good way into handling this tension in a respectful and honest way.

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