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Resources for Leaders

Dear Witchful Thinking-

I was wondering if you had any advice or resources for pagan leaders (clergy, student group leaders etc.).  I’m particularly interested in problem solving, conflict resolution, and just being a good, kind, effective leader and supporter of people who come to me looking for insight.  Are there any books out there specifically for pagan clergy/leaders? And do you have any general advice or wisdom you’d like all pagan leaders to know?
Thanks,
Fearless Leader.
Dear Fearless,
The good news is that Pagans are people, so any resources about group dynamics, leadership strategies, and interpersonal relationships will serve you in your leadership position. I’ve listed a few at the end of this article, and they are all available for purchase in the Witchful Thinking Store. But there are some particularities about working in the Pagan community that leaders should be aware of…
The thing you have to know about leaders in any kind of Pagan group, is that they immediately become clergy to the people that follow them. Because we do not have a way of identifying our clergy (post to come!) anyone with any authority is seen as being of value to the group members. In a way, this is good, because being a group leader allows the group to see what kind of person you are–in other words, you get to know each other. And people will come to you because they know you can help them, not just because of your status in a group.
But group members may not know what is appropriate to bring up with the group leader. They may bring up conflicts or share experiences that the leader doesn’t know how to deal with.  Recognizing your limits, and having some good resources in which to redirect group members is important. You aren’t going to be able to solve all their problems (and no one needs that burden!) so know when to say no.
  • Learn when to say “No, however…”. There will be situations beyond your means to deal with. Simply saying no can put them off from trusting you in the future. While keeping your bounadries is important, having a way to redirect the group member, and supporting them through the process can do more for the person than simply having all the answers.
  • Keep a list of resources. I have one with phone numbers for crisis lines, suicide reporting, domestic violence, Child Protective Services, and other emergency contacts. I keep it on me when I know I might be in a situation  where someone may need advice beyond my abilities. Because these programs vary by region, you will need to come up with your own list. Or consider collecting lists of lists. I have pamphlets of emergency services for my county.
  • Fill your toolbox with communication strategies. Having multiple possible ways to solve a problem will give you more confidence, and help you in strange situations or differing personalities. You can learn strategies by reading, watching other leaders and if you…
  • Join an online community to learn more about being a good leader. I found this one with a simple Google search. This one has a lot of strategies as well.
  • Find out what kind of leader you are. There is no need to try and be something you are not. We talked in the last post about leadership styles. But not all groups require your style of leadership at that time.
  • Know your group rules and stick with them! Follow established procedures and precedent. It keeps you from appearing arbitrary and gives you some authority. Examine the rules carefully before choosing to vote on a change or act differently.
  • Know when to step down. It could be a feeling that it’s time to move on, a recognition that the group needs more than you can give, or a pre-arranged time of leadership change. Knowing the group lifecycle can help you identify when a change in leadership is necessary.
  • Be available for mentoring. After your time as the leader is up, being around the group and available for mentoring others can keep the group alive. Just because you are not the leader doesn’t mean you don’t have wisdom to share. But your position in the group is different–let the new leader lead and learn from their mistakes. You can set a powerful example just by being present in the group after your term is over–it shows your faith in the group as a whole, and builds self-efficacy among the members.
  • Practice Humanistic leadership. Every person deserves a chance to be heard. Every person deserves to be valued and respected. Begin by actively listening to the group members, and not running off on your own ideas. A Pagan group is no place for ego (although there has been a lot of it in the past…)! State problems as “I statements” so you don’t accuse others of being a part of the problem, which makes them more likely to listen to you.
  • Learn so you can serve. Keep up your Pagan studies. Besides seeing you as clergy, the group may also see you as an authority–even if it isn’t nessecarily true! So keep reading and studying. Try some of the more advanced books available in the Witchful Thinking Store.
  • Don’t let your group eat you alive. Many groups are entirely dependent on their leadership to put events together and organize them. If we accept personal responsibility, then success or failure must be up to the group. The more your group members do, the more active and integrated they feel in the group. So give them something to do. Don’t let them make you do everything. You will burn out, and then the group will not benefit from you.
  • Give thanks where thanks is due. Praise is reward for good work. It shows the rest of the group the kind of behavior you expect, and bolsters self-esteem. And don’t forget the “behind the scenes” folks, and people who are outside of your group membership. Even in a failure, a good leader can find something positive to praise. But don’t give it out for every little thing, or do so without sincerity. Studies show that intermittent rewards work better than consistent rewards in future positive behavior.
  • You might have to be the bad guy. You may have to bring bad news, or solve problems by letting people go. Keep your intentions towards the benefit of the group, and use the charter as a basis. For the benefit of the group, you may have to ask disruptive people to leave. You may have to work with authorities who don’t like you and what you are doing. Sometimes you have to tell the group no. Gather all the facts you can before you make these decisions. Involving the group in the decision making process (without spreading gossip) or telling them the reasons why you made the choice can help people understand and support your tough calls.
  • Answer all questions as if they are honest. Why keep secrets? Or if you have to keep one, tell them why it must be secret. Someone may ask a sarcastic question, but may really have a desire to know the answer. Why not talk about it? No reason to reply with hostility. Besides, it makes you look knowledgeable and calm, and that’s never bad.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Not everyone needs to know everyone’s business. Make it a policy that gossip ends with you. If someone told you something about a group member that needs to be addressed, by all means, address it! But no need to say what your source was if they asked to remain anonymous. It means a lot to people that you can keep a secret.
I’m sure there is so much more to being a good leader. I think it really starts by being a good, honest person. Your desire, Fearless, to learn more shows that you care and is a wonderful place to start. Those that you lead will pick up on that kind of stuff and respect you all the more for having their needs in mind.
Here are a few excellent books on the subject:
  • Wicca Covens: How to Organize and Start Your Own by Judy Harrow. Probably one of the best books on leading Pagan groups. Harrow is a counselor and uses her knowledge in Pagan circumstances.
  • Deepening Witchcraft by Grey Cat. This book is mostly about advanced practices, but has some excellent advice about starting groups and events.
  • Strengths-Based Leadership by Barrie Conchie. This was recommended to me, but I have not read it. The author is a scientist who studied leadership for 30 years and talks about why people follow certain people.
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