Facilitating, not leading

Leadership implies authority. Yesterday in the post Being a Druid Leader  I talked about some of the things that trouble me about leadership as a concept. Today I’m going to poke around the idea of facilitation and how that differs from leadership. The most critical difference is that a facilitator does not have to put themselves in a position of authority. This can be applied to the running of just about anything, and also to teaching.

Leadership tends towards dogma. Leaders tend towards visions, and ways of doing things. Now, we all need ways of doing things and we all need inspiration to guide us along our path, but does this mean we need precise guidance from a leader? When you are first learning a path, be it druidry, or politics or an academic subject, what you don’t know is overwhelming. Having someone to help you get to any kind of path through the confusion of trees, is often a great relief. But the more we learn, the more likely we are to have our own ideas. There will be things we want to try as unique visions come to each of us. Some visions are small and personal, some epic and revolutionary, but all are important.

People who set themselves up to lead, to bring their vision into the world, to teach their particular path and so forth, run the risk of trying to turn students and followers into them. I’ve been there, I have experimented with the t-shirt both as a student and as a teacher. If you are inspired by your own ideas, it can be tempting to want to push others into taking them up. And surely, that is the very nature of religious tradition? Except that Druidry usually prides itself on being non-dogmatic, and teaching your vision can be a quick route into dogma.

Someone who facilitates does not instruct. They may offer ideas, suggestions, and whatnot, but will spend as much time listening to how others want to do things, as they do laying out their own plans. A facilitator creates a safe space, a framework, in which others can explore. Now, obviously the shape of the framework will inform the options of other participants, but if you get it right, they aren’t constricted, just held and reassured.

Here’s a simple example. Running a guided meditation, you can say “You come into a beautiful clearing, sun is streaming through the trees and you feel happy and blessed.” Or you can say “You come into a beautiful clearing, sun is streaming through the trees, it’s a quiet and safe place. Take some time to be in it and see how it makes you feel.” The first approach forces the emotions of the participants, the second does not. In the second, a person needing to deal with grief would be able to sit down in that envisioned glade and weep the tears they could not shed in public, for example.

Facilitating is less work than leading. It does not disempower the people who come to you. It requires everyone to be to a decent degree, responsible for themselves. It doesn’t tie you into ways of working that are quite so likely to sap energy. It also means that you do not take control of where your people go, what they learn, how they practice. You do not get to own what they become.

I learned a lot about facilitating in my time at The Druid Network – an organisation that embodies this ethos of making spaces but not leading. I’ve seen it at work at OBOD – yes, the shape of the written course means you’ve got a path to follow, but good tutors (I had several) will support you in finding your own detours and building your own ways of working. It’s easier to share the work of facilitating – a group of people can collectively facilitate a ritual, but only one or two can lead. There’s more meritocracy this way, more distribution, more, when it comes down to it…. Druidry.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Facilitating, not leading

  • Alex Jones

    In my opinion both leader and facilitator (guide) has their place. We often can find ourselves doing both roles in life. Neither is worse than the other, each has its place. In the legend of King Arthur you have Arthur as leader and Merlin as facilitator. In my life, I act in the role of facilitator on my Liberated Way blog, but as leader of a corporate limited company.

    The Celts were amongst the first to express a degree of democracy in the world where stewards were elected to run tribal communities, backed by elected assemblies. The role of General was the most important role in a Celtic tribe, an individual who was part druid and part warrior who could lead the tribe or tribes to war, people like Cunobelin, Vercingeterix, Brennus and King Arthur were such Generals (somehow equated by Classical writers as “kings”).

  • n. b. athbrel

    I feel a very strong bend inside of me… I have this very odd feeling that i truly wish to ‘lead’ or be a ‘leader’… to have ‘disciples’ or companions… to be able to share my philosophies with, to share my visions with, and to have them share their knowledge with me. is leadership so negative?

    • Nimue Brown

      ‘Share’ is a magical word, that’s the difference between doing the good stuff and ordering people about, right there. I’d say you’re not drawn to power, so I’m good with that 🙂 Leadership is a term with a lot of baggage, which doesn’t help, but if you can swap in ‘doing good stuff’ and still mean the same thing, you are so on the right track as I see it.

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