A Minor Leadership Rant

Concentric CirclesWithin Reclaiming circles, I keep reading about leaders and hierarchy as if they were the source of the problems we face within western industrial society. That is news to me since I always thought it was the concentration of wealth, power, resources and information into the hands of a few. If concentration is the problem then the solution is increased accessibility to money, power, resources and information. But if we name the problem as simply hierarchy and leaders, then the solution can lead to the denigration of experience, skill and age.

Because without an acknowledgment of elders and mastery, we create a sort of mob rule which leads to an elevation of the mediocre.

I am intrigued and heartened by a definition of leadership from the I Ching, as the one(s) "closest to center."

IMNSHO, leadership can be contextual as when it arises spontaneously, it can be situational as in only a finite number of people can stand directly in front of the stove at any one point to stir the soup, or it can be structural as in we all agree that this person will facilitate the meeting. It can also be shifting as in the rotational chair model of meeting facilitation where the person speaking is the chair and is responsible for recognizing the next speaker/chair. And it can be knowledge based as in whoever has traveled to a location before is the one to give directions to the driver. Leadership can be as simple as announcing that dinner is ready, as complex as handling the bookkeeping for a group or as clever as the one who supplies the costumes for witch camp. In my view a leader is one who exhibits leadership.

What I have often found objectionable however is the notion that anarchism is somehow contrary to this concept of leadership. Or for that matter that anarchism is contrary to structure or accountability or the recognition of experience, knowledge and skill.

I freely admit that my background is more marxist than anarchist, but marxists share a great deal of our history with anarchists and even where we clash there tends to be general agreement around an analysis of power, esp in terms of class. Add to it the contributions from social justice movements such as a feminist analysis of gender, a black nationalist analysis of race, a queer analysis of sexual expression and the many contributions from the environmental movements; and the marxists and anarchists within Reclaiming, for example, often pretty much see eye to eye on most things.

So as a "former" marxist, I find it amusing when some folks in Reclaiming defend their lack of accountability, structure, and denigration of leadership as due to Reclaiming anarchism. Because in my heart of hearts, I know that often systems are left vague, obscure and demeaning as a way of ensuring power concentration and information restriction -- which is definitely not anarchism.

No it is not anarchism that creates these unwieldy strucures and unhealthy organizational dynamics, it is white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. Because such structures and dynamics within this society can only serve the status quo. The appreciation of youth and age, plus all the stages in between, strikes at the heart of the concentration of power, wealth and information. It is a system of domination that calls for us to become interchangeable cogs in the machine. It is indeed revolutionary to appreciate both genius and mastery, while at the same time nurturing and guiding growth and change.

My 2 cents, for what its worth.

Katrina, a leader since age 3 when I convinced my playmates to each take a turn bouncing the ball . . .

Posted in


Catherine (not verified) | Wed, 02/15/2006 - 10:03am

Every group needs elders and leaders. Our challenge -- as witches, feminists, and ecologists -- is to find, try out, and refine new ways of leadership, new ways of working within groups, new ways of allowing those who lack experience but possess "beginner's mind" to access the wisdom of our elders -- of every age.

It's a continual challenge. But if it were easy, everyone would do it.

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