Host - Ideas for Leaders


Six New Roles of Engagement

About Author/s:

Mark McKergow is a consultant who focuses on responsive and emergent approaches to complexity with a particular interest in how people manage such situations, and the role of leadership to enable better outcomes. Helen Bailey is a coaching and change expert who leads the performance management consultancy Pinna.


Leadership prowess is elusive, despite the enormous amount invested in it and written about it. This is partly because we require different types of leaders for different types of situation but tend to seek and act out a single leadership style, all too often the charismatic, strong, opinionated one. This inability is partly because we have few effective metaphors for leader that resonate with us, both telling us what they do and that we can relate to. Servant leader never quite rings true as a metaphor as we struggle to envisage leading as a servant; agile/adaptive leadership does not bring a strong image to mind; authentic leader is equally uninformative in suggesting how it works. McKergow and Bailey have alighted on a role we all understand, and will have attempted to play out with success or not, that of the host.

Core Idea

We have all been to parties or attended events where the success or otherwise of what the host has been like has shaped the success of the occasion. Hosts can make or break the events they are running – their behaviours and approaches can be charming, enlivening, calming, maddening, irritating or foolish – just like leaders, and their guests will instinctively react to these. What is more, a good host is likely to have to engage in a variety of very different behaviours to achieve success. If it is their own event they will need planning skills and project management; they will need to be energetic and welcoming to greet guests, and attentive and empathetic during the event; and possibly a little authoritarian if things get out of hand. 

But hosts also need to operate very differently for different situations – the MC of a large outdoor music event or comedy festival, is clearly not going to have the same approach as a host at dinner party and even less so to that of a priest at a funeral. Different skills are required for different situations. The authors quote the priest Henri Nouwen to explain hosting/leadership at its simplest "Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place" . The book goes on to flesh out this simple metaphor by splitting the core elements of hosting into six key roles:

  • Initator – creating the idea and plan
  • Inviter – selecting and making the offer to join in
  • Space Creator – as per Nouwen above – creating an appropriate space, including its ambience/culture, is the pivotal role
  • Gatekeeper – both to let people and ideas in, and eject those that are disruptive or not suited; also flexing the boundaries of what is relevant/needed
  • Connector – the act of introducing people is more obvious for a host than a leader, but ultimately more important for a leader than a host
  • Co-participator – hosts don't eat after everyone leaves, they participate – and serve. 

The authors also highlight four positions host leaders need to adopt:

  • In the spotlight – being the focus of attention, out front, making things happen
  • With the guests – still in view, but being 'one of the group', not the centre of attention
  • In the gallery – standing back, taking an overview of what's happening
  • In the kitchen – preparing and reflecting


The authors were surprised on alighting on the 'hosting' metaphor how few books or advice existed on 'how to host a party'. This is in direct contrast to the quantity of books and advice on leadership – but both are practices that most of us are given no formal training in or opportunity to practice until the moment actually arrives to run our own party or manage a team. This book is worth reading even if you just want to know how to run a party, but its easy accessibility and application make it more valuable as a guide to understand what is required to be a good leader.


  • Title: Host: Six New Roles of Engagement

    Author/s Name/s: Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey

    Publisher: Solutions Books

    ISBN: 978–954974-98-5

    Publishing Date: March, 2014

    Number of Pages: 240

Author Knowledge Rating: 1-5 (based on their years of experience, academic expertise in subject areas, and exposure to cross-functional thinking in the area)

Readability: 1-5 score(1=dense and v academic; 5=frantic; page turner)

Appropriate Length: (1=could have been written in 25% of the length;5=could have been longer)

Core Idea Value: (1=nonsense (or entirely esoteric); 5=game-changer)