Tag Archives: leadership

Who needs strong and stable?

‘Strong’ is one of those words that can have many meanings. It can of course be a good thing, especially when we’re talking about physical capabilities. The strength to endure, to survive, to continue – that can be good too. Although in some circumstances, if strength isn’t tempered with wisdom, it can become pigheaded stupidity. All too often I’m seeing the media use ‘strong’ to mean uncompromising, unwilling to negotiate, dictatorial, domineering. These are not the qualities of a great leader, these are the qualities of a tyrant.

Strong can mean strong enough to hear the counterargument and to take onboard the flaws in your plan. When we’re talking about strength, we need to consider the difference between brittle, hard strength and a softer, more flexible strength. That which can bend a bit does not break so easily, and not breaking is certainly a form of strength.

Strong can become a way of saying unmoveable. It can be a cover for stasis, for a lack of ideas and an absence of innovation. If strong just stands there being big and solid, it may not be able to grow, adapt and change in ways that are necessary for the circumstances. Flexible and adapting can turn out to be a lot more enduring than merely ‘strong’.

Like strength, stability can also imply immobility and lack of the means to bend and transform when necessary. Balanced can be a good thing, but balance isn’t always what’s needed. Stability can all too easily stay still when all around it is moving in chaos, but it may miss the sudden leap of progress, becoming stuck and irrelevant.

I’ve seen others point out on social media that there are connotations in ‘strong and stable’ that have a lot to say about how we value the weak, the vulnerable, the unstable. The Tory government so keen on the strong and stable line, has been increasing the risk of death for those among us who are not strong, and not so stable. To pinpoint these two ways of being as the best virtues is a bit sinister when viewed that way. It’s also a very narrow way of being. Soundbites are not good models for existence. Strength needs to know when to yield, when to allow humbleness and vulnerability into the mix. Stability needs to know when to get out of its rut and make serious changes.

We live in changing, uncertain times. I for one am not looking for strong and stable leaders. I’m looking for wise, flexible, innovative leaders who won’t be afraid to change direction in face of new evidence or circumstance. I’m looking for people with more than hollow soundbites to offer, and people who are willing to dig deep and think hard about what might be needed from them.


Who will be my leader?

As a student, I have always needed teachers. As a Druid, I want to stand independently in my own power, and take responsibility for myself. I also need the guidance and inspiration of others. I’ve run events, and I’ve taught, and I don’t want to only have access to things I am running, so I need there to be other people leading things I can be part of. Being in charge all the time is generally not good for a person. As a writer who doesn’t want to be a one person band all the time, I need editors and publishers, and to be able to accept their authority in all practical literary matters.

Being a self employed person, I have the amazing privilege of being able to pick who I work for. Being a Druid, I have the right to my own spiritual authority and am not obliged to go along with someone else’s hierarchy. Consequently I’ve given a lot of thought to the reasons for following or not following someone else. Who will I work for? Who will I not? I’ve come horribly unstuck with this several times in the past, and that’s taught me a lot.

Do you value me? Do you respect me, and acknowledge what I’m doing? Do you make it easy for me to work for you, or do you set me up to fail? Do you reward me, and make sure I have what I need, or do you take me for granted? Do you recognise my individual skills and strengths, and also my personal vulnerabilities? Will you let me be a real person when I’m working for you, or will you demand the constant strain of me faking things? Will you be treating me like you’re doing me a big favour by letting me work for you? Are you paying me enough to live on? If you’re taking my time for no financial payment, are you recompensing in some other honourable way? Do I get a say in this?

There are some people who lead because they get off on having followers obeying them. There are others who lead because they want to get something done and can’t do it on their own. The ego trip leader burns out followers and discards them as soon as they can’t bear it any more. The person who wants to get things done takes care of their supporters as essential to what’s happening.

Having been burned more than once, I look for the leaders who are looking to do something, not to build a fan base. I look for leaders who don’t have a high turnover of people, and who treat their people as people, not as a resource for their personal use. I look for fair play, for respect, for realism. I can’t deal with people who want to control and micromanage me. I like clarity about who has responsibility for what, as well.

I’m going to name some names. I’ve worked for Trevor Greenfield over at Moon Books for more than a year now, and he’s everything I could possibly want in a boss. As a consequence he has my absolute loyalty, and the very best that I can give. I’m working for Mark Graham a bit, for Druid Camp, because his is a leadership that is entirely about getting things done in a fair way. I’m looking at working for Stevi Ross and her Conscious Connection Camp on much the same basis. There are, alongside them a number of people I’m working with in various capacities – James Nichol and Elaine Knight with Contemplative Druidry, John Holland with Stroud Short Stories, and those closer creative partnerships with Paul Alborough, and with my husband Tom Brown, where the balances are somewhat different, but much of the same applies.

There are people I would never work for again under any circumstances. That’s fairly visible from my actions, for anyone who is watching. I don’t accept being patronised, taken for granted, pressured into burning out for other people, I don’t work with emotional blackmail and control freakery.


Equality in Druidry

We’re sat in circle. We could equally be stood, and for the purposes of ‘we’ I could mean any gathering of modern Druids. We each come to this circle carrying our lifetime’s worth of experience. Everything we have thought and done, cared about, studied, sweated over. We have all lived. Some of us have lived longer than others, some have studied more than others. Some have deep wisdom, and some would hesitate to claim it.

In this circle, I can look round at the other Druids. I may or may not know them well, but I know they each bring unique qualities, strengths and insights. One of us may be leading, perhaps holding the space, or crafting it as we go. We give that person chance to share their skills, to guide the rest of us. In time, someone else will take charge and lead in a different way – not in conflict or competition, but because it’s a good idea. It’s tiring to lead all the time, it’s good to be able to kick back and just participate, and it’s good to share out the responsibilities. Our circles are that much stronger when we’re all holding them and contributing to them.

Sat in a circle of Druids, I am easily impressed by all that these others brings to the space. Easily awed by the sheer fact of their presence. Not because I am always the smallest, most ignorant, least skilled and least wise Druid in the space – although sometimes, no doubt I am.

This is an important part of what community means to me – an equality of responsibility, a shared ownership and an equal footing. Leadership as a temporary act of service. Respect as a key ingredient. No one jostling for position or asserting authority, no one acting as though they’re the Big Important Druid and everyone else had better take them seriously. Room to laugh at each other and with each other in recognition of our human foibles. Room to be wrong, or to change our minds, or to not have known something. Room enough not to have a big spiritual experience every time. The circle itself is an expression of that equality, no one place being more marked out for superiority than any other.


The qualities of leaders

Who are we willing to be lead by, and on what terms? In our working lives, in politics, in our spiritual lives, who do we grant power over us, and how much power do we allow? It’s very easy to be caught up by the charismatic leader who gets things done without looking too hard at the cost of their achievements. Sometimes the trail blazers leave a trail of burned out people behind them, people whose energy and wellbeing has been sacrificed for the sake of getting things done. Some leaders abuse their power for financial and sexual gains. Some are on a massive ego trip, some will say anything they think you will pay to hear.

I’ve experienced both good leadership and terrible leadership inside the Druid community and outside it. As a self employed person I have the luxury of deciding who I will work for. As a Druid, I’m ever more cautious about who I’ll follow. It pays off, and increasingly I find that when I’m working for other people, I like those people and I like how they get things done. As I’m sauntering gently back towards leading rituals again, I will be watching my own actions carefully to try and make sure I don’t become, by my own standards, the wrong sort of leader.

Good leaders, in my experience, do not consider their people expendable, or as a resource to get things done. A good leader takes care of their people, and does not pressure them into doing things that make them uncomfortable or unhappy. A good leader respects boundaries, and it is possible to say ‘no’ to them. Good leadership also respects difference – this is at its most important in a spiritual context, but has relevance everywhere else, too. A leader who demands total agreement, total conformity, is trying to run a cult, and you don’t want to be part of that. Diversity is good, and makes communities stronger.

Good leadership values criticism. It doesn’t get all up tight and defensive if someone picks holes in a plan or flags up problems. Good leadership values that person greatly – better to spot the pitfalls rather than falling in them. Getting it right is more important than being seen to be right. A good leader can also admit their mistakes, limitations, shortcomings, anxieties and so forth. They aren’t afraid to be human. They aren’t trying to sell themselves as perfect, shiny people.

Good leaders are doing something with their time. If what a person says, writes and does is mostly about conveying how awesome they are, then they’re well worth avoiding. If all you hear is sales pitch, if they talk endlessly about who taught them and how much praised they were as students, if they talk about who is impressed by them, if they name drop a lot, and at the same time are rude and critical about other people in the same field, it’s mostly about self importance. If they bitch a lot about previous supporters/students who weren’t good enough, move away. The best leaders are there because they want to get something done, and they spend most of their time focused on how to achieve what they’re after. Self-aggrandisement is not the main theme.

There are people I am fiercely loyal to – and they get that loyalty from me because they deserve it, because they do excellent things and are worth supporting and because they do not try and use me. There are people I would never consider working with again under any circumstances. Which is another consideration – the leader who has longstanding support is probably one of the good ones. Leaders with a high turnover in overtly adoring and devoted people who don’t manage to stay, are decidedly suspicious.


Glitterati Pagan

It’s a term I ran into recently. ‘Glitterati Pagan’ – a term of resentment, devaluing and dismissal. – I’m not sure if it was being applied to me – laughable to imagine that anyone who has met me could consider my shabby, unshiny self to be some kind of glittering creature of the limelight… but then I struggle to think of any Pagans I know who could be called Glitterati. I also remember there were (and possibly still are) folks who though those volunteers in charge of the Pagan Federation were on a salary. So, you never know.

There are a fair few professional and semi professional Pagans out there – authors, teachers, healers, organisers, public speakers, celebrants, craft people. Anyone this involved does things that take time and skill and, in other contexts, you’d probably have to pay for. Everyone has to eat. Most Pagan things happen because volunteers put in their time and energy, but if that becomes a full time commitment, it becomes necessary to consider the balance. Either people do less for the community, or they ask for something back. Either choice should be acceptable.

As a case in point… Most Pagan events cannot afford to pay their speakers enough to cover transport and accommodation. Someone might be able to put you up and feed you, which is a great help. If you travel and pay for accommodation, and your costs aren’t covered, you rely on selling books to pick up the slack, perhaps. Authors get books at 50% of cover cost, usually. So on a £10 book, an author can make £5. If I’m on the train and far enough from home that I have to stay over, that’s going to cost me £100, easily. I need to sell 20 books (heavy to carry by myself). All I’ve done is break even. My time, effort going into research, developing a talk, delivering it and what I did to write the book  – the odds are the Pagan in front of you makes little or no money for doing that. They could well be doing it at a loss and subsidising that loss through other paying work. Most professional Pagans do other things as well to pay the bills.

I know a lot of people who run things and have met many more. Moots, groves, covens, conferences, organisations, camps magazines… And they are tremendously hard working people. Even when they do get paid, it’s very little in consideration of the time and energy they put in. We don’t tend to pay a living wage to people doing the work in Paganism. Most will not pick up the minimum wage, but we ask them to be dedicated, capable, educated and inspired.

Every now and then someone gets all ‘great-I-am’ and ponces round (usually online) being self important. These are not the people (usually) who do the work. At any given event, at the back of any given organisation, the people who do the work are too busy running round doing the work to have much time for posturing and attention seeking. The hours and hours that go into crafting, writing, creating ceremony, have much the same effect. I don’t see much glamorous posturing at all. Perhaps I hang out with the wrong people.

But I also don’t know what I look like from the outside. I don’t know what anyone else sees when they look at the Pagan Federation, the Druid Network, the camp organisers, or anything else. I don’t always know what they assume, and what they imagine. I do know if they have ideas that are far removed from the truth, and filter what they see through those ideas, they won’t see what I see. They won’t see the stress and anxiety, the exhaustion, and all the other costs. But then, if you label the more visible Pagans as a bunch of attention seeking media whores, that changes your relationship to them. I’ll leave the implications dangling.


The war to end all wars

One hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany, in what was soon labelled as the war to end all wars. The scale of death so shocked people of the time that they all imagined no one would ever do anything like it again. We had established, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that war is a miserable and futile thing, with unspeakable costs, and that you can spend years killing people in their thousands and make no meaningful political changes.

If we had any sense as a species, that would have been it, and we’d never have had a war since. A hundred years on, and we’re still in the habit of killing each other in horrible ways that ultimately change very little outside of the personal tragedies. Why? Because there is always someone who thinks violence will get them what they want. Fear of the aggressor means that nations who would like to view themselves as non-aggressive have to keep weapons and armies to protect themselves, right through to protecting themselves with pre-emptive strikes. There are people in the weapons trade who make a fortune out of war, and if you’re a politician with an eye to history book posterity, war remains tempting. This is in turn because we so often write our histories as the history of warfare and commanders.

If words like ‘glorious’ and ‘heroic’ are associated with killing people, the whole thing is a lot more attractive. A glance at the WW1 poets will show you a bunch of young men who had been told how noble and good it was to lay down your life for your country, not how awful it was watching a friend slowly choke to death on gas. What would our attitude to war be like if we taught more social history? What if we taught the history of science more, or the history of democracy? There are some very interesting and informative histories out there and if you study history until the age of 14, you’ll barely know they exist. You will know a fair bit about the two world wars. You’ll probably know Norman conquest and Saxon raiders, a few kings and queens, a few other big, important fights. If you’re American, you’d expect to know all about the war of independence and the civil war. Our histories are so often the histories of violence, as though only this past exists and is available to talk about.

It would be lovely if all the people in power figured out how to never start another war. I won’t hold my breath. We’d have to give up on greed, on bids to control resources, religious hatred, cultural imperialism, and fear of each other. We’re a long ways from doing those things. Many of us live in societies that make token gestures at being democratic. In theory, the will of the people means something. The culture a leader thinks they come from certainly has an influence. Financial pressure talks.

We are not going to get world peace by waiting around for the power hungry, greed driven idiots who grab power to play nicely. It’s going to have to come from a grass roots, from a culture that does not love and romanticise violence through its films, does not hero-worship killers and tell proud stories of the slaughter in its history. A culture that sees violence as failure will be a lot less inclined to get into wars. A culture that does not see leadership potential in swaggering bully boys who want to play at soldiers (either gender, with all due reference to Margaret Thatcher). Right wing politics is riddled with the language of macho violence even when it’s not planning to kill anyone directly. It’s all wars on things, fights, tough choices, it’s the language of conquest and victory. What we need is culture of co-operation that has good relationships with other cultures rather than living in fear of them.

We’re a very long way from there, one hundred years after the war to end all wars didn’t. That doesn’t make it impossible, or any less worth trying for. Until we change the culture of leadership, it isn’t going to come from those who lead.


Leading communities

When a person gets into a position of leadership in a community, they don’t just make calls about what happens; they define a culture. Mostly, Pagans come to leadership by accidental means. Very few people consciously seek it, and therefore I think it’s justified to say that no matter how firmly you believe that leadership issues are not your problem… they are. You could wake up tomorrow and find a moot has fallen on your head. They do that.

Many pagans do not like to think in terms of hierarchy and power because it smacks of all the things that you probably don’t want to do. We don’t want dogma, or to be controlled, we don’t want to be told how to feel or what to think. This means that effects created by subtle, and accidental means get under the radar, we don’t spot them and they cause problems.

Let me give you some examples. If you run open rituals, and you always wait around for the latecomers, because you’re a lovely, inclusive sort of person, you can in fact make a massive problem. You are rewarding the late people and punishing the punctual ones. You are reinforcing the idea that it’s fine to be late. I’ve seen this lead to serious levels of unhappiness and disharmony. You get a culture of lateness, or a culture of resentment, or a lot of people stop showing up.

If you let whingers and complainers dominate discussions at the expense of people who are doing the work, you get problems. Of course you do this because you think everyone deserves a fair hearing and you take complaints seriously, but if you get someone for whom whinging is a hobby, you destroy the morale of volunteers and the whole thing falls apart.

You might want everything to be done only by consensus. That’s a classic of the well-meaning, inclusive pagan mind-set and all too often, it results in nothing happening at all.

Small things you do as a leader can shape how the community around you behaves. What you do defines what is normal and acceptable. That includes what you do when you’re tired, sore, pissed off and hungry. It is a lot to have to think about and a lot to carry, and one of the many reasons why people who do put themselves forward often choose to step back again after a while. It is bloody hard work to do it well. It is also well worth trying to be alert to all of this.

However, there’s scope for all manner of things here. If we engage with our wider community at all, we are all in a position to either support, or not co-operate with accidental culture failures of this shape. If we get a dysfunctional leader and we cooperate with the culture they make, we are contributing to that culture. It is all too easy to do, and I say that knowing perfectly well that I’ve done it.

The only answer I can see is to make sure, in everything you do, that you uphold your values, walk your talk, and hold firm against any culture that tries to encourage you to do otherwise. It isn’t always easy, but if we all do it, it will probably become more so. Never give a leader guru status, never give your power away to a teacher, or a public figure. Own what you do. It is when we mistakenly imagine that someone else is a ‘better’ pagan than we are, that we get into these things. Only you can walk your path. Only I can walk mine.


Pagan Elders

Paganism itself is old enough to have elders who have been doing their thing for decades, and ancestors of tradition who have passed beyond this life. Elders are a vital part of any community, providing much of the stability and continuity.
Keepers of knowledge, aware of how the wheel was reinvented last time, able to guide, and to inspire, elders serve many roles. Technically this doesn’t have to be an age-based job. In practice, the elder in any community is the person with most experience. Still, it’s nice when that person has some age and experience to bring to bear, but we make do with what we get.

Positions that suggest kudos, power or influence are always attractive to people who want to be important. In all communities, not just Paganism, you get the issue of people who crave attention and authority, but don’t have much to offer in return for that. It’s just an occupational hazard of being human, I think. Often we try to step up to roles because here is a gap to fill, woefully under-qualified for what we feel called upon to do. I’ve been there, and I have every sympathy for anyone who tries to shoulder a job they are not ready for. There’s a lot of difference between trying to do what needs to be done, and wanting a title.

The most important thing, for me, when I consider the elders I particularly look up to, is that they walk their talk. What they do when they aren’t up on the podium or writing a book, is consistent with what they preach. I think it’s the easiest way to spot who is for real, and who just wants your money. The elders who inspire me, walk their talk, live their work, embody their values and make a lot of sense. They too are capable of error and shortcoming, because they are people, but being wise elders they also know how to handle that kind of thing with grace and good sense. I’m very much of the opinion that you really get the measure of a person when you see what they do after they’ve botched something. That’s a true test of character.

I don’t have to agree with everything a person says in order to respect and admire them. I do not have to want to be exactly like them. What I need to see is the integrity in them. Obviously there are matters of personal taste around how I respond to their precise vision, but that’s a somewhat separate issue. I do care greatly about inspiration, and I will follow that, but I won’t follow it for long if a person has no substance, sincerity or integrity with which to back up their fine ideas. I simply don’t trust that which is not tested by being lived.

There are two people in particular I’ve had in mind as I’ve written this, whose years of experience, knowledge, work and personal integrity combine with powerful visions and insights to create something truly remarkable: Ronald Hutton, and Philip Carr Gomm. I have colossal respect for these two gentlemen, and in terms of Druid inspiration, these are the two I most look to. There are others whose work I admire, but where I’ve had less opportunity to explore that relationship between work and character as much. I have deep respect for the work of Graeme Talboys, and Glennie Kindred. There are many other Druids whose work I like and admire, and who seem to me to be embodying their ideas in compelling ways, but, a lot of these dear folk are under fifty, and therefore seem far too young to be considered in these terms just yet.


Pagan Titles

As regular readers will know, I’m not that keen on authority or power structures. Titles that are all about seeming important make me edgy. However, not all titles are simply self-given manifestations of self-importance. They also function, at least in theory, as meaningful labels that allow people to better understand what we do. “Celebrant” announces a willingness to take bookings for rites of passage. If you’re calling yourself a wise elder, you’d better have a grey hair or two to back that up with, and so forth.

A label can be a statement of intent. There’s a fab blog post on this very subject here – http://www.roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-name.html

Quite often what happens though is not that we wake up one morning and glue a shiny title to ourselves, but that it comes in from outside. You get labelled as a teacher the moment someone asks that you teach them and you don’t run away. You become a ritual leader the first time you step into a circle to run it, and a grove mother, or father, at the point of there being a grove. Sometimes that’s chosen, sometimes it happens.

There’s an interesting thing about naming. On the landscape history side, the names given by outsiders are considered more useful than those given by locals, in the past. If you live round here (wherever here is) there’s The pub, The church, The fields. If you live somewhere else, and look at it from the outside, there’s that really good pub, the particularly badly built church, the very muddy field. Old names, given by outsiders, often say more about a place than what the inhabitants called it. Let’s not ask what happened to Chipping Sodbury. (Although Chipping means market and bury implies Saxon fortification, so I’ve just foiled my own gag. Never mind, we move on…)

The names people give us may be better indicators of us, than the titles we would choose for ourselves. I find it hugely reassuring that other people are willing to call me ‘Druid’ and ‘author’. Mind you, I’ve also recently been called a filthy urchin, which is not wholly lacking in appropriateness. The titles we give people can be reflections of respect, or derision. One only has to look at politics to see the difference between the titles they give themselves, and the titles others bestow upon them. Can I mention swivel eyed loons now?


Considering Power

Often, what having power means, is being able to do to other people things they are not able to do to you. If that isn’t actual violence, it will still be something that creates and environment for violence. Pagan communities abound with opportunities to get power over other people. The teacher-pupil dynamic can readily confer the wrong kind of power, as can being a ‘leader’ of events and activities. It all too readily it becomes a justification for making people do things your way. Once you start down that route, inflicting your will upon others, it’s a slippery slope. We stop listening to what other people say they want and need. Most dangerously, we decide we know better than them, and thus we get to the mindset that can announce it may be hurting you, but it’ll be for your own good in the long run. It may feel like rape, but that’s because you’re not able to properly express your sexual needs. Trust me, you don’t know how to manage that money, and you don’t know what you should be eating… scary stuff.

We can enter this kind of power dynamic in family life – the parent/child relationship is laden with opportunities to turn responsibility into despotism. When someone has far less power and knowledge than you, it is painfully easy to manipulate them, to ignore their feelings and preferences and force them to exist in-line with your designs. The damage this does is colossal. Again, while it may not manifest as physical violence, it is a violence against the spirit.
What happens to us when we adopt this approach? It isn’t good for the perpetrator either. This kind of power-over serves to entrench fear. After all, you want that power for protective reasons. You want to prevent them doing something to you (quite probably that which you are doing to them). You fear everyone is as unreasonable as you are and that only by having power over them can you stay safe. Do unto others or they will do unto you. Holding this kind of power means never giving yourself chance to find out that it might be different. Not everyone wants to control and manipulate. Letting other people hold different opinions is not going to take you to the hell you secretly fear. Let’s pause to consider gay marriage issues in light of this one. What are the bigots so afraid of?

When we force our will upon others, we don’t make things better for ourselves. We reduce our options, cut ourselves off from alternative perspectives that could have been really helpful. We also make it impossible to have real relationships, because nothing meaningful or truly loving can flourish in that kind of power-based scenario. To seek power over other people is to lose, and to keep losing, in more ways than you are likely to be able to see. It’s when we live and work co-operatively and with mutual respect that the good stuff happens.

The other kind of power, the power to get things done, is a whole other bag of squirrels. If you seek power in order to enable not just yourself, but others, you won’t get into this power trap. If you want power to fix something, to heal, to improve and you’re doing that co-operatively, then power is a good and useful thing. It’s when power becomes an end in its own right that the problems start. When holding power is more important than doing the right things. When appearing to be right becomes more important than actually being right.

Seeking power is a dangerous business. Power is seductive. If you care about yourself, it’s worth approaching any opportunities for power with a great deal of caution. I’ve also noticed that I haven’t met a single awful person who believed they were evil. Outside of fantasy fiction, no one believes they are evil and everyone will have a story about how what they do is perfectly reasonable. Even if they know the behaviour is wrong, they know that there is a special exemption clause that covers their unique situation. Most people who are very wrong, are entirely convinced they are right, and are unable to countenance different perspectives. This is probably the biggest trap of the lot.