The Host as Leader: A New Paradigm

When you think of a host, what comes to mind? Do you think about the folks who so generously hosted you for a lovely weekend on a lake? Or perhaps you think of your friend who invited you to dinner last month. What's not likely is that you think of a host as a leader. And that's about to change.

My friend Mark McKergow ( suggests that there is a form of leadership that drives connection and community, and even drives movements: The host as leader. Mark says we are becoming increasingly disconnected with less face to face contact both in business (with more business than ever being conducted virtually) as well as in our social connections. He feels that the host as leader can help correct that disconnection.

Hosting is something we are all familiar with; it's not a new skill or technique to learn. A good host goes first. As a good host, you prepare for your guests, when they arrive you reach out your hand, invite them in and invite people to engage. In the book, "Host: Six New New Roles of Engagement". Mark says: "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."

Mark says hosting builds engagement. He's defined the "Roles of Engagement." I asked him what the difference was between Rules and Roles in this context. He replied that a rule is something you follow all the time. A role is something we can step in and out of at the right moment, watching to see how things develop. And he defines six roles the host plays:

1. The Initiator. Here the Host starts things moving by going first.
2. The Inviter. The host reaches reach out their hand and invite and engage.
3. The Space Creator
4. The Gate-keeper (deciding what can and can't come in)
5. The Connector
6. The Co-Participator

Being a host leader is natural. You don't need to be a leader to start thinking like a host. Instead of being an observer, reach out. This works with all people...customers, friends, family. It even works in social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Reach out and share something. Ask a question that engages people. Invite them to share. Engage and be open.

In the book, Mark writes about the Host dance: about the moment-by-moment choice of stepping forward or stepping back. He says this requires developing a sense of timing and context - of when to act and when not to act; cultivating a sense of how things emerge and evolve." It is perhaps one of the strongest kinds of leadership, requiring a great deal of confidence, planning, and a big heart to be able to be open and encouraging of other people.

And yet, anyone can be a Host Leader, regardless of whether they are a CEO, mid level manager, a teacher or a healthcare worker. We've all been hosts, we've all been guests. We have that cultural experience. It's a natural skill most of us have and can now view in the lens of leadership in all kinds of situations.

I know for me, without realizing it, I've been functioning as a Host Leader for a long while. I find that in project teams, by inviting people to play and share, I receive their buy-in and a stronger team connection. Not only is it effortless, it's productive and often, a lot more fun! And of course, it works for dinner parties as well.

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