The six essential ‘roles of engagement’ for leaders in 2015


Guest post by Dr. Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey
The New Year can often bring about plenty of opportunities for change in the workplace, offering a chance for new beginnings and fresh starts, with colleagues feeling revitalised and reinvigorated after the winter break.
This year, managers should use the transition into 2015 as an opportunity to introduce the notion of Host Leadership, and welcome with it the idea of using roles instead of rules. ‘Rules’ are things you have to follow all the time. ‘Roles’, on the other hand, are about stepping forward in different ways and changing our awareness and focus from day to day, hour to hour, even moment to moment. The good news – by thinking as a Host Leader (and the other people as our guests), we already have a good idea of how to take on different roles at different times, and when to shift from one role to another.
The notion of six roles of a Host Leader enables us to rapidly build awareness of a wide range of possibilities for action. We can also tap into our inherent knowledge of the dance of the host – forward and back – in each role.  Think about when you get act in each role as the New Year gets underway.
What do you want to get moving for 2015?  There is usually a call to action of some kind. This may take the form of an interest, dissatisfaction, a passion, a rage, or just wanting to see something done better or differently; it may be big, for example, ending child exploitation, or it may be smaller, for example, organizing the team’s documents so people can find what they need more quickly.  Focus on it and take a first step – perhaps to invite others to join you.
Thinking invitationally and using soft power is at the heart of Host Leadership. When we invite, and people accept, they show up being involved, open, engaged, part of the process. Thinking invitationally is about reaching out and engaging with those around us in a way which invites – rather than insists – that they join us in working on some project, purpose or endeavour. It’s about seeing the participation of others as a valuable gift, rather than the result of a contract of employment.
Space Creator
Having engaged people, the role of host involves creating a suitable space for the events to emerge and unfold. Much of the new literature on leadership speaks of the importance of the space and of allowing and nurturing emergence within the space. The host plays a vital role upfront in deciding on the space and how it is to be organised, laid out and used. The host’s role is both to create an excellent space to support the activity and also to refresh and renew the space to keep it functioning well.  This is another example of the flexibility of the host role – one minute making big decisions about what’s next and the next clearing up a spilled drink.
A Host Leader knows the importance (and the creative possibilities) of defining boundaries. A boundary can serve the Host Leader well by making clear what expectations and norms apply. In the same way as a host can have a “leave your shoes in the hall” norm, the Host Leader will take care to choose boundaries that can help people understand where they are and what they are committing to do in a certain place or role.
Once people have come over the threshold, they are aware of being in a new place, with new people and possibly new expectations. One of the key roles of a Host Leader is to welcome newcomers – this also gives an excellent chance to share something of the routines and rituals of the organization.
Host Leaders build connections between people, link people and ideas AND know when to leave them to get on with it. The connector joins people together and creates the possibility of something emerging. If we’ve initiated something, invited people and created a space, we clearly want to create something that it wouldn’t happen without people getting together. As connectors, we understand that, having brought people together, at some point we need to get out of the way, let the magic work and allow possibilities to emerge.
Co-Participators initiate, provide AND join in along with everyone else. It is no surprise; for example, when we are invited for dinner, we expect the host to not only serve us with food, but eat the same food with us. Not only that; hosting etiquette the world over demands that the host serve their guests first. In hosting terms, this is a clear expectation. In leadership terms, it’s not so clear. When the news is full of stories about bank CEOs who appear to have eaten heartily in terms of massive bonuses, we might think that the ancient values of relationship and hospitality have well and truly been abandoned.
As 2015 approaches, leaders should begin to introduce the techniques of Host Leadership and take a leading position in a way that draws others in, in a natural way.
This is an adapted extract from new book “Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organizations, communities and movements” co-written by Dr Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey and published on 6 October 2014 by Solutions Books.

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