FROM HERO TO HOST
Columbus, Ohio? They’re taking us to Columbus, Ohio? you might wonder as your plane angles down toward the neat, grey grid of America’s sixteenth largest city. A city that gave birth to Wendy’s and Value City. A city whose residents oddly boast that it’s one of the U.S.’s cloudiest (ranking fourth—just behind Seattle). A city that is known for its year-round culture of Buckeye Fever where one-tenth of its population fills the stadium on Fall Saturdays for Ohio State football. (This fever went off the charts when the Buckeyes won the Rose Bowl, January 1, 2010.)
On a journey that’s danced through the cortiços of Brazil, locked eyes with the Zapatista rebel army, cycled through India money-free, popped corn on South Africa’s solar panels, dug toilets in Greece and filled them with trees in Zimbabwe, you just might be wondering what Columbus has to offer.
But Columbus is the perfect place to end our journey. It’s the perfect place because it’s a mirror of the U.S., reflecting its mix of race, income, immigrants, neighborhoods and problems. It’s the perfect place because it’s in the middle of the country. It’s the perfect place because it is utterly, exceptionally ordinary. So if something extraordinary can happen here, it can happen anywhere.
And something extraordinary is definitely happening in Columbus. Leaders in some of America’s largest institutions—healthcare, academe, government—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 that other communities still find intractable. As formal leaders, they’re using their influence to host conversational processes that bring in all voices, especially those that have been silent or silenced. More and more citizens are learning how to use these processes to think and work together. They’re rethinking how to solve hunger long-term, how to deal with homelessness, how to transform healthcare from sickness to wellness, how to shift relationships in academia from competition to collaboration, and much, much more.
Leaders as hosts, not heroes, are sprouting up everywhere now in the fertile soil that’s been cultivated by several formal leaders since 2002. But before we learn how it started, let’s see what’s been accomplished.