Published by Rachel Noel on 15th September 2016

Host: Six New Roles of Engagement for Teams, Organizations, Communities, Movements, by Mark McKergow & Helen Bailey. Reviewed by Julie Couchman-Boor

Host: Six New Roles of Engagement for Teams, Organizations, Communities, Movements, by Mark McKergow & Helen Bailey.

Solutions Books, 2014, xiii + 237pp, ISBN 978-0-95499749-8-5, £11.99.

Purchase here

Reviewed by Julie Couchman-Boor

host-six-new-roles-of-engagementI awaited the arrival of this book with excitement and wasn’t disappointed. It is that rare mixture of easy read, practical ideas and solid theory. It’s a book that moves with pace and clarity. It is clearly laid out with pointers at the beginning of each chapter and summaries and questions for reflection at the end. Its structure makes it easy to dip into, and come back as a reference guide when you’re trying to put something into practice. The layout gives plenty of space for personal notes.

I had heard of McKergow’s work around ‘anti-heroic leadership’, as one of the Groups within Tearfund had worked with him as part of their exploration of working consensually. They were embracing his ideas, but there was nothing that I could use to see whether this was a model that would work for the whole organisation. This book provided the antidote to my lack of knowing, and provides something I could easily use to explain this way of working to others. It is a book to add to the recommended reading for leaders and for us to work with in our leadership book group.

Learning from the past, context and others is important to McKergow and Bailey, who frequently reference Simon Walker’s work on the Undefended Leader, as well as interspersing the book with references back in history and across countries. It’s a model which seems to be ideal for adapting to every situation as long as you bear the basic principles in mind. It is rooted in the very basic idea of the host and it honestly looks at the power that they have depending on how they discharge that activity.

Rather than using abstract concepts, the book uses insights from hospitality models through history and across cultures to help the reader understand the way of working being advocated. Three main concepts are expanded, and practical metaphorical examples used to help the reader understand how these are worked out. It reminds me of the Situational Leadership model, but whereas that talks about the needs of the person being led, this talks about the needs of the group and how you can meet those needs to achieve the desired outcome. It gives practical ideas about how the leader should be, and what they should do.

The book prompts the leader to think about three main concepts:

  • Are you going to step forward or back?
  • Which role are you going to play: initiator, inviter, space creator, gatekeeper, connector or co-participant?
  • Which position are you going to spend time in: the spotlight, with guests, in the gallery or the kitchen?

These different options give a structure for the leader to consider his options. It will help those new at leadership to frame the things they may do and the way they may be, and it will help those with more experience to reflect on where they habitually spend time and how they may want to change that.

The first chapter of the book promises, ‘we will share with you the frameworks and ideas that will enable you to develop your skills to an exquisite level of awareness, with many options that you can deploy smoothly at a moment’s notice’. The book delivers this, and I look forward to working through it in more detail with a group of leaders. It should be music to their ears as, when they recently completed a Spiritual Gifts Analysis questionnaire, over half of them had the gift of hospitality in their top 3! This really does seem like a model for our time and I have no doubt that the book is a helpful tool to put it into practice.

Julie Couchman-Boor is a Learning and Development Officer (leadership and coaching specialist) at Tearfund. She is a former Salvation Army Corps Officer and a regular preacher on the Methodist circuit.

This review is scheduled to appear in MODEM Matters Issue 29

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