Tag Archives: leadership

Seeking Power

We don’t tend to think well of those who seek power. There’s the old wisdom about how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s the Douglas Adams quote about the people who want to rule being those least suited to do it. The trouble with this is that it actually supports the status quo and the feeling that we just have to accept that unpleasant people will end up in charge.

I’ve sought power in all kinds of situations. At the moment, I’m mostly too bloody tired to try and run anything, but that’s the main reason I’m not stepping forward. I’m not afraid to try and lead, and I’m not in the least bit ashamed of my motives. Yes, obviously there’s a kick to be had from making things go, setting the direction, having people pile in to do what you said. It’s important to acknowledge that, and I don’t think it’s inherently a bad thing.

My interest in power has always been about getting stuff done. I’m attracted to opportunities that are going to lift and enable people. I ran a folk club to give people a space to grow their skills and enjoy each other’s creativity, and we put on gigs and supported professional performers and that was great. I’ve run mumming sides and singing groups as a way to get more good stuff out there. I’ve run rituals. I’ve thrown my lot in with other groups as well. For me, power is about the power to get stuff done. I’m interested in getting to do the kinds of things that cheer and lift people.

Here on the internet I have a small amount of power. I have enough blog and social media followers to have some kind of impact. And so I review books, amplify other voices, speak up around issues I care about. Wherever I can, I use what power I have to get things done. 

Power without an agenda is going to be tedious. What’s the point in acquiring power if you can’t use it to improve things? I have a hard time of it understanding the people who want the power to make other people miserable. I think you’d have to be a sad sort of life form to get anything out of that.

Everyone has some power. Many people have more power than they think. When people combine their power, the scope to get things done can be tremendous. Take power. Make a noise. Take up space. Help other people stand in their power. Use your power to lift those who need a hand. Don’t be ashamed of being powerful and don’t assume that being powerful makes you a bad person. The idea that being small and unassuming is virtuous just helps keep the power in the hands of those who do not use it well.

Inclusive thinking

One of the easiest and most problematic mistakes to make is simply to assume that everyone else we deal with is just like us. I’ve seen it in books and articles, in how people organise events and manage volunteers, and more. It tends to come from people who have enough privilege that they don’t have to pay attention to how privilege manifests in their lives. When you think you are normal, it’s a small step to thinking that anyone different is just being awkward or uncooperative and thus feeling no obligation to respond to their needs.

If you’re stepping into any kind of leadership /authority /author role as a Pagan, I think it’s incredibly important to consider how your notion of your own normality might impact on how you treat other people. It takes effort and empathy to look past your own experiences to learn about how the world works (or doesn’t) for other people. It takes effort and imagination to consider where your assumptions might make your efforts exclusive. It takes integrity and courage to look at how your beliefs might unwittingly have made you ableist, racist, sexist, classist. And it is so important to dig in and do the work.

If leadership is the comfortable acting for the benefit of the comfortable, while leaving the disadvantaged on the outside, it’s more about self indulgence than service. It is certainly the case that making everything totally inclusive for everybody tends to be both prohibitively difficult and expensive, because we operate within systems that are problematic. But that doesn’t mean you are free to not try.

This isn’t about the imaginary people who might want to get involved. Not being able to cater to the need of the imaginary people can just be a way of letting yourself off the hook. What matters most is to include the people who show up wanting to be included. The real ones who are in your immediate community.

Here are a few things you can do in this regard. 

  1. Be explicit that you are open to hearing from people about their access needs or barriers to attending.
  2. When people tell you about access issues and barriers, listen with respect and take them seriously.
  3. Try to find workarounds based on what you are being asked to do, trusting that the person asking you to improve inclusivity knows most about what would help them participate.
  4. Consider it your responsibility to enable participation.

If you aren’t acting as a leader in any capacity you can help by flagging up access issues when you see them, and by supporting people who ask for things to be made more inclusive. Amplify, affirm, take seriously and treat with respect people who need help around access.

Druid Leadership

When I first encountered Druidry about twenty years ago, it seemed structured. Groves, Orders, arch-druids, hierarchy and Very Important Druids. Perhaps it was quite anarchic all along, but from outside, it looked like a movement with a few key leaders and a lot of followers.

I’m reasonably confident that I’ve seen a shift since then. I think there are a lot more Druids who, while interested in learning from others, have no desire to submit to anyone else’s leadership. I think a lot of membership now is held more lightly, and people turn up when it suits them. I think there are not many people coming forward to be Druid leaders. I also think these are all good things.

One of the problems inherent in leading is that to do it well takes time and energy. Of course for the person on a bit of an ego trip, this isn’t always a problem. I see experienced Druids who could have stepped forward to lead choosing not to do so – in no small part because they want to be Druids far more than they want to be leaders. I see such people sharing experiences and teaching in lighter and less authority-laden ways, and I like how that looks. We don’t have to follow someone to learn from them, we do not have to surrender power to them or imagine they are better than us. We can just swap notes and pick up whatever seems useful.

What I see increasingly is Druids communicating through networks of interactions. I see something that looks a lot more organic than the Druidry of twenty years ago. There’s less drama in it. Wind the clock back fifteen years or so and I looked after the Druid Network’s Directory for a while, which meant I was in touch with a great many orders, groves, arch-druids and whatnot. It was drama-laden work, and frequently full of weirdness. I see all the same odd assertions, beliefs and ego stuff playing out in Druid groups online, but without the same power base. Without the confidence that having self-identified as an arch-druid should mean something. We still get our fair share of preposterous folk with outrageous ideas, but with a wider community full of people who know about Druid history, there are plenty of folk able to step in and offer some reality.

It suited our ancestors of revival-druidry to adopt a hierarchical view of Druids. It fitted the patriarchal, colonial times in which they lived. It fitted their desire for fame, fortune, notoriety and followers. Druidry as it exists today has grown out of that revival period stuff, and become something a lot more anarchic. There’s a much more democratic sharing of ideas, much more room for more people to be heard, and far fewer people who want to start their own even more ancient than anyone else’s Order so that they can get invited to meetings of some sort or another and get angry with other near-identical Orders consisting of one arch-druid and his dog…

Druidry without hierarchy

This week I read a really interesting post over on Tommy Elf’s blog about leadership. In it, he talks about being asked who he considers his mentors to be, and says that he doesn’t go in for that. He does however consider me to be one of his influences, along with Cat Treadwell. You can read the post here – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/keeping-things-on-level-ground/

Aside from the delight of getting name-checked in a blog I am subscribed to, I was struck by this post. Cat Treadwell and Tommy Elf are very much influences on me – I follow both of their blogs. I follow a number of other Druid bloggers as well. I used to follow the other Druid he mentions but don’t any more for more reasons than I have space or inclination to share.

Druidry can of course be massively hierarchical, with grades to advance through and titles to aspire to. Not all of us want to be an Arch-Druid. As architecture goes, I see myself as more of a flying buttress… Arches are pretty and all that, but they aren’t the only thing you can be. I’ve dabbled in leadership, I’ve run groups and I’ve taught, more and less formally. I absolutely get where Tommy is coming from in his blog about not wanting to be put on a pedestal or treated as a source of authority. I’m seeing more of this in Druidry all the time.

Leading is mostly a practical job – someone has to figure out when and where to meet and what to bring and to hold the space. Someone has to teach people who show up wanting to learn. Someone has to do the rites of passage people want and need. These are jobs we can do for each other. I think it works better when there’s fluidity in it. Leading all the time is hard work, can be an obstacle to following your own path, and can be an epic ego trap. Leadership can be the enemy of spirituality. However, if you share it around and hold it lightly, this isn’t a problem.

If some days you are the teacher, and some days you are the student, you’ll never feel like you’re supposed to know it all. If you can lead ceremony, but there are also people you can go to if you need someone to hold the space for you, that’s much happier as a way of being. If you can run things, and go along to things other people are running, it’s much more relaxed. Plus you’ll never end up feeling like it’s the work you do that gives you a space, or that being accepted is conditional on your work.

A person can share their experience without having to assert that theirs is the one true way. We can offer our wisdom to others without demanding that they accept it. We can share what we do without someone having to be the authority. We can take responsibility for our own paths, looking to each other for inspiration rather than instruction.

Leadership and conflict

This is a scenario I’ve seen play out repeatedly in Pagan organisations, and which I assume happens other places too. It invariably causes a lot of trouble and distress, and I am absolutely certain that it could be handled differently.

In the beginning, two people get into conflict. Most usually this starts privately, but because both people are members of the same group, it either gets taken to that group in some way, or spills over into it. It can be a falling out, a communication breakdown, it can be one person harassing or bullying another. At this early stage, it is seldom possible to see the shape of the thing from the outside.

A person, or people with leadership roles and power say “ah, but it didn’t happen on our boards/facebook page, or at our event so we aren’t responsible for sorting it out.”

Where there is bullying, at this point the victim has no choice but to leave while the perpetrator often stays. I’ve said it before and will say it again – doing nothing is not a neutral stance, it is a choice that supports and enables bullying and abuse.

Where there is conflict, it may well spill out into the wider group. Leaders may not pile in, but friends will. You can end up with two sides and a deepening divide. You can end up with more people leaving because they don’t like how it’s been handled. If it really goes pear-shaped, you can tear the entire group apart and bring it to an end. By which point it most assuredly is on the boards, facebook page, and at any real world events and it is night on impossible to bring it back under control or sort anything out.

I think the problem stems from the current human fashion of seeing our lives as fragmented. What happens in one aspect of our lives, we suppose, won’t impact on another. I’ve seen this logic implied even when the police have been involved. We come to our Pagan groups as whole people, and if we fall out with other people, it has an impact.

I think one of the things that leadership means, is stepping in when things go wrong like this. Step in as soon as the problem is visible, and listen to all parties. If it’s the sort of thing that calls for police involvement, support the victim in getting the police involved. If someone is out of order, tell them – explain to them what’s gone wrong and why and what can be done about it. If communication has broken down, be the bridge, get things moving again. If it’s the kind of thing people should just be able to deal with and get over, listen to both side and tell them this, and it might help. People are more likely to accept that judgement if you hear them out first. A little witnessing and taking seriously can do a lot to deflate a conflict if you get in early.

Community does not mean giving up on people as soon as things get challenging. Community does not mean ignoring bullying. It does not mean turning a blind eye to problems. If we’re a community, then problems arising within the community affect all of us, and we all have some responsibility to respond, regardless of whether we lead. As for leadership – that doesn’t mean getting to do the things you want to do and ignoring what people want from you. Good leadership means looking after your people, especially when things go wrong.

Get off your knees

There’s a line from Alan Moore’s 2016 interview in Pagan Dawn that has haunted me for the last 18 months. Talking about the bard tradition, he said “You can kill or cure with a word. Get off of your knees.”  (You can read the whole interview here – http://www.pagandawnmag.org/alan-moore-the-art-of-magic/)

At first it stung, because it was true. Over time it led me to look hard at why I had been on my knees. There were a lot of reasons, to do with things I’d been through, people I’d dealt with, bodily ill health and poor mental health. Over the last year or so I’ve put my health first, and that’s been a key part of getting up. This summer it struck me that getting off my knees was not just about overcoming difficulty, but about deliberate choice.

It means not being afraid to act, to lead, to set things in motion and to take responsibility. It means imagining that I can do things on a larger scale.

Fears around leadership have not been about the idea that I couldn’t do it – I’ve done it before, I know I can. It’s more a fear of accidentally railroading others, of accidentally disempowering others, and of turning into some kind of self important ass-hat. I figure that so long as I stay alert to that kind of issue, I can negate it as I go. I don’t want power over anyone, I want to get things done, it should be fine.

Some of it was about having a good place to stand once I’d stood up. I’m finding those places, there seem to be a few of them. The Pagan Federation, my local bardic community, Moon Books, my little family at Sloth Comics, and two further spaces that I’m contemplating and waiting to see what happens with because there’s no rush. In some of those spaces I will be more active than others, and I expect the balance to shift from time to time. It’s more than enough to be going along with.

In terms of dreaming bigger, that’s simply been happening. I’ve got ideas about events, books, art, co-operative companies, studio space, a house… I want to operate on a totally different scale and I’m seeing how I can make that happen, and hopefully take a fair few people with me while I’m doing it. At the moment, things still feel poised, and I’m holding the balance, waiting to see what pulls and what suggests itself. At some point this winter (because I do not try to live in harmony with the standard wheel of the year narrative) I’m going to start moving in earnest, I think.

Getting off my knees. Finding who wants to do things with me. Ignoring the people who have a problem with that and not letting them slow me down. I do not have to be small simply to make others more comfortable, and I certainly don’t need anyone who thinks making me small for their comfort is a good idea. I think in the last 18 months I’ve mostly freed myself from those sorts of connections, but I won’t hesitate to do it again if I need to. Onwards!

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.