Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What are the responsibilities of a leader?

[The following was written for the Hearthstone Community Church's September 2012 newsletter.]

One of the questions that I occasionally kick around is: What are the responsibilities of a leader? In particular, what are the responsibilities of a leader in the rarified atmosphere of modern paganism and the occult? In addition, if a person does not fulfill these responsibilities, are they still a leader?

The reason I typically kick around this set of questions is someone accusing me of being a leader. Normally, the label leader being attached to me is accompanied by the person accusing me of doing behavior that is unbecoming of being a leader. In another words, I am never called a good leader—just the type of leader that someone does not want the rest of the world exposed to.

Now, I will admit that this particular type of behavior both amuses me and annoys me—for the exact same reason. I am not a leader; I am a lunatic with a soapbox; there is a difference. In other words, I do not consider myself a leader. I am merely someone with very loud opinions.

Sure, I am a public representative of a group. In all fairness, to myself that is, I would like to point out that no one else in the group wants to be the public representative. The group also believes that if someone doesn’t like me, then they will not be a good fit for the group. In other words, I am not a leader because I am the public voice of a group—I am a speed bump because of my visibility.

And being an officer of a group does not make me a leader. In the case of said group, I am an elected officer. This means simply that there are jobs to do that no one else wants to do, and that I am not clever enough to recruit someone who wants to do them. I suspect that a trained monkey could do my job as an officer—hmmm, I wonder if I could find a trained monkey who is willing to work for free.

The biggest expectation that I encounter of leaders is that they are supposed to work for free. Only in paganism and occultism are leaders expected to work for free. In other areas, leaders are expected to be paid—not necessarily well, but still paid. In Wiccan circles, I have seen people believe that the leader of a coven should not only give their time freely, but should also foot the entire operating cost of the group. As a lunatic with a soapbox, I disagree. While I am open to the possibility that the leader of a coven or lodge should not charge for their time, I believe that all members of an esoteric community should chip in on the operating costs. Furthermore, I believe that authors and teachers of occultism and paganism should get a token wage for their efforts.
The second expectation that I encounter is the idea that a leader in the esoteric community should be open to all ideas—as in they should never tell anyone that they are wrong. I am not sure where this idea comes from, but it completely does not fit into the universe I live in. This idea is often combined with the idea that a leader needs to be a more evolved spiritual being. I am sorry; the two ideas do not support one another. If everyone was right, then we would all be equally evolved. Therefore, in my little universe, a leader occasionally has to tell someone that they are wrong.
So what are the responsibilities of a leader in my universe?

One, they have chosen to put the interests of a group ahead of their own personal interests. A leader serves the needs of a group. It is an unpleasant job. Occasionally, this involves “herding cats” and moving the group in a direction that the individual members do not want to go. A true leader knows that one sometimes has to make unpopular decisions. One cannot please everyone when they are a leader. A leader also has to place the interests of their group ahead of other groups—if all opinions and interests were the same, we would not need leaders in the first place.

A leader leads by example and/or suggestion. They do not need to be officially in a position of power. Their ability to lead does not spring from the position that they hold in a group, rather it springs from their innermost being. Sometimes, a true leader seems more like a force of nature than a human being.

And most importantly, a leader needs to know the following two sentences: “I do not know,” and “I made a mistake.” A leader has to be able to admit when they do not know something, and they have to be willing to admit to occasionally (or often) making mistakes. A leader does not need to be right all the time, but they do have to be willing to admit mistakes and ignorance, and be willing to change directions when necessary.

Leaders are not leaders because they are popular or agree with everyone. They are leaders because they are willing to make unpleasant decisions, and are willing to put the best interests of others ahead of their own personal interests. A true leader will not change their behavior just because someone says that they are wrong. Being a leader is unpleasant on most days—which is why I am glad that I am just a lunatic with a soapbox.

[The 2012 Hearthstone Community Church's newsletter articles written by Morgan Drake Eckstein will be collected in an ebook sometime in 2013. The 2010 articles can be found in the collection Pizza Boxes on the Floor. The 2011 articles are currently being formatted into an ebook. Three of the best articles can be found in the free ebook--Four Cornerstones.]

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