Recently, Eva Jensen, Certified Technology of Participation Facilitator (CTF), Anne Gomez, current Mastery of ToP® (MToP) participant, and I (Laura Johansson, CTF) partnered with the City of St. Paul’s Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) to design and implement a participatory, all-department planning event. Approximately, 130 DSI participants celebrated 2014 accomplishments and worked together to generate improvement projects for 2015, in the name of moving DSI towards excellence for those who work there and the citizens of St. Paul.
The great work of the DSI leadership team, Director Ricardo Cervantes and Deputy Directors Greg Schroeder and Dan Niziolek, brought to mind Meg Wheatley and Debbie Frieze’s 2010 article titled, “Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host”. Wheatley and Frieze write, “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…Well, it is time for all the heroes to go home, as the poet William Stafford wrote.”
The authors write that the causes of today’s challenges are complex and interconnected. They argue that there are no simple answers, nor could any one individual have the control or knowledge to bring adequate solutions. Our inability to recognize the complex realities leads us to simply fire leaders when he or she fails to resolve the crisis, and we begin searching for the next “more perfect” one, without questioning our expectations of leaders or our desire for heroes.
Wheatley and Frieze suggest “We need to abandon our reliance on the leader-as-hero and invite in the leader as host. We need to support those leaders who know that problems are complex, who know that in order to understand the full complexity of any issue, all parts of the system need to be invited in to participate and contribute. We, as followers, need to give our leaders time, patience, forgiveness; and we need to be willing to step up and contribute.”
Having everyone step up and contribute does not just happen by itself. One of the reasons I rely on ToP® methodologies in my practice is they can equip our leaders to be “hosts” or facilitative leaders. ToP® tools foster participation and engagement needed to address today’s challenges and make our workplaces meaningful. Just as in the example of the large group event for the City of St. Paul, we were able to use ToP® methods to build ownership and support for change ideas because people were involved in creating improvement plans rather than asked to implement plans developed by others. It was energizing to hear the buzz of 130 people engaged in strategic conversations that will directly impact their work. The DSI leadership invested in gathering everyone together and made a commitment to really listen to themes and priorities that emerged from the whole department.
DSI’s leadership is a great example of leaders-as-hosts and their example serves to highlight a shifting expectation of leaders to one of a more facilitative approach in today’s workplace. Wheatley and Frieze write, “Hosting Leaders create substantive change by relying on everyone’s creativity, commitment and generosity. They learn from firsthand experience that these qualities are present in just about everyone and in every organization. They extend sincere invitations, ask good questions, and have the courage to support risk-taking and experimentation.” My congratulations to the whole DSI department and their leadership team, and a big thanks to the great work of my ToP® colleagues, Eva Jensen and Anne Gomez.