Unsurprisingly, leadership rears its head again in my ongoing quest for effective change in organisations.
Host leadership, from McKergow & Bailey, 2014 uses the metaphor of hosting a party in place of being a leader, with 6 defined roles that a host leader can play: Initiator, Inviter, Space Creator, Gatekeeper, Connector and Co-Participator. Some roles where the leader has to step forward and some where the leader has to step back.
Here's why I like the concept for change leadership so much:
- The metaphor fits very well with our perspective of Liquid Change, where leaders turn change into competitive advantage through 4 attributes: Dialled in, Agile, Transparent and Pioneering. To throw a good party you must be dialled in to your guests’ needs and your environment, you have to be agile in playing the 6 different roles identified in hosting, you have to be transparent in your role and communicate well – mingling, connecting etc and you have to be pioneering in taking risks to make it a good party; your party with your own ideas. Also, there’s no doubt that ‘liquid leadership’ fits well with the party analogy.
- The host metaphor makes the notion of leadership easier to understand at a practical level and therefore more accessible to people. This gives more permission for (change) leadership behaviour at all levels in the organisation and helps people identify themselves as leaders more easily. This is great for building momentum for change across the organisation and sustaining progress over time.
- Providing 6 roles to identify with helps break down the traditional view of the charismatic, hero leader. It’s easier for people to try leadership when they understand they don’t have to be in the spotlight the whole time, still knowing that there are moments of scrutiny and pressure.
- Leaders don’t always fully appreciate the impact that they have and consequently aren’t able to take responsibility for all aspects of the role, in change or in day-to-day leadership. The metaphor of a host highlights the importance of the role, its impact on the guests’ enjoyment and the success of the event.
- ‘Step back to lead’ fits very well with our ambition to use social networks to drive change in organisations (think viral change). If change leaders are working with peers to seed and spread change, their role is as a ‘first follower’ to support and praise the actions of others and encourage more followers. They create positivity and belonging around a ‘new way’ and help others to join the party, building momentum that ultimately creates a tipping point.
- Probably the thing I love most about this metaphor, is the reliance on good old fashioned manners and etiquette of treating people with respect and consideration - because they are your guests. I think these values are crucial for effective leadership, of change or otherwise. Your job is to think about others and help them achieve.
- Finally, the metaphor doesn’t explicitly include the notion of leaders as part of a leadership team. I believe that preparing leaders to operate effectively as a peer in a team is fundamental, but usually absent from most leadership development. With a little extension of the metaphor, two things lend themselves to my point. 1) The role of co-creator can be tweaked to emphasise working together as a team and 2) the principles on which hosting is based also enforce that it’s not all about you. You go to parties as well as host them, so you know how to behave as a guest and make a party fun.
So much of initiating change is about the leadership. If you need to help change leaders understand the difference they can make and the roles they can play, start by asking them if they can throw a good party?
The quest continues….
A host is someone who receives or entertains guests. This is a position with which we are all familiar, at some level. Think about your experience of hosting people in your home or at a celebration. Hosts sometimes have to act heroically – stepping forward, planning, inviting, introducing, providing. They also act in service: stepping back, encouraging, giving space, joining in. The good host can be seen moving effortlessly between them. Hosting has ancient roots and is found across all cultures. We all know good hosting (and good “guesting”) at an instinctive gut level.