I recently came across the article, “It’s Time for the Heroes to Go Home“, co-authored by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. Like their work in “Walk Out Walk On”, this piece really resonated with my current thinking on educational leadership.
Why do we continue to hope for heroes? It seems we assume certain things:
- Leaders have the answers. They know what to do.
- People do what they’re told. They just have to be given good plans and instructions.
- High risk requires high control. As situations grow more complex and difficult, power needs to be moved to the top (with the leaders who know what to do).
– Frieze and Wheatley
These assumptions about leadership are quickly becoming outdated. Frieze and Wheatley make a compelling case for a re-imagination of leader-as-host:
If we want to transform complex systems, we need to abandon our exclusive reliance on the leader-as-hero and invite in the leader-as-host. Leaders who act as hosts rely on other people’s creativity and commitment to get the work done. Leaders-as-hosts see potential and skills in people that people themselves may not see. And they know that people will only support those things they’ve played a part in creating. 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 large-scale, intractable problems solved.
Leaders-as-hosts know that they must invite in all voices, they must listen to and engage with even the most challenging voices, and they must recognize our shared drive to create meaning and possibility in schools. The vision can no longer be determined by one individual, but must instead be a collective articulation of hope and commitment.