Tag Archives: leading

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.


Being a Druid Leader

During my twenties I ran moots, rituals, workshops, meditation sessions and musical events. I also worked as a volunteer for the Pagan Federation and The Druid Network. (All under my previous name). I have dipped my toes in the murky waters of pagan leadership. Yesterday I saw a comment about how few pagans are willing to volunteer to make things happen, and I wanted to comment on the perfectly sane reasons why this is so.

Volunteering is unpaid. You put in hours of your time and a lot of energy just running something simple like a moot. Now, if you have a job, a family, a home, a life, you maybe don’t have lots of spare hours to give. And the people you give to won’t reliably treat you like a hero. Many will make demands, want your attention, expect you to do things their way. It’s always a lot of responsibility to shoulder.

Taking control can disempower others. The less leadership there is, the more scope for things happening organically. And if that means not happening, that may be a good and healthy thing. Letting people grow so that they can create their own magic has its virtues. Where I have run things, I’ve tried to do so with as a light a touch as possible – not least because it makes the workload bearable.

Up until recently, I did not have books to sell. Hold that thought. Most magazines on paganism will not pay you for articles because they can’t afford to. Most pagan organisations cannot pay you to work for them. Most events will not be able to pay you for talks or workshops, you might get some free table space. But, if you don’t have a stream of work you can sell, then ‘service’ as a pagan means just that. You give, and you give and you get paid for the odd handfasting. Running workshops you hope to cover the cost of the venue. Most of us are financially poorer for volunteering, but weren’t in it for the money anyway. No one should feel obliged to take that on. And for the people, like me, who are now doing it as part of the day job ‘service’ is not the word. This is the day job.

Some of us go full time as pagans, or as creatives. I’m the latter. I do a lot of Druid stuff, but my work life includes a lot of editing, and writing in fiction genres too. I am not a Druid as my full time job. But if I do an event, I can carry my books, my bloke’s art, and maybe I can earn enough to cover the train fair. This puts me in a different position to the true volunteers.

But for the first ten years or so of my public, pagan life, it was not my day job, it didn’t pay the bills. I can’t afford to be a Druid full time as it is, and I have to say, I don’t want that to be my job description, either. I like the rest of my life rather a lot.

There are a great many people out there who do step up and run things. I know scores of teachers, celebrants, moot leaders, ritual organisers. Motives vary. I would say with confidence that, whatever the justifications about service, there are 2 things that cause a person to seek leadership roles in the pagan community. For a small minority, it’s all about self importance and the certainty of being superior to everyone else. Generally, such folk are a pain to work with, dogmatic and demanding.  I do not think paganism benefits from such leadership. The other sort, are the folk who need to feel useful. We need the validation of a round of applause. We need to feel wanted and appreciated. We of the raging insecurities who step up to the front in the hopes that someone will love us for it. This is a bard issue too. The hunger for applause that gets many people onto the stage, is a hunger for approval, for a place in the world. It’s underpinned by anxiety, self doubt and a lot of pain.

Still crying out for leaders?

Some of my leadership roles, I actively sought (TDN) most fell on me (PF, moot, rituals, folk club) some I did in answer to requests (workshops, music, meditation). I found it hard to say no, because I was working from a place of tattered self esteem. Some of it did me more harm than good. It cost me high in terms of energy. I got some things back from it.

These days I’m trying to find a better balance, working out what I can sustainably give and what is too much. So, right now, I am one of the many pagan folk who isn’t willing to run anything, and I make no apology for that. I am at the stage of life where I need to just turn up sometimes with cakes, and that be as far as it goes. I shall be attending a few events this year, but organising nothing. This prospect makes me very happy. I get my applause fixes in more viable ways (hurrah for blogging).

It is as important in paganism as in politics to question to motives of those who want to lead. And to question our own motives if we have the sudden urge to be out in front, telling people what to do, making big statements about how modern paganism *really* is…

I don’t want to speak for anyone else. I don’t want to tell anyone else what to do. You lovely people persist in turning up and reading, and that’s very much like a gentle round of applause, enough of a fix to keep me going. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like facilitation more than authority, and that’s what will be guiding me as I amble onwards.