Leadership scares the shit out of me. Seriously. I have noted this a few times: some folks look at me as a “natural” leader. I maintain that I am not. But my reasoning, while gathered from a fictional character in a movie, is weak at best.
In a scene from the Sylvester Stallone movie “The Demolition Man”, the character of Edgar Friendly makes the statement: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes people come with me.” It is a snarky line, but it is also an issue of pushing the leadership off into space.
See, there are leadership qualities that people have – the ability to think quickly on your feet. The ability to break problems into workable tasks. The ability to delegate those workable tasks to people who have the ability to get those done. And the ability to motivate people to get things done. For some strange reason, I have some of the ability to motivate people. I know that I have the ability to break problems down into workable tasks. I do that every day in my job. I also have the ability to stay calm when things come apart at the seams. But I have to be honest and give the United States Air Force the credit for some of this as well. All of that is delineated into a particular skillset. Its called troubleshooting.
In my opinion, troubleshooting is not a skillset of leadership. It is a skillset of the Troubleshooter, which is something I do consider myself to be. I enjoy taking situations that are in chaos, sorting things out, prioritizing what needs to be done, and rolling up my sleeves and getting arm deep in the issues. I can be problematic when I am in this mode. I can push those that are in a position of leadership out of the way. Essentially picking them up, setting them to one side, and saying: “Stay right there until I solve this. Then you can have the steering wheel again.” In my military career, I have told Commissioned Officers to “get the fuck out of the way” while trying to resolve mainframe systems issues. It never made me popular with the Officers, but the enlisted folks (of which I was) loved me for it.
But let’s be clear on something. I never shoved people out of the way, unless I was sure that I could resolve the problem. In the Air Force, I knew my systems inside and out. In two locations, only the Field Engineers were more knowledgeable than the 23-year old me on how the system operated. Older non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers learned to get out of the way when I was called in to repair things. But I had to earn that kind of respect, by showing that I could resolve problems that were set in front of me. That’s not a skill of leadership. Rather that’s a skillset of technical ability. And that technical ability masked on arrogance that I had.
Leadership is not about shoving people out of the way and proclaiming yourself the expert. A better version of me – now nearly thirty years down the line and full of life experiences – would counsel the twenty-three year old me to not shove people out of the way, but counsel them on how to resolve the problem, looking over their shoulders, and explaining why this particular issue was resolved in this particular way. Leadership is not about pointing and directing. That’s a task for ego-maniacs. And I have seen plenty of my share of these in the Pagan community. A Leader teaches others how to resolve the problems, allowing their hands to be the ones that turn the wrenches and use the tools, while explaining the reasoning behind each process.
Leadership is a status that is earned. Rightly or wrongly. The individual(s) empowering you into a position of leadership have confidence in your ability to resolve issues, and put things into motion. Sometimes, you have this bit of respect thrust upon you. For example, a newcomer to Paganism or Polytheism will look to you as their example of what it means to be [x] within Paganism or Polytheism. Whether you wanted that role or not, it is given to you. Even after you explain that you’re no leader, in your best Edgar Friendly impersonation. And if you think about it…it is a weak explanation, as well.
See, I am nearly fifty-one years old this year. I have been in Paganism in one capacity or another since 1987. That’s twenty-nine years of being a Pagan. I was a doe-eyed newbie at one time too. Anyone who had been in Paganism for any length of time, regardless of Path, was an incredible person to me. Until I met Pattalee. She ran one of the few local Pagan bookstores in the area with her (then) husband. I would go down there, and tentatively sit one a bar stool next to the jewelry counter. And I would ask questions, and listen to the answers – hanging on her every word. I guess she humored me at first. But after a while, instead of answering my questions, she would prompt me to answer my own questions. Then, she would have a long, prolonged discussion of where my logic was incorrect, and where I made assumptions that had no factual basis. Instead of puzzling things out for me, she quietly prompted me to learn from myself. Sadly, she passed away quite some time back, and her ex-husband eventually closed the store. But I always remembered those talks, and how she dealt with the doe-eyed newbie sitting in front of her.
After her passing beyond the veil, it took nearly another decade before I realized that she talked with me through a position of leadership. The authority of leadership had been given to her by me. She most likely didn’t want it, but she accepted it – and led me gently towards the habit of puzzling things out for myself. She gently showed me how to look inside myself and find the answers that I was needing. And pointed out how the “truths” as I found them applied to me, and not necessarily to others. Leadership is not about molding people forcibly, but showing them the potential that is inside of themselves.
Newbies may hand you a mantle of leadership, simply because you have been around longer than they have. Throwing that mantle back in their faces and saying that you’re no leader is not the way to handle things. Folding that mantle up, and setting it to the side, with care and reverence respects the responsibility that you have been handed. And eventually, you will be able to gently, and with respect, hand that mantle back to those newbies – pointing out that they have always been able to fend for themselves. In my opinion, this is how we grow our Pagan community. We don’t grow leaders in this process. Some of those newbies will become leaders in their own right. We grow self-sufficient Pagans and Polytheists, able to handle themselves as Solitary practitioners of their own connectivity with the Gods, and able to work within the wider ranging Pagan and Polytheist communities as individual parts of the whole. Able to be Priests/Priestesses and Leaders without becoming tyrants. Able to teach others how to grow, without delineating debilitating and crippling dogma that creates a belief structure that is too rigid to be flexible with the changing world around us. We grow Pagans and Polytheists that learn to cultivate their relationships with others, the Gods, the Spirits of Place, and Spirits of Ancestors, while expanding their understanding of those connections and their own position within those sacred relationships.
Yeah, I can claim to not be a leader. That I just do things, and sometimes people come along. But in the end, that statement – while playful – is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to the people that come along. It is a wise-ass dismissal of the authority that they hand to me. It is slapping the respect that they have for me as an elder in the wider Pagan community, while laughing in their face with my flippant comment. And to be honest, it is long past time for me to ditch the attitude. I’m a podcaster and a blogger in the Pagan community. I make commentary on how I feel about Paganism and Polytheism from both platforms. And whether I want to agree with it or not, I set myself out there for my opinions to be read. And people respect me for that. Yes, some of them hand me their respect as an authority., as an elder. And I need to return that respect as well. I need to follow Pattalee’s example, and fold up that mantle and set it to the side. And listen.
Pagan leadership is about helping the community. Troubleshooting issues. Listening. Growing Pagans that are new to this Path. Leadership is about being the appropriate example to our community. And we are all leaders, in one capacity or another.
Two pence…. –T /|\