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The six roles of engagement

Dr Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey

Dr Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey on the six roles of engagement for leaders in 2015

As the new year begins and colleagues return from the Christmas break feeling fresh and ready for a new start, managers should be looking to make the most of the opportunity, allowing them to introduce new leadership techniques to help motivate their team through January and beyond. The notion of Host Leadership is one such approach, which focuses on using ‘roles’ instead of ‘rules’. By thinking as a Host Leader, and everyone else 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 – Initiator, Inviter, Space-creator, Gatekeeper, Connector and Co-participator – enables us to rapidly build awareness of a wide range of possibilities for action. We can also tap into our inherent knowledge of hosting in each role. When introducing Host Leadership this new year it is important for us to consider the six roles, each of which is as important as the last.

To begin, you have to ask yourself what you want to get moving in 2015. Look for 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, from ending child exploitation to organising your team’s filing more appropriately. Initiators focus on the problem and take a first step – perhaps to invite others to join. 

The concept of invitational thinking is at the heart of Host Leadership. When we invite, and people accept, they show up wanting to get involved and be part of the process. Being an Inviter is about reaching out and engaging with those around us in a way which invites – rather than insists – that they join us. It’s about seeing the participation of others as a valuable gift, rather than the result of a contract of employment.

Creating a suitable space for the events to unfold is an essential part of the process. The host plays a vital role upfront in deciding on the space and how it is to be organised, laid out and used. The Space Creator role involves both creating an excellent space to support the activity and also refreshing and renewing 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.

Acting as a Gatekeeper, Host Leaders know the importance, and possibilities, of defining boundaries. A boundary can serve the Host Leader well by making clear what expectations and norms apply, helping people understand where they are and what they are committing to do in a certain place or role. This makes people 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 organisation. 

Host Leaders build connections between people, link their ideas and know when to leave them to it, creating the possibility of something emerging. If we’ve initiated something, invited people and created a space, we clearly want to create something that wouldn’t happen without people getting together. As a Connector, 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.

When we are invited for dinner, we expect the host to be a Co-Participator, not only serving us with food, but eating the same food with us. Not only that; hosting etiquette 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 look to improve their working relationships by introducing the techniques of Host Leadership, taking a leading position in a way that draws others in, in a natural and hospitable 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 in October 2014 by Solutions Books in paperback (£11.99) and Kindle formats.

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