Hierarchies are not evil
As long as I have been pagan I have also been working as an executive assistant. Although many of us life in a democracy most social structures we work in are anything but democratic. Companies are hierarchical, families are hierarchical and even cliques sometimes have hidden hierarchies you need to know to act appropriately. The bigger the social structures are the more complex is the organization chart – be it officially or unofficially.
Imagine you are on a boat and a storm is coming up. A ship’s crew needs to function quickly and efficient in a very short time. This requires that everyone knows his position what to do and when to do it, and how to fulfill his tasks. If any of the crew members fail to do what they need to do the efficiency of the group will be disturbed and in case of emergencies this can even turn into a life threat. If a ship’s crew was to decide democratically what to do they would be way to slow and ineffective so the roles and orders need to be set up clearly and strictly. Hierarchy is not necessarily “bad” or driven by oppression it is just one of many ways to lead a team to achieve a certain goal. And it needs the support both of the people on the top levels of the hierarchy and the lower levels to function.
Pagan hierarchy aversion
Many pagans have a lot of criticism about religious leadership of any kind. Of course first and foremost the common “enemies” like Christianity, Islam or just basically “organized religions”. But also small leaders – even if pagan – of religious communities, temples, etc. tend to be targets of a lot of criticism and occasionally rude accusations. On the other hand, however, some people among the pagan communities have been elevated to a status of being a celebrity, a role model, a so-called “big name pagan” (BNP) a term I have never heard in Germany before. The reasons for this are vast and various and not always comprehensible but it is mostly not because of their extraordinary leading skills but because of being loud, striking, polarizing and other ways of drawing attention. And many of them have a high multimedial output and sell books, have well-followed blogs and do of course aim to distribute their works. This pagan celebrity hype might satisfy some narcissistic needs on both sides and some craving for sensation, but it is anything but constructive to a community.
Leading – just a job
I had a chance to take a glimpse at the contents of an Executive MBA course to learn a lot about how to become a leader. Although I would not consider myself to be a leader person I understood it is actually work and unlike many believe it is a profession you need to learn, practice and study. Of course a certain state of mind and a talent to coordinate various aspects is essential, as well as a large amount of patience, empathy and common sense.
In the 40ies it was vastly believed that leadership and power was exclusively a question of charisma. Today this view is mostly outdated and proven wrong or at least insufficient. In his book “Charismatische Herrschaft” Max Weber describes the functionality between a “holder of charisma” and the “believers of charisma”. People like Napoleon, Bismarck or Hitler were believed to be charismatic leaders and to have come to power mostly because of this virtue. In a charismatic leadership the leader will maintain his leadership only as long as the charisma believers are willing to obey and to believe, thus a charismatic leader is highly dependent on his followers.
Leading and manipulation
This way of leadership can also be described by a type of power which Linda Evans names “power over”. Power over is largely tied to acting out the power on the followers often related to a high amount of influencing – be it indirect by manipulation or direct by oppression which can even exceed the limits and become violence. In contrast to this she postulates the concept of “natural power”. Leaders who show natural power are not dependant on followers because their authority is not defined by the number and personalities of the people they lead and receive obedience and loyalty from but is automatically acknowledged when natural leading competence is being demonstrated. Leading skills are not necessarily only about professional skill but about empathy for the followers both as a community and as an individual and the ability to conduct the community with regard to both of these dimensions. And leading is to pave the ways to achieve collective aims with the wholeness of the community’s skills. Leading also requires the conscious agreeing and permission of the followers because otherwise it is manipulation.
Leadership and management
Leadership is an essential part of management. Every project or business – be it large or small – needs management to be realized.
“Where do we want to get?/What do we want to achieve?”
“How/On which way will I get to the targets?”
“How do I need to coordinate and structure the community and its skills to be able to walk the way (=defined by strategy)?”
“How do I have to organize a group regarding internal and external interactions to efficiently fulfill the community’s tasks?”
“Only if I know how I have to fulfill the tasks I can define the necessary tools.”
Possible projects in a pagan context may be:
- An interfaith community
- A specific religious community
- Writing a blog post
- A pagan online magazine
- A temple
- A pagan gathering
- A pagan blog project
- A ritual
And to realize these projects leadership is required. No matter if the project is small or huge, if many people are involved or just one person. The steps are basically always the same.
Leading itself has two important functions: The first one is being the locomotive for a project, which includes motivation of the community, preset strategies and directions and thinking solution- and target-orientated. The second one is taking care of the group cohesion to maintain the community and its power. This can include acting as a role model, create motivation, solve conflicts, offer ethical advice and orientation and actively create a group mentality or project philosophy and communicate it.
W.H. Staehle categorized leaderships in several types according to the interactions between leaders and followers. This is certainly not the only way to classify leading styles but it is one possibility to categorize and thus recognize certain styles and their qualities. They can of course occur in mixed forms, too.
- Autocratic leadership
This kind of leadership does not take care nor listen to the subordinates
- Authoritarian leadership
A leadership which completely rests upon obedience
- Bureaucratic leadership
This leadership mainly features a high amount of objectification through rules, definitions and strictly defined competences
- Charismatic leadership
It is similar to Authoritarian leadership but with a more paternal notion which is highly dependend on the personality of a leader
- Democratic leadership
This leading style puts the subordinates into focus. It can also be viewed like a constant upside-down-management
- Group-orientated leadership
This leading style includes the group to be led as a whole and is mostly about conducting a team
- Cooperative leadership
Cooperative means to view subordinates as coworkers
- Participative leadership
This leading method is oriented at a role model person, which will let the coworkers participate in general decisions according to their performance. The advantage of this leadership is that the subordinates will develop a higher motivation and show more independency and self-initiative. A disadvantage is the relatively slow process of making decisions due to a high number of discussions.
- Situational leadership
In this kind of leadership the leader adjusts to the difficulty level of the tasks and challenges to be taken by the group or team and also to the maturity of individual community members.
- Personality-orientated leadership
This is a further development of the aforementioned situational leadership and includes the personalities of every individual subordinate
- Laissez-faire leadership
As the name indicates the leader leaves a high amount of personal freedom to the subordinates
- Direction-orientated leadership
This leading style can either focus on the orientation of the subordinates or the orientation of the working targets
- Sense-orientated leadership
Sense-orientated refers to a strong bond of the leader to values, ethics and sense
- Transformational leadership
This leading type aims to transform and change the behavior and the consciousness oft he group as a whole and the individuals
(W.H. Staehle: Management. 8. Aufl., München 1999, S. 334 ff.)
Every leadership style has its validity as long as it IS actually LEADING. The mere gaining of attention is NOT leading – at most nothing but mis-leading. Leading means to have an aim you are heading for and those who follow you need to be informed where or what that is.
Leading styles may vary depending on the project and the personality of the leader as well as those of the followers which is perfectly ok as soon es the efficiency of reaching the targets and realizing the visions is visible and measurable. According to individual talents and skills leaders might be good and efficient in certain leading styles and inefficient in others so it is part of the leader’s responsibility to choose the right method. And further more not every follower might suit a certain leader due to his individual expectations and demands. Not every follower might fit into a certain community with its own mentality, structure and functional hierarchy. This is very often overlooked when criticism is offered from the outside. Unless you do not have an actual insight into all the aforementioned aspects of leadership, structures, targets, visions, strategies etc. criticism can only be vague.
The fact that people have somehow ended up in a similar situation does not make a community. The pagan society is a very heterogenous group of people. They have basically ended up in the same confusing situation, knowing well what they do NOT want but lacking visions, goals and targets as a community and therefore a community spirit. To form an actual community there need to be people who are capable and willing to take over responsibility, spot, form and provide visions which are worthwhile being supported, suggest realistic and practical strategies to achieve those and create healthy, effective and stable structures to guide individuals into making their very own contribution to the community. Which methods you choose, how you organize things is secondary as long as it takes you where you want to get.