Leadership and helping part 3 – From heroes to hosts

Leaders, from Heroes to Hosts

From ‘Walk Out, Walk On’:

Leaders in some of America’s largest institutions are changing how they lead. They’ve given up take-charge, heroic leadership, choosing instead to engage members of their community in difficult social issues…

The Art of Hosting is a philosophy, including a number of tools which host a variety of conversational processes used to resolve conflicts, develop strategy, analyse issues, and develop actions. People are invited to work together on what really matters to them, and in doing so they will own it and take responsibility for it.

One of the reasons this approach works so well is that when a leader eventually leaves the project, rather than it collapsing for want of a strong, charismatic focal point, it continues because it has a base among the participants. Let’s look at this in practice:

Columbus, like any major city, is a collection of institutions locked in hierarchy and politics trying to do useful work…the institutions and problems that leaders in Columbus took on: hunger, healthcare, homelessness, law enforcement and more- were huge, seemingly intractable problems encased in giant immovable bureaucracies.

Like ‘start anywhere, follow it everywhere’, the leaders didn’t start by trying to tackle the entire system, instead, they started small and invited people to come together to explore a good question.

And rather than focusing on curing a problem, in this case, ‘How do we change the poor healthcare system in our city?’, they asked,’What should be the purpose of the health care you want and need for this city and its future’. This was discussed in a 120 person (including representatives of all stakeholders)  world café (a conversational tool of Art of Hosting where small groups around tables discuss a point then rotate to other tables through the room, so that at the end, many discussions in many groups have taken place).

The existing system is built on illness management. The central conclusion from the world café was,’We want optimal health’.  The conversation moved from troubleshooting to how can we produce wellness in our communities. And how can we make this a personal responsibility.

The program which emerged was called ‘Our optimal Health’, and residents, healthcare workers etc in each of several counties were invited to explore ideas around a new and different system. Some of the initiatives which grew out of these meetings were:

  1. In Clintonville, residents set up a parallel health system consisting of small local modules, each containing 5 doctors and 5 nurses.
  2.  Also in Clintonville, a number of Health Block initiatives are being explored, instead of a crime watch, you have a health watch where neighbours pay attention to each other’s well being.- they might invite each other to join a walking club, or spread the word about yoga classes, check on seniors and home-bound residents, recruit local dentists to provide free care for neighbours who can’t afford it, or enroll volunteers to transport people in need to medical appointments.

These people aren’t waiting for the government to do it. They are ‘Changing the national conversation by experimenting locally and inviting others into the conversation’.

…Leaders learn to trust that everyone has gifts to offer, and that most people want to work on behalf of something greater than themselves. Leaders and those they work with take on large-scale, intractable problems and discover they are capable of solving them.

In future posts I’ll be reflecting on how these ideas are affecting how I think about my role as a teacher, as well as a participant in local change. Your thoughts on how you lead or teach are welcome.


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