Now is the Time for a New Look at Leadership
Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Dr. Mark McKergow (United Kingdom).
Great engagement is the key to truly successful leadership, and the secret to moving forward is knowing when to step back. It is no longer about being the hero, the one that has to make everything happen. There is another way: be the host.
The art of leading was never easy — and it seems to be getting harder all the time. Communication is faster, connection is greater, markets are global, and whatever action we take is part of a great onrushing whirl of conversation and innovation.
In this world, what does it mean to lead? People can get all the information they need (apparently from whatever perspective they want) at the touch of a button and interact with whomever they want. So, the classical view of a leader as someone who issues information and direction is obsolete.
Leadership seems to put the focus on the leader. I think this is a mistake. Leading is about a relationship — between the leader and the others. It takes two to have a relationship — but the leader is only one person. So the key is building relationships — at work, in the community, in society, at home — to engage others. This engagement is the key ingredient that leads to increased performance and results.
Acting as a host
We have all been hosts in some way. We have all invited people around for a meal or a party. We have all been through the balance of preparation and engagement, the joy of introducing people to new friends, the balance of leading, organising and participating. And we have all been guests too, experiencing the skill of a good host (and perhaps the clumsiness of a bad one) firsthand.
Hosts don’t just engage people by drawing them in. They introduce people to each other, make connections and act positively to bring together synergistic groups — people who can complement and add to each other’s qualities, skills and interests. The art of arranging — who to put with whom, what might make an interesting group, even thinking about keeping specific participants apart — is a key element of the host’s skill.
Having drawn people together, a good host won’t dominate the situation. He/she will flit from one group to another, with a word here and a touch there, keeping an all-encompassing eye on how things are going.
Stepping forward and back
The key question for a host leader at every moment is:
Am I going to step forward, or step back?
You’re probably thinking that the answer is obvious — leaders step forward! Yes, of course they do — sometimes. The idea of such heroic leadership qualities is thousands of years old. Surely leaders go first, need to be brave, need to build confidence in taking people into the unknown and uncertain future.
Modern leaders need to engage others, to encourage them to step forward and act — otherwise, the leader can end up pulling everyone else along, trying to have all the answers and exhausting him/herself in the process.
For some people, stepping back is quite a new idea. We find leaders who are keen to step back — though they may try it and then struggle with what to do next. Many can’t resist the temptation to revert to action and trying to do everything once again. However, thinking of leaders as hosts makes it clear that the leader cannot be centre stage all the time. Stepping back allows others to step forward, to take a turn in the spotlight.
Coaches, or good ones anyway, know about stepping back. Coaching is about paying great attention to the coachee. Coaching can be a powerful too for a host leader. There will also be times when stepping forward and playing an active role will be required. The awareness of how to dance forward and back is something we all know, yet can cultivate to greater levels of finesse.
But I’m not a host! What can I do?
Hosting as leadership is, of course, a metaphor — a way of looking at something in a different way which reveals new connections and ideas. The wonderful thing about metaphors is that they can inform our behaviour in whatever situation we find ourselves, rather than constraining us into certain contexts. People often say to us, “I inherited my team when I took over the job! How can I be a Host Leader?”
We don’t have to be in a hosting position to let hosting inform what we do — to act like a host, and thereby transform relationships around us. Even if the team members were there to begin with, we can start to think of ourselves as the host and the others as guests — and see what happens.
Host leadership gives a rich and detailed way to rethink our leadership practice. Next time you are facing a touch leadership challenge, think of yourself as a host, the others as your guests. Step forward, step back and see what happens.
Dr Mark McKergow is the co-author of Host: Six new rules roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities and movements, published on Monday 6 October 2014. http://hostleadership.com, @thehostleader.
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