General Archive

Space Creator: Everyone Deserves A Great Workplace!

elemental workplace portOne of our six new ‘roles of engagement’ is the Space Creator, the role of creating, maintaining and enhancing the space where interactions take place.  In many organisations this is synonymous with the workplace – the space where many of us spend 40+ hours every week and which can have a sparkling (or indeed crushing) affect on how we work, feel and perform there.

We came across Neil Usher some years ago when he was working to transform the workspace at global mining giant Rio Tinto’s London office. This move, from a traditional City office with wood panelled corridors and many individual offices to an innovative space near Paddington station, was a real masterclass in 21st century thinking about space and contact, with different kinds of space, kitchens, conversation areas, reading points and a café (a key meeting place between inside and outside the organisation, kept outside the security cordon for maximum convenience).  Neil was generous in his time and ideas when we were writing the chapter on Space Creator, and his contributions are prominent in our book.

Neil has been writing on his WorkEssence blog about how work and workplace are intimately connected.  Now he’s gone one step further and authored his own book The Elemental Workplace: 12 Elements for Creating a Fantastic Workplace for Everyone.  Starting from the rallying cry that ‘everyone deserves a great workplace!’, Neil builds the Why (the case for great workplaces), the How (to develop a great workplace) and the What (the 12 workplace elements themselves).  Interestingly, he includes two How sections – the second being how to flex, adapt and redesign the workplace as people use it and discover their own ways of being in it.  Change is happening all the time!

This book is absolutely overflowing with great thinking and practical points about workplaces.  The opening manifesto shows the breadth of wisdom contained within the book:

The Elemental Workplace: A fully inclusive, sufficiently spacious, stimulating and daylight-flooded workplace, providing super-connectivity and localised environmental control, while allowing individual influence over a choice of comfortable, considered settings, offering convenient and secure storage for personal and business effects, affordable and healthy refreshments, and clean well-stocked washrooms. 

The following 200 pages of entertainingly written and thought-provoking text shows all the ins and outs of moving towards an elemental workplace, with lots of personal (and hard-won) experience to the fore.  There are so many great points. Just one random example (produced by flipping the book open and starting to read) on page 172, Neil talks about the relationship that facilities management people have with their workspace users.  He says this should NOT be thought about in terms of ‘customer service’, but rather as a collegiate relationship – we are all ‘in it together’ when it comes to the organisation delivering to its external customers, we all use the space, and therefore we want to make the workplace as positive as possible – for everyone.  In host leadership we think of this as the ‘Co-Participator’ principle – yes, we’re providing for our colleagues, and we’re also providing for ourselves and metaphorically eating the same food, working in the same space.  This balance between serving and participating is key in host leadership and it’s great to see it coming over here too.

In short, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in creating better workplaces and interaction spaces.  And if you’re reading this blog, that probably means you.

Get the book at

Get the book at

Read Neil’s blog


“Be like water” – flowing as a host leader

belikewaterA recent article from Dr Colm Foster, Director of Executive Education at the Irish Management Institute, sets out the idea that, particularly in a fast-moving VUCA environment, leaders might start to aim to ‘be like water’.  Foster points out that a lots of leadership education is still done on the basis of ‘great men’ such as Jack Welch and Steve Jobs.  These guys, and many others, sought to impose themselves on a situation and definitely influence people, pushing them to exert control in difficult times.  Interestingly, research from Richard Boyatzis at Case Western Reserve University showed that these influencers’ ended up a lot less happy with their lives and careers than others.

Foster wonders whether, in more turbulent, close-to-the-edge times, it might be better not to push people but instead to be more adaptive.  He writes:

“This will require a cadre of new leaders who are less ego-identified with success and winning, who don’t see problems as opportunities to impose themselves and demonstrate mastery of the environment.

“Rather we will see the emergence of leaders who can go with the flow, adapt to new realities quickly, work through and with others as either leader or follower and pivot gracefully as cherished paradigms fall away and hard-earned experience proves ineffective as a guide to new problems.” (Foster, 2018)

Foster notes that this is reminiscent of martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s instruction to his students to ‘Be like water’.  This idea of ‘going with the flow’ and adapting quickly is built into the Host Leadership paradigm; a good host both makes a (good) plan, and is prepared to let go of the plan when needs arise.  In this piece I would like to focus on one particular element of Foster’s selection above – working through and with others either as leader or follower.

Once of the key aspects we’ve discovered in our research about what great hosts (and host leaders) do is the act of stepping forward and back.  Sometimes we want to step forward, set the scene, make people aware of what is going on, direct attention and set out what might happen next.  Then, we might step back  – leaving people to get on with it, giving them space to respond to what’s going on.  Then we, having stepped back, can take a look around, see how things are going, what needs attention, who needs to be engaged, before we step forward again.

One of our ‘six roles of a host leader’ is the Co-Participator role.  When we step forward in this role, it is as one of the team, doing what needs to be done whatever the status of the job.  This might be taking a turn at the customer service desk, helping out on the shop floor, or even just doing the photocopying – there’s a great story in the book about a very senior director helping out in just that way during a late night rush to get things ready for the morning.  He did what needed to be done – and what there was no-one else to do at that particular moment.

This willingness to join in, throw our shoulders to the wheel in whatever way is necessary, is a practical implementation of switching between leader and follower and back again.  Note that doing some of the team’s work, being a follower for a while, doesn’t mean relinquishing the leadership role overall.  In fact, when the team members see the leader helping out in this way it very much strengthens the relationships and respect, so that when the leader steps back into a their leading role once more it is with a new degree of awareness from all parties.  Trying it tomorrow – where can you be a Co-Participator and help your team out for a while?  What difference does it make for you? For the team?

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 Alan Lyons in Dublin for pointing me to the Colm Foster piece online. Thanks Alan!

Dr Mark McKergow is the co-author of Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements (Solutions Books 2014).


Host Leadership – responding to the unexpected

Poynton-331x254In 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).


An invitation to celebrate: Host Leadership in Australian schools

Maria SerafimNew South Wales Director of Public Schools Maria Serafim is a keen exponent of both host leadership and solution-focused approaches. She has been inviting school principals to take the role of host, with some marvellous results.  Here is Maria’s guest blog for Host Leadership. 

“I can get a better grasp of what is going on in the world from one good Washington dinner party than from all the background information NBC piles on my desk”

“Lend an ear, give a hand, provide assistance to the weary, generosity makes a gracious host.”

Imagine being invited to host a ‘dinner’ with your choice of guests, to celebrate and highlight what you have achieved in your leadership of a school over the course of an academic year. In 2017 a group of more than 30 principals engaged in this co-designed approach to reflect on their professional goals based on Mark and Helen’s metaphor of leaders as hosts (Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements, 2014). The idea came from my experience of applying a solution focused approach complete with a toolkit of treasured strategies to engaging with colleagues.

This led to learning about the leader as a host. Moving from being the hero or the servant as leader to the host – learning the ‘dance’ of knowing when to step forward and when to step back, how to keep the conversation flowing and create the right atmosphere for celebration and growth. As a metaphor it provides a doorway into building quality, trusting relationships. It sparked in me the idea of sitting amongst people, being invitational, being a co-participant.

So began the sharing of this novel idea of hosting a ‘dinner party’ and all that entails for it to be memorable, pleasurable, a psychologically safe environment for conversation, connecting with others and leaving people feeling and thinking ‘what a great and authentic experience that was’. The invitation to participate was co-created by the principals so that they were empowered to ‘host’ in the way that suited them best. The invitation below was what we co-authored:

Invitation sent to Principals:


Host leadership, a leadership style alternative developed by Marc McKergow and Helen Bailey, where the leader behaves as a host would where they receive and entertain guests. 

In keeping with our co-designed approach to working together, I am writing to invite you to engage in an innovative approach to our discussion about your goals.  I invite you to apply the notion of host leadership as a way of creating a purposeful space for us to share successes and reflections of your goals for 2017.  Consider the leader as host in the context of hosting a dinner party. As a dinner host we put thought into who to invite, how to cater, topics of conversation and setting the scene for everyone to enjoy themselves. This is your opportunity to host, or for me to host you, to celebrate and share the end of year reflection of your leadership. The dinner party is a metaphor for a leadership style so you certainly aren’t expected to cook up a storm…in fact, you are not expected to cater, rather create the space and atmosphere for us to talk in a purposeful, refreshing and supportive way. Like all great dinner parties, let’s create a space that is relaxed, can allow for plenty of conversation and an opportunity for your invited guests to share stories and/or artefacts that affirm their reflection of your goals. The duration of our time together is 90 minutes.

So, what could this look like? In keeping with the ‘dinner party’ metaphor you could, or request that I, host:

  • A ‘dinner party’ for two – you and me meeting to discuss your goals.
  • A ‘dinner party’ with invited guests – you may choose to invite staff, students, community members to support and reflect your perceptions and evidence towards your learning goals. For instance you may involve administrative staff if you had a goal around finance, members of your leadership team if you were building capacity in others, students for your focus on enhanced student voice.

Consider what type of ‘meal’ this will be – another metaphor for the approach you want to take for instance you may want guests to join us at different ‘courses’. It could be a degustation meal with many different ‘tastings’ and so it goes. You can be as innovative as you choose.

My experience highlighted that when colleagues are trusted and backed to apply their own approach to leading, to sharing and collaborating the results can impress and amaze. Our host leadership experience led to incredibly creative ‘dinners’ including degustation menus that had tastings of achievements and highlights, a buffet meal that included a smorgasbord of feedback and reflection from students, community members and staff, a Hollywood Star Highlights meal, Mad Hatters Tea Party, Chinese Banquet complete with giving guests the name of Gods and a Thanksgiving dinner that included students, staff and a neighbouring colleague principal.

Many meals included a menu that guided the conversation. During our Thanksgiving ‘meal’ the host principal was our guide, stepping forward and asking ‘What are we thankful for in our school?” smoothly stepping back to hearing the reflections from her guests. When we came to ‘The Stuffing and the Gravy’ our host asked what was hidden and what the school showcased well. What I experienced was that the atmosphere set the scene for honest reflections with suggestions for future and ongoing improvement and all the while there was feedback and acknowledgement of what was working well. This was true for every ‘dinner party’.

One reflection I received via text from a colleague after our discussion that I hosted at a nearby café spoke volumes to me about never underestimating the way we can use our influence as leaders to harness new and even more valuing ways to connect with colleagues:

Maria PDP cropThe inspired idea of being a host leader has opened a new door to the empowerment of others. To see myself through the lens of a host and apply this in the way that I interact has led to giving myself permission to affirm and say, “I’m really impressed with what you’re doing.” In a coaching context, I previously thought that was more of a judgement, and what I’ve realised now, affirm, affirm, affirm and build that positivity. It’s built trust in ways that I don’t believe I have ever have experienced before. From these collaboratively developed ways of working together we have been able to change the way we connect as leaders.

There’s more to do and even more exciting possibilities to be had from this approach. If leadership is about inspiring and influencing, then sustainability is in what you leave behind when you’re not there and that’s what we want for the children and people we impact on. So, for me every conversation is an opportunity to model and have someone experience what it feels like … because we know that’s what people remember … for them to have come away feeling better off as a result of the interaction. Did I leave them better off? Did I leave them feeling valued? Did I leave them feeling like they were in a place where they could continue to inspire? Do they want to host me or for me to host them again?

“It’s not what’s on the table that matters, it’s who’s in the chairs.”

Maria Serafim is a Director, Public Schools with the New South Wales Department of Education in Australia. Her work involves collaborating with colleagues at a school and system level to ensure that principals are positioned and supported and challenged to successfully lead their school communities. Maria is recognised for her capacity to develop leaders through a positive, solution-focused approach to educational and transformational leadership. She is focused on enhancing the potential for leaders to apply an agile and innovative approach to leading their learning communities. Maria’s leadership is defined by an unwavering approach to applying a positive, growth mindset to change and future focused approaches to coaching and mentoring for success. She began her work in education as a primary school teacher having wanted to be a teacher from an early age and is a proud student of public education. 

Maria is on Twitter @mserafim1 and well worth following.  Below is a selection of photos taken at some of the different events hosted by school principals in New South Wales, Australia.  If you look closely you can also see some of the ‘menus’ for discussion and celebration- click on the individual images to be able to see the details better.

IMG_5263IMG_5265IMG_5264   IMG_5266 IMG_5267 IMG_5269 IMG_5211 IMG_5212 IMG_5221 IMG_5223 IMG_5227 IMG_5229 IMG_5231 IMG_5236 IMG_5237 IMG_5241 IMG_5242 IMG_5243 IMG_5245 IMG_5246 IMG_5248 IMG_5249 IMG_5250 IMG_5251 IMG_5252 IMG_5253 IMG_5254 IMG_5256 IMG_5257


‘In The Gallery’ all the time – lessons from a master host

steven-2Part of our model of leading as a host is the idea of four positions – In the spotlight, With the guests, In the gallery and In the kitchen.  These are four different ‘places of perception’, viewpoints that a host leader can take to get different interactions and possibilities going.  With skill and practice, you can learn to move very quickly between them.  It’s rare to find someone as skilful at this at Steven Devlin from the Rocpool Restaurant, Inverness in the North of Scotland.

I’ve just returned from a trip up north to celebrate a family birthday.  Jenny and I were staying at the Palace Hotel – we’d gone a day earlier than planned to avoid incoming blizzards here in Edinburgh, and so arrived in search of a good meal with no particular plans.  The Rocpool was very close by and well reviewed, so we dropped in at 7pm on a cold Wednesday evening and… it was packed! Fortunately the lively Maitre’D quickly had us at the bar getting a drink and a table came free, so we sat down.

Steven Devlin (pictured above outside the restaurant) is more that just a Maitre’D – he is the owner, and the inspiration behind this restaurant.  After 16 years of success, Michelin listings, Good Food Guide recommendations and AA rosettes he knows what he is doing.  And one of the things he is doing is being incredibly observant as he moves about the restaurant.  He took a little time to chat with us and find out how come we were in town.  As the evening went on, he quickly noticed again and again when we had an empty glass, or if something hadn’t arrived yet.  And it wasn’t just us – walking through the restaurant, I could see that he was quickly noticing where every table was, how things were going, what needed to happen next.

Steven is no one-man band of a restaurateur; he has many very well-trained and skilled staff both waiting tables and in the kitchen.  However, he sets such a great example with his observation skills that it gives the whole place a wonderful atmosphere of inclusion and care.  In terms of our model of host leadership, he is In The Gallery all the time, being aware of what’s happening, how things are going, what needs to be taken care of next. And then he can swiftly move into being With The Guests as he talks to each party and moves things along.

In leadership terms, the lessons to learn from Steven are:

  • Spend time out of your office, walking around and taking an overview of what’s going on
  • As you do this, you’ll notice things to respond to – good and not so good. Respond right away.
  • Let people know you’ve noticed, then you can either talk to them about it or get something done, depending on the situation
  • Then move on quickly. There are always more things to notice and more people to engage with.

We liked watching Steven, the vibe and the food so much that we returned two nights later for our birthday celebration meal. And of course Steven was at it again.  Always interested, always observant, always moving.   A great example, and a great host.

A great invitation – from nearly 2000 years ago!

Vindolanda inviteChristmas time is always a time for parties and gatherings, and so it’s also a great time to practice your inviting skills.  Jenny and I spent last weekend in the Scotland/England Border region – an amazing place, very sparsely inhabited, now a Dark Skies park area (the low artificial light levels make for excellent stargazing conditions).  In the midst of all this, we stumbled on one of the earliest surviving written invitations in the world.

Some of you will know that this area is crossed by Hadrian’s Wall – the Vallum Hadriani, as they called it – which runs for 73 miles across the island of Britain.  Construction started in 122AD, and it’s the largest Roman artefact anywhere.  What is less well known is that the Romans were in this area for several decades before they built this wall, building forts and encampments which were inhabited not just by soldiers but also by their wives, families, traders and so on.  The best-preserved of these places is Vindolanda, built initially around 85AD near what is now the town of Corbridge.

Vindolanda has proven to be a rich source of archaeological discoveries, not least the Vindolanda tablets. These fragile wooden sheets were used for all kinds of written records, from inventories to personal communications, and date from the last decade of the first century, around 92-102AD.  When the first garrison at Vindolanda were given orders to move on to with is now Romania (what a march that would be!), orders were apparently given to destroy the records and a bonfire was constructed to burn the tablets.  However, a rain shower intervened and many of the tablets survived.  They then fell into boggy wet ground which preserved the fragile wood in anaerobic conditions, until being uncovered by archaeologists in recent decades.

The most famous tablet is the ‘birthday party invitation’ (above), written by a woman to her friend around 100AD.  The wording is beautiful and striking even today:

“Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival… Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.’

As you can see from the image, the writing is in a scribe’s shorthand rather than spelled out in conventional lettering, and so is not easy to read directly.  The part in ‘2nd hand’ is where Claudia Severa has added a peroration herself, in her own hand, before giving the tablet back to the scribe.  This is the oldest knowingly female handwriting in Europe.  It’s amazing that this everyday document has survived for us to read.

The wording of the invitation bears close examination, even 2000 years later.  “Make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival…” is a powerful sentiment.  “I shall expect you, sister” is perhaps even more assertive, particularly given that Claudia has added this in her own hand.

The invitation is a fine display of our three elements of a great invitation from the Host book.  These are:

  • Make it attractive – to what are we being invited?
  • Make it personal and acknowledging – why is our presence particularly important?
  • Make it optional – it’s an invitation after all, and in order for an authentic ‘Yes’ response there must also be the possibility of ‘No’.

Is it attractive? It’s a birthday party!  Is it personal and acknowledging? Absolutely – it’s personally addressed, and we are told that our presence will ‘make the day more enjoyable for me’.  Wow.  Is it optional? Well, just about… the invitation is clearly a strong one, but an invitation it is, not an instruction or a demand.

These three facets were in use 2000 years ago and they still hold good.  Next time you are inviting people to get engaged in a project, business or activity, invite them using these three elements and see what response you get.  All the very best for a peaceful and engaging 2018 from us at Host Leadership!


A tip for the Gatekeeper: “We don’t do that here”

Gatekeeper colOne of the six ‘roles of engagement’ in Host Leadership is the Gatekeeper – the negotiator of boundaries and the welcomer at the door.  Very often the Gatekeeper role is about setting expectations, encouraging people to get involved, helping to decide what’s appropriate here and encouraging people to play along nicely and co-operatively.  Sometimes, however, it can be about letting people know that they are overstepping the mark, exceeding the boundary, and need to rethink their behaviour.

I cam across a very nice blog about this recently, entitled “We don’t do that here“.  The author talks about how this simple phrase, “We don’t do that here”, has helped her in her professional career in pointing out quickly and clearly to folk that they have overstepped the mark.  So, if someone is getting too close or taking too much personal space and someone else is getting uncomfortable, you can step and say “We don’t do that here”.  The person may push back, saying something like “I was just trying to be friendly!”. This gives you the chance to affirm their intention, and also rule out their behaviour all in one sentence – “Yes, being friendly is great. And we don’t stand that close here.”

Notice that I put ‘and’ in that last sentence.  It’s tempting to say ‘but’, but… the but tends to de-emphasise everything before it and minimise the affirming.  So best stick to ‘and’.

I think this simple phrase can be a real gift to host leaders.  It’s so brief, it’s so to-the-point, and it helps us build and reinforce ‘house rules’ and expectations in a very nice and yet firm way. Now please go read the blog, which gives more examples.

PS the blog featuring the post about “We don’t do that here” is called Thagomizer.  It’s named after one of my very favourite Gary Larson cartoons:



Host Leadership and Solutions Focus

Niklas TigerAs many of you will know, Mark McKergow (the co-author of Host) is also a global expert and pioneer in using Solution Focused (SF) ideas with organisations and in coaching.  Mark runs a 16-week online course in SF with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee – the course runs twice a year and attracts people from all over the world, often experienced consultants, coaches and managers who want to make even better use of the power of SF in building positive change in tough situations (and get a university certificate at the end of it!).

One of the topics we consider on the programme is – of course – Host Leadership and the connections with SF thinking.   On the most recent course, Niklas Tiger (CEO of Hi5, a software development company based in Sweden) produced this answer about the connections between Host Leadership and SF.  I think it pulls together a great deal of wisdom and so I’d like to share it with you.  Niklas writes:

“In SF practice it is all about managing and amplifying change that is already happening in a complex and unpredictable system. We do this in order to take steps in a desired direction towards what’s wanted. We also realise that we can have some impact on the outcome, but also that there are many other forces in play that will have impact on where we end up. Since we are constantly expecting this to happen we are responsive and adapt quickly to the changing circumstances keeping a clear (and sometimes updated) idea on where we are heading. Direction and velocity is much the focus.

“With the Leader as Host metaphor it’s much the same. There’s a general idea on what’s wanted and how to get there, but there is also a responsiveness to the complexity in hosting and that there are many other forces in play (the guests and the space for example) that will constantly change over time and require different types of actions in order to keep moving forward towards the desired direction. Sometimes new possibilities or constraints will present themselves and this will require the host to adapt, take action and even change the direction when needed.

“The Host can in some respect be compared to the coach in SF. But a difference from SF is that the Host will both be the coach and the customer since one aspect of hosting is also taking part as one of the guests. Acting in a complex and constantly changing environment and trying to have some impact to move towards to what’s wanted seem to be very similar in both worlds. Also being responsive to what is happening and taking actions that are appropriate to this rather than following a predefined plan from A to B.” 

I love the way Niklas connects the flux and complexity assumptions of the SF paradigm with the responsive skills of a great host leader!  And of course the wonderful thing is that by learning more about SF we can become better hosts (and host leaders) too.  The next SF Business Professional course starts 22 October 2017 – check it out. Perhaps it’s your next development step as a host leader?

The VALUE of a great invitation – super blog from Chris Corrigan

Chris Corrigan 2My friend and colleague Chris Corrigan from Canada has proposed an excellent model for thinking about how we use the power of invitation.  He offers five key points to consider:

  • Verb: ‘Invite’ is a verb, and it requires action and responsiveness to do it
  • Attractors and Boundaries: Invitations should have an attractive purpose at their centre, but also give a sense of the ‘container boundaries’ into which you are inviting people. What’s NOT part of this?
  • Leadership: To invite is to lead, and following through on an invitation requires great leadership.
  • Urgent: What’s the zeitgeist to which you are responding? What’s needed right now?
  • Embodied: Invitation are person-to-person, and inviting is a whole-body sport where people see your enthusiasm and reactions close-up (so they’d better be congruent and convincing).

This all adds up to the VALUE of a great invitation!  Here at Host Leadership we’re right behind this way of thinking and acting.  We might add the importance of making the invitation Acknowledging of the person being invited, bringing out not only the attractiveness of the purpose but also the reasons why THIS particular person is being invited – what are we hoping they can bring to the ‘party’ in terms of experience, strengths, outlook or whatever.  And remember, all invitations have an element of Choice about them – in order for there to be a heartfelt ‘Yes’ in response, there has also to be the possibility of ‘No’.

I particularly admire Chris Corrigan’s work on containers and boundaries, and it’s very interesting to see this kind of language included in the vocabulary of an invitation.  Great stuff Chris!

Chris is coming to Scotland soon to run a two-day workshop on ‘Working In Complexity’ in Glasgow with our own Bronagh Gallagher later in the year (perhaps November 2017) so there is a chance for UK folks to experience his excellent and skilful work in person.  Now please go check out Chris’s blog if you haven’t already –

The Kgotla – group decision making in Africa

P1000029I recently returned from the ‘Solution Focused Safari’ conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a marvellous event, the first large-scale international SF meeting there, with presenters from all over the world and a good contingent of South Africans eager to learn and join in. One particular workshop which stood out was my good friend and colleague Stanus Cloete (pictured on the right during a trip to Soweto along with his wife Riekie and my wife Jenny) presenting on his experience with the Kgotla.

The Kgotla – pronounced ‘hotla’ to our Western ears (the K is silent) – is a form of participative leadership process developed by African tribal groups. It has survived in some places, particularly in Botswana, and it’s this example which Stanus presented to us. If there is a question concerning the whole community, then a Kgotla may be called. Stanus started from the African concept of ubuntu – “I am who I am because of who we all are”. This stance is about the importance of connection and social process, and sits very well alongside a host leadership perspective.

The Kgotla is a group meeting to which the whole community is invited. (OK, so in the traditional form only the men are invited, but this is about learning from ancient wisdom rather than criticising it. (Nowadays woman also partake though there is still some criticism about the role of women in the Botswana community.) There are five key principles for a Kgotla:

1. Neutral ground – it’s held in the open air, and is open to all, with an expectation of mutual honesty.
2. No time limit – any one may speak, but everyone has a chance to speak before the same person can speak again. All points of view are listened to.
3. Focus on the now and the future – the discussion is about where we are and how to move forward helpfully, rather than a recounting of the past (as seen in western legal courts, for example). The focus is on reconciliation, restorative justice and reintegration.
4. Collective responsibility – the focus is on how to do things together rather than separately, building consensus and compromise.
5. Proverbs – there are some wonderful sayings which help to connect and understand the way of the Kgotla which are used as reminders for those present, including:

• All words spoken at the Kgotla are beautiful
• Everyone is entitled to their own views no matter what they are
• The king is king by the grace of the people
• The chief is the shepherd of the people
• The chief is a tree branch on which every bird seats (sic – not sits. This gives a different meaning)
• The wealth of the king is in the affections of his subjects.

One important aspect is that the chief and elders sit somewhat outside the discussion. Their role is not to speak in the first instance – it is to listen and understand. When all has been said (and remember, that can take a while) then the chief and elders will come forward to summarise what has been said. Then, they reach a conclusion, in front of everyone, about what might happen next

From a host leadership perspective, there are a number of interesting aspects to the Kgotla.

  • Attendance is invited rather than compulsory and is open to all. This means that those with an interest are free to come, rather than only certain representatives.
  • Everyone can speak, and there are mechanisms for allowing all voices to be heard.
  • The neutral ground also reinforces that the process is open to all.
  • The proverbs set an atmosphere and expectation of constructive and future focused contributions.
  • The role of the chief and elders is most interesting. Rather than chair or lead the discussion, they are expected to listen and then summarise. This means that any summary must be seen to be a fair reflection by those present, which itself brings the need for appreciative and constructive listening from the elders.

It would certainly be interesting to use this form of dialogue in difficult and confrontational situations here. There are echoes of circle practices (with everyone given the opportunity to speak) and also reflecting teams (with the chief and elders listening to the whole discussion before responding). I hope that Stanus can continue to share and develop the ideas of the Kgotla more widely in South Africa and beyond.