Q of the Week: Leadership

Leaving aside, for the moment, the observation that not all pagans are involved in open public groups that have or require leaders; and leaving aside, for the moment, that no one is under any obligation to join such groups…

As I was surfing through the back issues of a few popular pagan blogs, I came across this, by Anne Hill, written about a year ago. It has to do with some of her personal thoughts concerning Reclaiming Tradition, but it is relevant to a lot of the pagan movement as a whole. Here’s the quote that caught my attention:

I think abolishing hierarchy is stupid and a waste of time. If you are interested in equality at all costs, you should never have gone looking for your power in the first place. Holding authority with integrity is more important than making others feel good.

Read the whole article here.

Consensus and egalitarianism was one of the founding principles of Reclaiming, since (if I understand the group’s principles properly) it was thought that most, if not all, forms of heirarchy and leadership are inherently oppressive. (Reclaiming members: please correct me if I’m wrong here.)

Indeed consensus, accountability, and democratic “checks and balances” form a very important part of the organisational structure of almost every pagan group that I have been involved in, over the last almost-twenty years. In one group that I was briefly instrumental in forming, the very first thing that the other founders wanted to do was establish the means to remove anyone who takes on a leadership position of any kind. In another group I once helped to create, there was no formal leadership at all: just a shared literature and group of symbols and practices. But within a few years a certain bullish individual arranged to make herself the Archdruid and now the organisation essentially belongs to her. (Every once in a while people ask if I’m still involved in this group. The answer is no.)

In various groups that uphold consensus-building as a primary value, the word consensus often becomes code for “the opinion of the most outspoken, bullish person”. Those who disagreed with that person, even if they had good reason to disagree, sometimes are accused of “holding up the process” or “disrespecting the consensus” or “not being a team player”.

Because of experiences like these, I find myself agreeing with Anne’s remarks above. I’ve also studied a little bit of anthropology, and it seems to me that a little bit of heirarchy is a normal and natural part of any human society. The evidence of 60,000 years of human history and culture has convinced me that people can’t do without leaders. Even a group as small as a dozen people will have one or two members who do more than others to keep the group together and keep it active, or who are turned to more often for help and advice. This creates heirarchies of leadership, even if covertly so.

So, my friends, this week’s question concerns leadership. Is the hypothesis that people can’t do without leaders correct? Do others have experience with covert heirarchies in egalitarian groups? If that hypothesis is true, it might be better to encourage certains forms of personal excellence in our leaders, rather than insist upon consensus and egalitarianism. This opens the question: what should we expect from our leaders? What do we want them to do? What would a non-oppressive kind of leadership for pagans look like? Aside from integrity, as mentioned by Anne, what other values should we look for in our leaders?

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