For too long, too many of us have been entranced by heroes. Perhaps it’s our desire to be saved, to not have to do the hard work, to rely on someone else to figure things out. Constantly we are barraged by politicians presenting themselves as heroes, the ones who will fix everything and make our problems go away. It’s a seductive image, an enticing promise. And we keep believing it. Somewhere there’s someone who will make it all better. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s visionary, inspiring, brilliant, trustworthy, and we’ll all happily follow him or her. Somewhere…
Well, it is time for all the heroes to go home, as the poet William Stafford wrote. It is time for us to give up these hopes and expectations that only breed dependency and passivity, and that do not give us solutions to the challenges we face. It is time to stop waiting for someone to save us. It is time to face the truth of our situation—that we’re all in this together, that we all have a voice—and figure out how to mobilize the hearts and minds of everyone in our workplaces and communities.
Leaders who journey from hero to host have seen past the negative dynamics of politics and opposition that hierarchy breeds, they’ve ignored the organizational charts and role descriptions that confine people’s potential. Instead, they’ve become curious. Who’s in this organization or community? What skills and capacities might they offer if they were invited into the work as full contributors? What do they know, what insights do they have that might lead to a solution to this problem?
Leaders‐as‐hosts know that people willingly support those things they’ve played a part in creating—that you can’t expect people to ‘buy‐in’ to plans and projects developed elsewhere. Leaders‐as‐hosts invest in meaningful conversations among people from many parts of the system as the most productive way to engender new insights and possibilities for action. They trust that people are willing to contribute, and that most people yearn to find meaning and possibility in their lives and work. And these leaders know that hosting others is the only way to get complex, intractable problems solved.
Leaders‐as‐hosts don’t just benevolently let go and trust that people will do good work on their own. Leaders have a great many things to attend to, but these are quite different than the work of heroes. Hosting leaders must:
• provide conditions and good group processes for people to work together.
• provide resources of time, the scarcest commodity of all.
• insist that people and the system learn from experience, frequently.
• offer unequivocal support—people know the leader is there for them.
• keep the bureaucracy at bay, creating oases (or bunkers) where people are less encumbered by senseless demands for reports and administrivia.
• play defense with other leaders who want to take back control, who are critical that people have been given too much freedom.
• reflect back to people on a regular basis how they’re doing, what they’re accomplishing, how far they’ve journeyed.
• work with people to develop relevant measures of progress to make their achievements visible.
• value conviviality and esprit de corps—not false rah‐rah activities, but the spirit that arises in any group that accomplishes difficult work together.
– Margaret Wheatley