Crave companions, not competitors. I want people to sail with me through this puzzling and frightening world. I expect to fail at moments on this journey, to get lost—how could I not? And I expect that you too will fail.
My colleagues and I focus on helping a system develop greater self-knowledge in three critical areas. Continue reading
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:
The potent force that shapes behavior in these organizations and in all natural systems is the combination of simply expressed expectations of purpose, intent, and values, and the freedom for responsible individuals to make sense of these in their own way. Continue reading
In this chaotic world, we need leaders. But we don’t need bosses. We need leaders to help us develop the clear identity that lights the dark moments of confusion. We need leaders to support us as we learn how to live by our values. We need leaders to understand that we are best controlled by concepts that invite our participation, not policies and procedures that curtail our contribution. Continue reading
In all types of organizations, too many filled with people exhausted, cynical, and burned-out, I have witnessed the incredible levels of energy and passion that can be evoked when leaders or colleagues take the time to recall people to the meaning of their work. It only takes a simple but powerful question: “What called you here? What were you dreaming you might accomplish when you first came to work here?” Continue reading
“The future is no more uncertain than the present.”
– Walt Whitman Poet
Some people despair about the darkening direction of the world today. Others are excited by the possibilities for creativity and new ways of living they see emerging out of the darkness. Rather than thinking one perspective is preferable to the other, let’s notice that both are somewhat dangerous. Either position, optimism or pessimism, keeps us from fully engaging with the complexity of this time. If we see only troubles, or only opportunities, in both cases we are blinded by our need for certainty, our need to know what’s going on, to figure things out so we can be useful.
Failure is unavoidable. There’s no way to avoid times of crushing defeat, great loss, terrible regret. We might like to think that “failure is not an option,” but it’s guaranteed to appear and reappear throughout our lives. This is just how life works. It helps to know this ahead of time. Or to learn it very quickly. What’s essential is how we work with failure, what we do once its ugly face appears.
Our organizations are strong complicated structures that are resistant to change, fearful of the future and we have built them that way deliberately. We built them that way to hold back the forces that seem to threaten their very existence. We are afraid of what would happen if we lose our grip. If we let the elements of our organizations recombine or reconfigure or even to speak truthfully to one another, we are afraid that things will fall apart. We do not trust that this is a world of growth, rejuvenation and process. We believe we must provide the energy to hold it together. By sheer force of will, we have resisted destruction. And if we let go, the world will dis- integrate.
Yet, throughout the universe, things work very well without us. Wherever we look, we see a landscape of movement and complexity, of forms that come and go, of structures that are not from organizational charts or job descriptions, but from impulses arriving out of deep natural processes of growth and of self-renewal. In our desire to control our organizations, we have detached ourselves from the forces that create order in the universe. All these years we have confused control with order. So what if we reframed the search? What if we stop looking for control and begin the search for order, which we can see everywhere around us in living dynamic systems?
It is time, I believe, to become a community of inquirers, serious explorers seeking to discover the essence of order-order we will find even in the heart of chaos. It is time to relinquish the limits we have placed on our organizations, time to release our defenses and fear. Time to take up new lenses and explore beyond our known boundaries. It is time to become full participants in this universe of emergent order.
– Margaret Wheatley