I was delighted to be asked to join a discussion at the University of Hertfordshire a few weeks ago – a ‘management book club’. Organised by the University’s Head of Leadership and OD Kevin Flinn, the group is a forum for informal management development and support. Like any book club, the format is choosing a book, everyone reads it and then they meet for a conversation. The group had chosen Host as their read, and (knowing that I have connections with the University thanks to my HESIAN research hub) invited me to join the discussion. People enjoyed the book and got a lot from expanding on the metaphor of leading as a host.
After the meeting, Rachel came up and told me her story. She has a role in academic development at the Royal Veterinary College, which involves making lots of connections, organising large group session and doing coaching, which she loves. However, she had struggled in the past to explain what she did – particularly to some of her managers. She is very keen on coaching and helping people find their own solutions, but had struggled to connect this kind of work with leadership. She had tried metaphors based on building bridges, but her colleagues were not convinced – “what happens if you take the bridges away – does the communication stop?” was one comment, implying that this was work of a temporary and uncertain nature. Rachel says she wasn’t comfortable with that metaphor from that point – it didn’t describe the essence of what she did. Rachel takes up the story…
“I told a colleague about my favourite role at work which is less about bridges and more about bringing people together. This involves two annual staff training days where I invite staff and students from across the College to come together and talk about current issues in teaching and learning (usually arising from my sessions with students). She said it sounded a lot like ‘hosting’ and that I should go away and read about it. Of course I went straight home and googled ‘host leadership’ and found your site and blog. I was so excited to have found something that described what I was beginning to see was my real skill!”
“When I heard about your session I was so excited and you didn’t disappoint. The new understanding I got from it was that my hosting goes on both in work and at home (the working me is the same person as the home me at long last). I have started to understand why I love the symbiotic stresses and pleasures associated with throwing a huge party/conference – and it might be ok that I am the only person around who thrives off this kind of thing.”
“I have been very protective of the ‘space to think and talk’ ethos of my INSET days without knowing why this is – I have learnt over time that if you set things up right, with good topics, spaces, timings, groups of people….you can trust that the participants will bring the rich conversation. So I am a host and the guests provide the conversation – we no longer need to be talked at by experts. I now need to make this much clearer for some the facilitators who are still keen to demonstrate their own expertise rather than encourage others.”
“I also really like the fact that in hosting, the hosts might actually contribute something. In my pilot coaching sessions I am very aware of the temptation to use expertise but have always felt I was doing wrong… now I can see a framework to potentially use my expertise alongside hosting the other. I think I gave myself permission to be myself – someone who likes to host people (builders, postmen, butcher, teachers, friends, colleagues) and that this is something I can use to help other people become un-stuck in an enjoyable way. Thanks so much Mark for the inspiration and for helping me find my ‘thing’.”
Host Leadership has really helped Rachel both to clarify for herself how she likes to work, and to explain and demonstrate why she is doing it this way to others. Now the Host Leadership is becoming a ‘thing’, we can all draw inspiration and explanation together.
How has Host Leadership helped you to clarify and expand what you do? Please write a few lines below – we’d love to hear from you.