Roles Archive

Host Leadership Hint #8: Using ‘Convening Power’

Here in the UK we have just had a set of city mayor elections. This is quite a new thing for us; these ‘metro-mayors’ are directly elected as figure heads for local government in their area. They have a certain amount of authority (while having to work alongside the various elected councils and other bodies, of which there are usually several) and some executive power. However, perhaps THE key strength they have is ‘convening power’.

The idea of convening power has been around for a decade or more. Harvard business guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote about it in 2011. The Commonwealth sees it as a key element of their mission. It’s about using what recognition and authority you have, which may or may not be a lot, to gather people together around an issue or cause. Essentially, it is the ‘power of the ask’ writ large. If you don’t ask, you don’t get – so not even asking is to give a No answer before anything has actually happened.

Convening power is mostly a form of soft power. You invite people to gather with potential positive consequences. You can also offer them an enjoyable time, the chance to meet others also interested in the issues, and a seat at the table. This is invitation on a grand scale. Organisations are often keen to be seen to be playing their parts in creating solutions and can be drawn in – with a compelling invitation and a good cause.

Hints for using convening power include:

  • Find a really good topic, cause or issue to gather people around. If it really matters to people, they will come (or at least start to get engaged)
  • Thing big. Find the best-known and most widely connected person you can, and start from there. Once the crowd starts to hear that key people and organisations are joining, they’ll soon get interested.
  • Think outside the box. Don’t just ask the usual suspects, get people together from a wider range of places and contexta. Invite those affected by an issue as well as those who can help resolve it. Invite people with parallel experiences, or from fields with analogous situations.
  • Get to action. Prompt public commitments and next steps – when folk make these in front of others, they are more likely to follow through. In particular, look to make things start happening in the 48/72 hours after your event.

Anyone can use convening power. It’s a great element of Host Leadership. And if you don’t convene and gather people around what YOU think is important, who will?

Andy Burnham was re-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2021 (Photo Manchester Evening News)

Host Leadership Hint #6: The power of a positive No

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.

(Adapted from Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements by Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey

Host Leadership Hint #4: Listen out! What is your organisation calling for?

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.

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Host Leadership Hint #3: Connect with people at the threshold – even in online meetings

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).

Host Leadership Hint #1: Creating the space in online meetings

This first Host Leadership Hint in our new series comes from Pierluigi Pugliese, co-editor of the Host Leadership Field Book.

Even without giving any credibility to all the people insinuating we’re the whole day in video conferences with no pants on, our communication has undoubtedly become more casual: from the style of clothing we’re wearing while communicating, to the details of our kitchen as our background.

Actually it seems to us that this informality is actually helping business communication become more human. Yes, even the sudden appearance of a child asking his daddy to read a story while daddy is in a very serious management meeting…

Nonetheless, as a host for such a meeting you could (and, I dare say, should!) think of creating a proper space, even with the limited possibilities you have by staying in front of your webcam:

  • Ensure you have a good audio and video: it will help you being understood better by the other, verbally and non
  • If you need an agenda for your meeting, make it visible (shared document, shared screen, …)
  • A space is something for everybody, so invite the others to participate to whatever shared document: share them so they are editable, make them living documents for the whole group
  • Welcome people at the threshold – be there when they arrive: we will have more about the benefits of this in a future hint
  • Help the other participants to solve their connection problems: from bad audio to mute when they are not talking to giving them feedback about their image (for example: if they have a window on their back, chances are their face will be too dark!)

To hear more from Pierluigi, join his 90 minute free online workshop on Wednesday 13 May 2020. Register now!

To get a new Host Leadership Hint every few weeks, register on the front page of hostleadership.com.