Leadership: the Hero, the Servant, and the Host

What would you rather be: a heroic leader or a servant leader? Which do you need to develop a positive culture where people and performance thrive? Most people don’t want and cannot be either. It can be demanding to be the hero who solves everything. It can be frustrating to be a servant who serves everyone.

Positive Leadership

Then what kind of leadership would you need to develop the best possible organizational culture? Positive leadership, as we’ve discussed in this blog before. Positive leaders focus on what is working well and seek ways to amplify that. They coach people, are solution-oriented and aim for positive deviance, or high performance. They engage people and keep the shared meaningful purpose alive. If people do not contribute to the team as agreed, they harm the shared goals and might need coaching or to exit.

When you look at these features and behaviors, we see that a positive leader combines elements of the-leader-as-hero who makes things happen and the servant leader who facilitates others to make things happen.

Hosting the party at work

The positive leader is like a “host”, as Mark McKergow and Helen Bailey describe in their book “Host – Six new roles of engagement.” It’s a great metaphor to describe what positive leadership entails, as everyone knows the roles of host and guest.

As a host, you:

  1. Initiate: you want to achieve something (a party or an improvement)
  2. Invite: you ask others to join and contribute
  3. Hold the space: you create a space where people can deliver their best
  4. Keep the boundaries: you manage expectations and norms and goals
  5. Connect: you connect people, ideas, resources and facilitate them to build positive relationships
  6. Co-participate: you engage and join the others when the space is set

What I like about these six roles of engagement is that it clarifies the work of a positive leader. Positive is not just fun, fake-smiles, and pampering people who do not contribute to high performance. The hosting metaphor means that you organize, facilitate, coach, and participate but you are also a gate-keeper. You decide who can join this party and you won’t allow slacking, or ruining the party, and you will show people the door if they don’t want to contribute to the shared purpose, and the culture you’ve set. It’s not weak.

Your Positive Power

Let’s make it clear that everyone can be the host. Leadership is a formal role, but it’s also an attitude. Everyone can be a leader in different situations, and everyone contributes to the culture. That’s why I invite everyone to be the change they want to see on the team – regardless of their position. When you have an idea of what you’d like to improve you can invite others to work with you.

When you think about what you’d like to achieve, or what to improve, or a project you have to do: isn’t it more inspiring to see it as “hosting a party”? If it feels daunting to “host a party” at this point, here’s a small yet impactful practice that you can do with a co-worker. As a host or a positive leader, you look for what is working well.

So, you can ask your colleague: “What was a moment that you brimmed with enthusiasm and energy at work? What exactly made you brim? Please share the details.”

Listen closely to the answer. Then, give positive feedback based on what you heard: their qualities, leadership skills, and resources. “Wow, I appreciate that you…. I see that you…. How wonderful that….”

Next, ask: “How could you increase those moments when you’re brimming with enthusiasm?”

This is an example of hosting, or positive, solution-oriented leadership. You initiate positive awareness (what is working well, when am I at my best?). You invite them into the practice. You create a space of reflection and sharing. You are the gatekeeper (“let’s spend 5 minutes and raise our vibe, let’s close the door to our office”). You connect with your colleague (about something sacred: enthusiasm, purpose, passion) and you co-participate: you tell them the strengths that stood out in their answer.

Maybe your colleague feels so inspired that you swap roles and they’re asking you: “What was a moment that you brimmed with enthusiasm and energy at work? What exactly made you brim? Please share the details.”

You might both leave this mini-session with new insights and a next step to enhance these moments when you’re at your best.

  • Looking at the six roles, which one suits you best?
  • Which could you improve?
  • Thinking about your current situation, what kind of “party” would you like to organize?

Do you want to practice positive leadership? Enroll in the Positive Culture Academy

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