Everyone knows that leading is about stepping forward, right? Leaders are visible, go first and attract attention. Well, that’s right some of the time. And some of the time, there are other possibilities… like stepping back to move forwards.
In Host Leadership we think that leading is a dance of stepping forward and back. Yes, sometimes it’s good to step forwards, for the reasons given above. And also sometimes, there are very good reasons to step back for a moment. Good hosts don’t hog the limelight or dominate proceedings – we are more inclined to encourage our guests to be visible, to share the stage, and to build engagement and participation.
When is a good time to step back? When you’re just finished stepping forward. You have a role to play in setting the context, building a framework and perhaps asking a question. That’s a great time to step back, look expectant, offer the space to someone else.
But isn’t that losing control? Not at all! You’re still there. You can hear what’s going on. You are getting something back – what the others think, how they are seeing the situation (which may be different) and also who wants to step in next. You’re still there and can step in again when the time is next right.
So, as a host leader, think about this key question:
Are you going to step forward or step back next?
Stepping back may be more of an option than you thought…
As a host leader, we look to be clear about boundaries, what is appropriate in this particular space and what is not. Occasionally, even with the best will in the world, we find ourselves having to say ‘No’ to someone or something. There are some ways to do it, however, which are better than others…
William Ury’s outstanding work on the power of a positive No10 gives some excellent pointers for this. Ury incisively points out the tension between the leader exerting their power on the one hand, and needing to tend to their relationship with the excluded person on the other. In real-life leadership situations, there is almost always a need to preserve and even build relationships for what may come next.
A positive No therefore maintains and builds relationship as well as getting the immediate need dealt with. It basically takes the form “Yes! No. Yes?”
1. Yes! Acknowledge the interest, contribution, enthusiasm or whatever else the person has shown. Be specific if you can – let them know you have noticed the positive and useful elements of the situation so far.
2. No. State what you need to have happen clearly and as a matter of fact. Giving a justifiable reason for your position can help here – it shows that this is perhaps not the situation you were hoping for, and that you have not taken your decision lightly.
3. Yes? Offer an alternative action, role or possibility to the other person. This will both achieve your goal and also offer another way for the relationship with the person to continue. This may be another way to be involved with the project, another contribution that they might make, a point in the future where this can be revisited, another route for the person to take.
This third phase offers something for people to agree with, and so be able to maintain and even build relationships. So this No is not the end of everything, but a point of punctuation along the road of a continuing and valued partnership.
Let’s look at an example. Laura is Gillian’s manager. Gillian can act as a host, even when she isn’t one, with a positive No.
Laura: I’m looking for someone talented to chair our ethics committee. It’s a sensitive position, with lots of conflicting interests and delicate emotions. It’s also ideal for someone looking to get more visibility with the Board. So I think it would be the perfect fit for you – I’ve seen you get great results from some very tense meetings, and I know how much you want to make progress up the ladder.
Gillian: (Yes!) Thank you, Laura. That’s lovely to hear. I guess you’re thinking of those Draycox meetings I chaired. Yes, I was pleased with how they turned out, and it’s lovely to hear you say so too. I’m also very grateful to you for thinking of me in this way. [Pausing to think]
It is a very good opportunity….. [Pausing again]
(No)… and I’m also thinking of the decontamination project. It’s getting me working seventy-hour weeks already, we’re two weeks behind on the deadline, and I really want to turn that around. The last thing I want is having you hauled onto the news at eight a.m. to explain why the beaches around here aren’t safe to swim in.
So I’m going to have to say no for n ow. (Yes?) If it can wait six months, I’d love to take up your offer. Otherwise, have you thought of John? I know he’s quite passionate in this area (remember all the extra research he did on Banyard; he was working Sundays for months). He’s brilliant at winning consensus too, don’t you think?
Notice how Gillian is genuinely pleased to receive the offer, and pauses to give the question genuine thought – which communicates how seriously she’s considering it. She is clear about her No, and offers not one but two possibilities.
Join us for this free online workshop with Dr Leah Davcheva, coach and facilitator specialising in Host leadership and the Solutions Focus approach to building change. Wednesday 27 January 2021 at 6pm UK time.
We will aim to discover how to act in your organisation in order to build relationships and engagement while moving forward. You are also going to look into a leadership challenge you are facing right now and, thinking like a Host Leader, find possibilities for making progress.
During the programme, you will participate in activities designed to help you
experience the value of the host leadership metaphor in your own context of action
perform in ways that bring people together
use, to many practical benefits, the step- forward and step-back dance of the Host Leader
begin adopting the new roles and positions of engagement
Our next Host Leadership Hint comes from Leah Davcheva, a member of the Host Leadership Stewards group who has been using hosting ideas in her work as an educationalist, cross-cultural consultant and community builder. She writes here about the power of stepping into, and out of, the six roles of a host leader in her community work.
“On the left side of the street leading to the house where I live in Sofia, there stretches a smallish plot of land, triangular in shape. It belongs to nobody. Overgrown with bramble, and coarse grass, rubbish scattered all over, the place presented a graceless sight. An eyesore which bitterly contrasted with the well-trimmed gardens in our neighbourhood.
This had to change! In my mind, I could see this small piece of land transforming itself into a beautiful spot and making the neighbourhood proud.
A first small step was to share the idea with our next-door neighbor. She was keen and within less than an hour we initiated a small-scale gardening project and named it – The Triangle. Together, we composed a short text, inviting our neighbours to join. Not knowing their names, let alone any email addresses or phone numbers, we tucked the A4 pieces of paper into their mailboxes. Hoping to break the ‘silence’ of the neighbourhood, we opened the gates wide for contributions. Some neighbours responded, others ignored the message.
Within a month, we had the place cleaned and dug through. A gardener was employed to design the garden and plant the new trees and shrubs. Beautiful white stones frame the plot.
As the work unfolded, we got to know each other, shared news and simple stories. Something of a community started emerging. My neighbour and I hope that The Triangle might eventually turn into a space where neighbours gather together in – for a chat simply, and, why not, for initiating new projects.
Applying the lens of host leading, we can discern the stepping forward and back dance, as well the stepping into and out of the roles of initiator, inviter, space creator, gatekeeper, connector, co-participator.
One of the six roles of Host Leadership is the Initiator – the person who starts thing off, notices a priority and brings it into focus. Before you can do that, there is a necessary first step: listen out for what your organisation is calling for.
What’s coming over the horizon?
What challenges are starting to appear in the marketplace?
How are your distribution channels shifting?
How are people finding out about you?
How are you tracking your success with customers and user groups?
It could, of course, be any of these, all of them, or all kinds of other things. This month’s hint is to listen. Not rush in. Not jump to a snap decision. Listen. Listen to the conversation in the office and outside it. Listen to what you are hearing on social media. And most importantly listen to your own heart about what’s really important and that you want to take forward.
Our top tip for this is go somewhere quiet. Listening is usually best done with a little focus and a little peace. So why not go out at lunchtime and find a seat someplace, or take a moment on your way into work tomorrow. Take five minutes to see where you are and what’s coming along. And then park it, store it away, and see what happens next. If it just vanishes, it probably wasn’t that important. If it stays with you, and you start seeing other signs that this is important, then it probably is.
Listen. Listen again. Then act.
You can find a more detailed exposition of ways to listen for what is being called for in Mark McKergow’s chapter of the Host Leadership Field Book.
Sign up on the right to get these tips direct to your inbox, along with news of new developments and events.
Educator Nigel Gann has been an enthusiastic adopter of Host Leadership for some time, and was hoping to contribute to the Host Leadership Field Book last year. His piece arrived too late for that, but we are delighted to feature it now. This topic of welcoming strangers has never been more relevant, and the work in Lichfield is a beacon of hope and brave practice. The picture above shows a less picturesque side of the city seen by some arrivals.
One of the stories of the growth of civilisation is of the tension between the good of the individual and the needs of the community. Where the latter is disproportionately strong, we find tyranny and absolutism. Where the former is, there is the danger of anarchy. This conflict exists in every nation state, but also in cities and towns, and in organisations of all types. Where it is unresolved, people may look for a hero leader to sort it out, where the organisation seeks a single individual to articulate and embody it.
We may be at
that stage in a number of nations now. Despite the plain and disastrous history
of the model, the image of the hero leader remains seductive to many. Perhaps
it is no coincidence that Thomas Carlyle’s study “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and
the Heroic in History” was published in the exact same year – 1841 – as was
Charles Mackay’s catalogue of communal folly “Extraordinary Popular Delusions
and the Madness of Crowds”.
parties, businesses, schools and voluntary organisations have come spectacular
croppers over the last thirty years or so by becoming over-reliant on flawed “heroes”
who have refused to be accountable to their supporters, their shareholders,
their boards and their members. When the delusion of heroic leadership sidles
into politics – international, national or local – we need to find a coherent
So what has
the model of host leadership to offer to communities? Or rather – what might
community activism have to offer the development and implementation of host
leadership? One movement, initiated by a small group of concerned citizens in
Sheffield some 15 years ago, considers how, in an era of mass migration –
whether fired by need, political will or climate change – we can create a
culture of welcome to people who are displaced. The question they address is,
“How can a city, a town, a village, an organisation or institution celebrate
and host new arrivals?” Their answer was a new and at the same time age-old
concept – a City of Sanctuary.
community simultaneously “step forward and step back” like a host? Of course it
can. It invites, it welcomes and it embraces newcomers. It sets up the
possibility of new relationships, with existing guests and new arrivals, with
sources of help and support, and it offers help in understanding how to engage
with the community. And it allows, encourages, enables new arrivals to protect
and celebrate their own culture – the one they bring with them, with all its
richness and history, to share with us. Central to this is the ability to
encourage the less active members of the community to engage positively with
guests – this is where host leadership of communities takes on the role of
creating and maintaining a community-wide ethos of welcome.
now hundreds of cities, towns and villages of sanctuary. There are also
countless streams of sanctuary – schools, churches, businesses, organisations,
theatres and so on. Here, in a small city in the English midlands, we felt the
time had come to commit to the idea. In autumn 2019, some 30 leaders of
organisations met together to talk about their shared concept of the community
as host, not only to internationally displaced persons, such as migrants,
refugees and asylum seekers, but to all disadvantaged people who find
themselves challenged by a society where tolerance and understanding seem
increasingly endangered, among them people living in poverty, people with disabilities,
those with mental health issues, those without homes.
Between May and
October 2019,71% of people from ethnic minorities in Britain reported
facing discrimination (in January, 2016, the figure was 58%); in June of that
year, a Survey by BritainThinks showed that “Britain is a more polarised and
pessimistic nation than it has been for decades”; in September, the
Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner (the top anti-terrorism officer)
said: “Far-right terrorism is the fastest-growing threat in Britain.” In the
same month, a “Record number of anti-semitic incidents in first half of 2019 –
892, a 10% increase on the first half of 2018” was recorded, while according to
a HopenotHate survey “more than half of black and minority ethnic British
voters think a no-deal Brexit would worsen race relations in the UK”.
Many, but by
no means all, of those who gathered here represented faith groups from
Christian and Muslim communities.
is simple. Movement and change within and across nations is inevitable. It has
been going on for thousands of years, sometimes in strong and powerful surges,
sometimes in persistent streams. It brings, as it always has done, risks as
well as economic and cultural benefits, and it offers challenges. But history
shows that attempts to stem the flow at best fail, and at worst end in disaster
for would-be guests and reluctant recipients. Host leadership in Lichfield,
personified by the Cities of Sanctuary movement, has four key actions at its
support people in Lichfield, especially newcomers, who face discrimination or
exclusion due to displacement, immigration, racism, poverty, abuse, sexuality,
disability or violence
alongside individuals and organisations throughout the district of Lichfield to
coordinate welcome and support for those who need it
challenge visions of Lichfield that exclude any individuals and groups that
live and work here
events, exhibitions, campaigns and meetings to engage and inform about the
issues that concern us all.
We see the
participation element as particularly powerful – this is not about providing
people with things, but about working with them towards a fair and accessible
provision of what they need.
So those were
early days for us. What came next was recruitment – the need to address key
organisations and individuals face-to-face and explain the universal benefits
of a welcoming culture, reinforcing the values, addressing the adverse impacts
of much of current political British thinking – and reshaping the narrative of
the communities we inhabit.
has imposed on us time to think about our next steps. Next year, in partnership
with local arts organisations, community groups, schools and faith groups, we
plan a season of sanctuary in the city. It’s that stage in a social event when
you, as host, say – “May I introduce you to . . .? I think you’ll find each
other really interesting.”
Join us for this 90 minute online event with Dr Mark McKergow, co-author of Host and the Host Leadership Field Book. Mark will be sharing how his work about leading as a host (rather than a hero or a servant) has evolved over the past 18 years, and lead a discussion about future developments and applications. He spent well over a decade researching what great hosts and leaders really do, and produced user-friendly frameworks such as the six roles and four positions of a host leader to help apply the power of engagement in organisations.
Mark will be joined by members of the international host leadership community who are applying these ideas all over the world to help leaders to build engagement, performance and results and to make organisations more humane AND more effective.
If you have yet to explore host leadership, this will be a great introduction. If you have heard about the models and approaches, this will be a fantastic re-awakening of the work. If you are using host leadership in practice, we would love to hear from you at the session.
This session will be held on Zoom. Places are limited. There will be a chance to engage with others as well as hearing from Mark and asking questions. The Zoom link will be sent to those who register for the event.
Join us on Monday 14th December 2020 for this meet-up to explore the next stages of host leadership. All welcome. Really.
As a host leader, we seek to meet people at the threshold. There is a key moment as people arrive when we want to be in a position to welcome them into the space, say hello, make a direct connection and perhap explain any house rules or routines. This is in contrast, of course, to the hero leader who keeps themselves hidden away to maintain the mystique, or the old-fashioned teacher who shows up last into the room and expects everyone else to leap to their feet.
This is true in online meetings as well. In fact, there are all kinds of good reasons to be first online in meetings you are hosting. You get to say hello as people arrive, have a quick catch up, sort out any technical problems and e available for quick exchanges on emerging issues.
There are two other options, neither of which are as good. You could make everyone wait until you arrive at the appropriate time, which sounds efficient but actually encourages the others to come along late (not wanting to hang around for you). Or you can allow people to join the meeting without you, and give them a space to talk about you behind your back. (Zoom, for example, has a setting for this in the unlikely event that you want to do it.)
So be the first person in, and perhaps also the last person out. People will feel welcomed into your space, and be encouraged to give of their best.
What are your top tips for getting productive by welcoming people at the threshold online? Please add comments below and we’ll share them (with acknowledgement, of course).
This is a guest blog from Leah Davcheva of Aha Moments in Sofia, Bulgaria. Leah is an experienced user and teacher of host leadership in many settings, and has designed a new collection of posters to support her work. These posters are now available for free download through the Host Leadership website.
Leader metaphor underpins the host leading practices which can be thought of as
involving two steps, four positions and six roles. For those willing to explore
the metaphor and generate engagement in their own settings, a conversation
about the metaphor can be usefully complemented by the images that capture
their meaning. At the same time, they open space for learners and users of the
model to create their own meanings and ideas.
For several years now, as coach and facilitator, I was using the images that Mark and Helen, authors of Host, have created (McKergow & Bailey, 2014). Their figurines did an excellent job supporting learners of Host Leadership in their understanding of the elegance and simplicity of the metaphor and at the same time bringing forth smiles of appreciation on their faces.
By and by,
I realised I wanted to have images emerging from my own developing ideas and practices,
as well as from the insights of the people I have worked with. The moment came
to respond to this “call to action” (Initiator).
What I did was invite an artist (Inviter),
who I knew to be very good at collaborating with people. Her name is Radostina
Our joint journey
towards the creation of the new images took the shape of a dance. As our
respective areas of expertise were called upon, we alternated between
performing as host and guest. The transitions seemed to flow spontaneously. I
welcomed Radostina as a guest to the field of Host Leadership while she guided me elegantly round and about her
wisdom of hindsight, I can see us both performing as Gatekeepers welcoming each other to our respective understandings. It
did not take long for us to discover each other’s resources and connect on the
images piece of common ground (Connector)
which we expanded as our work gained speed. Step by step we were getting closer
to both our shared and separate horizons.
of this co-participative journey are
images for the two steps, four positions and six roles
satisfaction with her artistic work and my joy of the new images
new friendship emerging between two professional women who have performed as
both Host Leaders and Guests in their shared two-week project.
This second Host Leadership Hint in our new series comes from Dr Mark McKergow, co-author of the Host book.
As I write this, people around the world are starting to emerge
from a strange time of physical separation combined with high levels of mutual
interdependence. We have to stay separate, and yet we may be even
more reliant on others – to bring supplies, to connect for conversation, to
stay clean and safe, to contain the virus. In such a world, acting as a
Initiator – making the first move – is even more important than usual.
I live in a rather splendid street in central Edinburgh. I and
my wife Jenny had met a few neighbours once a couple of years ago, but nothing
since – people largely seemed to keep themselves to themselves. When
the lock-down came, Jenny thought to dig out the email addresses she had, write
to everyone and suggest that we might keep a note of each other’s contact
details in case of emergencies, anyone needed shopping or whatever. There was
an immediate and enthusiastic response; good idea, great to hear from you,
adding new people, and so on.
A Whatsapp group then started. Information was shared about local greengrocers
and fishmongers who were delivering. One brave neighbour even requested that
Mark might play his saxophone in the street, which has developed into a weekly
performance for eleven weeks. And all this started because
forward to get it moving.
This is the Host Leadership role of the Initiator
– the role of seeing that something needs to happen, could be a priority, might
be important. SOMEONE has to make the first move. And that move, in Host
Leadership, might lead to an invitation to others to get involved.
There are opportunities out there right now with things needing to happen, and
people wondering who might do something. What can you start? How can
you make the first move? How can you give other people something to notice and