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Mark McKergow

Hi Chris, as usual this is an excellent and thought-provoking piece. I concur wholeheartedly with what you are saying - 'soft' is not a soft option, whether it's power, skills or anything else. In response to your caveat, the idea of 'hosting' as a leadership paradigm is interesting precisely because it points to a messy, dynamic, complex and evolving process - which definitely includes informal coalitions, power dynamics, in-groups and out-groups, and everything else in real life. I think the host paradigm is interesting because it starts at a position of co-option rather than coercion, which is more and more the position in which leaders find themselves. And can host leaders coerce - yes, of course )at least occasionally), and they find that it's much easier to lean on people a bit when you've built up a relationship of co-option and trust.

Chris Rodgers

Thanks, Mark, for your kind comments and for helpfully clarifying your views on the nature of “host leadership”. I'm glad that we agree that implicit in its practice is managers’ (and others’) active engagement with the complex realities of everyday organizational life.

The caveat in my post is meant solely as a cautionary note. It reflects my experience of what often happens when concepts such as host leadership enter the management (and particularly OD) lexicon. A recurring pattern is for these concepts to be seized upon as potential 'cure-alls' for the perceived ills of conventional management practice. And, more often than not, these presumed signs of organizational dysfunction include all of the hidden, messy and informal dynamics that you rightly characterize as “real life”.

In my view, this response tends to arise from an over-socialized view of organizational dynamics, in which visions and values are universally shared, difference and contention is readily resolved, and ‘everyone lives happily ever after’ – provided, of course, that people behave in the ways prescribed and ‘get it right’. But, being human, they never do!

It seems to me that it’s essential for advocates and practitioners of host leadership to reject this characteristic pattern of response. This is particularly important here, since the language and metaphor of “hosting” might naturally evoke images which suggest that achieving unity of purpose, widespread collaboration and high levels of engagement is straightforward and unproblematic.

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