Last Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business I read a passage out of the opening silence. Here it is:
Unfortunately, our idea of leadership has been deformed by a myth that links leadership to hierarchy, as if leaders were needed only in systems that operate from the top down. But when we are in “community”—which, at the turn of the kaleidoscope, evokes the romance of an instinctive life together—we can dispense with a designated leader, allowing the role to pass spontaneously from one person to the next. Or so goes the myth.
Yet in my experience, a community requires more leadership than a hierarchy does. A hierarchy has clear goals, a well-established division of labor, and a set of policies about how things are supposed to run; if the machine is well designed and well lubricated, it can almost run itself. A community is a chaotic, emergent, and creative force field that needs constant tending. And when a community’s aims are countercultural… its need for tending is even greater.
The authority …a leader [in community] needs is not the same as power. Power comes to anyone who controls the tools of coercion, which range from grades to guns. But authority comes only to those who are granted it by others. And what leads us to grant someone authority? The word itself contains a clue: we grant authority to people we perceive as “authoring” their own words and actions, people who do not speak from a script or behave in preprogrammed ways.
Pp 76-77, Parker J Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life – Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World. 2004, John Wiley & Sons
Seeing this in print, I feel a need to add to it my understanding that, in community, we all grant each other leadership authority, in varying degrees. I tend to think in terms of “leadership behaviors,” which are all behaviors that advance the life of the group as a whole.
Reminding us to stack the chairs after the Adult Education hour is a leadership behavior. Reminding us that the newsletter deadline is approaching is a leadership behavior. Wiping down the tables at the end of the Fellowship hour is a leadership behavior: if no one does it in a timely fashion, the group will have a (relatively slight) problem it needs to overcome, later in the day or week. We rely on each other for these initiatives. Members of formal committees and committee clerks take on identified leadership, but all of us have opportunities to perform acts of leadership, and most of us do.