Can Quakers also be Leaders? If we all have equal access to the divine, where is the role of Leadership? Certainly, early Friends were Leaders, but is there a role for Leadership today in the Society of Friends?

Views: 1305

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I believe there is, but I'm often frustrated by those who just sit as if to take a leadership role or even taking the lead in a conversation would somehow be unacceptable.  Humility can be taken to an extreme such that it is counter-productive and is not even humility.  Sometimes I wonder how anything ever gets done.
Last Saturday, George Lakey gave a talk during the William Penn Lecture Series at Arch Street Meeting House. He defined Leadership as taking initiative in relationship. I resonate with this definition.

I have to admit I get cranky about the talk of "leadership" these days. From where I sit there's all of these fascinating next-generation, D.I.Y. projects happening that very much embody a more relational approach. is one, obviously, yet when I came to talk to Phila YM interim meeting a few months ago, few people bothered to stick around. Understanding the new leadership and communications styles is really important for Quaker orgs yet it all stays bizarrely under the radar and ignorable. 

So yes there's a role for leaders, but much of it has had to happen independently or in the shadows of established Quaker orgs. I was a staffer at FGC and Friends Journal and a rep on PYM Interim Meeting when I started QuakerQuaker, yet it was obvious that none of them could sponsor it and there was little chance of getting funds or support from established Quaker foundations. Five-plus years later, only one of the three has engaged in any collaborations (Friends Journal co-sponsors the Quaker Ad Network). 

In the last few months three new Quaker heads have been appointed that have some connection with Quaker blogging and new-style organizing. It will be interesting to see how discussion of leadership change with that generational shift.

At this point I assume PYM will be the last bastion of invisibility. It's really depressing that the three headlining speakers for yearly meeting sessions on leadership are all executive heads of organizations--implying that leadership is a matter of staff management and fundraising. I'm sure they'll all have interesting things to say, but to focus on only one kind of leadership (paid, institutional, diplomatic) misses so much of the most exciting stuff that's happening--at the volunteer committee level, with emerging ministers and all of the D.I.Y. Quaker projects out there. I'll continue to keep a cautious distance from the institution of PYM until I see its corporate culture start to open up. (As feedback: this is why I haven't applied for a communications job for which I'd be very qualified.) 

It might be good to have a future QuakerQuaker blog carnival on leadership--to focus on the emerging collaborative culture. I should put it on the list.

Martin - Your points are very well taken, which is why I love George's definition of Leadership, as taking initiative in relationship. To take initiative, one does not need to be the chief staff person of any organization. Rather, to take initiative, one only needs the courage to listen to the spirit and follow where it might lead. And, I completely agree that the discussion of leadership will change with a generational shift from a top-down approach to an organic, matrixed approach.

Hi Lola, cool. You know there's a bit of George Lakey DNA in QuakerQuaker, as I started my career at New Society Publishers and imbibed the MNS style. Some of the assumptions this site have clear MNS influences.


I floated the idea of a leadership focus for the April QuakerQuaker Carnival out to the editorial board and there seems to be a lot of interest so we'll probably go with that. More opportunity to talk about matrixes! :)

There are always going to be situations when one person or a group of people need to take the responsibility of directing people towards a common goal. This does not conflict with everyone having access to the inner light as I see it as long as the leader/s are not considered better than those they lead.


Say we are 5 people who want to build a bird house, it is natural that if I am the only one who has built a bird house before that I explain the process and guide the people in the group when we make the bird house. I will need to make decisions without their input sometimes because they simply lack the knowledge of how to make a bird house and their input at this time is not as constructive as mine until they have learned. The second time we build a bird house I might still need to help them a bit but I have given up some of my power by sharing my knowledge the first time. The third time we build a bird house all of us can make them on our own and perhaps each person in the original group could now teach 5 new people.


If leadership is used responsibly and is not confined to just one small group of people and if we do not make people who in certain situations can lead into better people I see no contradition in us all having the inner light and the situations where we need to be lead or lead.


Being a teacher I want my students to leave my class and have no need for me anymore and then go on and use the knowledge they have gained from me to do good in their life and in others and I think that good leadership leads to this in any situation. I think that hierarchy is evil but we humans seem to make them all the time so we have to know how to handle them. If you see your place in the hierarchy and take responsibilty for how your actions affect people you can be a good leader and still respect the access to inner light of yourself and the others. The higher up in a hierarchy you are the more potential to hurt someone's inner light there is. Power over other people are always corrupting you, but you can work against the corruption within yourself and thereby promote the inner light of other people. I think that if you come to a point when you can no longer work against the corruption within you need to give room to someone else or risk your spiritual health and in that case the connection to god is always more important than power in my view. As long as we have strong awareness of how potentially harmful power over others is we can keep our balance and not step over to the side where we control others because we can. 

I see leadership as one of the gifts of the Spirit.


Where the challenge lies is when there are those of us who have the gift in spades, we sometimes have to learn the discipline of handing over leadership roles and responsibilities to those who are still needing to learn and develop their gift.

One of my ways I am learning this is by playing bass trombone in a brass band - this is a musical instrument that almost always plays harmony or provides the beat in a non-percussion sense. I find great joy in the experience, and this is encouraging me to realise that I don't always have to lead.

Leaders are also often activists, and sometimes us activists jump in before discerning if the task at hand really is a leading of the Divine. Learning discernment is a big task for those of us who show the gifts of leadership


In peace



Good morning from Western Australia, Friends.


This discussion has made me reflect on how the Society seems to be here (caveat - I'm not yet formally involved in 'corporate' Qs, so this is a view from the outside looking in). There is, for example, ongoing discussion about laying down of committees, and constant encouragement in newsletters and such for additional Friends to involve with long-standing concerns; and an ageing membership of committed Qs who have less energy than they did for action.


Alongside this is the Australia-wide phenomenon of something like a Q-base of 1500 members and 1500 attenders. (Yes, we're a small group.) But the point of this statistic is that many of these attenders are long-term attenders and that says something about I'm not quite sure what - it's different for everyone I suppose. Is it lack of commitment? Or lack of confidence? Or lack of ability/willingness to balance Q stuff with other life/time commitments? Or a (very Australian) notion that membership of anything implies authority and we don't like that?


Anyway. To me that suggests that about HALF of those who identify with Qs are choosing not to engage fully and it's here that for me the issue of leadership conflates with the issue of responsibility. What happens if we do (or don't) accept that personal responsibility for our inner relationship with God AND our outer relationship with the wider Q and non-Q world is also about leadership in all sense of the word (ie where 'leadings' fit in)?


Is it to do with definitions? An ancient Quakerly anti-authoritarian thing kicks in in response to 'leadership'? But use the word 'responsibility' and the effect is different, though the end result - looking to where we can best serve and being active in that role - may be the same.


So, I am also thinking that Leadership means being willing to listen to spirit and follow the leadings of that spirit, even when it contradicts conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom in George Fox's day said to follow the teachers and priests of the Church of England, but George listened to the 'still, small voice within' that offered a direct relationship with the Divine. What does it take for me to have the courage to listen to my own 'still, small voice within', particularly when it goes against the conventional wisdom of our time? This type of leadership takes courage, and I wonder how courageous I am willing to be?  Hmmm . . . something for me to ponder . . . .

Make sure you get some rest and leave some prayer time--I'm sure you'll have opportunity to exercise these questions tomorrow. I'll be holding you and the rest of PYM in my prayers (I have a prior engagement with my 7yo's cub scout troop, alas).

leadership in some interpretations of quakerism is somewhat anarchistic, because the idea is that we are all to be followers, rather than leaders. having said that, there is obviously a necessity for trailblazers, because without someone to take an initiative, spirit-led but unexpected leadings sometimes languish.

this is important, because all leadings begin with an individual's perception of what god would have that individual do. if other friends share that leading and are led to support or join it, it becomes a corporate goal.

but the individual leading is where it all starts, and that person may or may not be a "leader" in any other sense of the word.

A former Pendle Hill teacher pointed out to me that Pendle Hill is not under the care of any Quaker Meeting. There's a daily meeting for worship, but none of the Quaker organizational structure.

She felt this was a defect. I saw it as the only way Pendle Hill could ever have been organized-- that only a group of individuals working outside a Meeting structure, recognizing a need and their own leading to answer it, could have mustered the necessary vision, coherence of intention, and willingness to risk controversy.

If I am correct in this-- It points to a major defect in the customary practice of Quaker business. One I've had great difficulty trying to articulate...

Samuel Bownas, on his return to England (early 1700's) talked with some people about what he considered a deadening of the spirit in some Meetings there ... and one informant attributed this to "the leaven of the Pharisees," which "was always hurtful to the life of religion in all shapes."

Where Jesus referred to some Pharisees as "hypocrites" [~'actors'] I don't think he was necessarily questioning their sincerity, as we would intend by that term.  When a practice of religion becomes too much focused on the externals, it's ripe to be hijacked: people's 'egoic minds', fears, habits, personal antagonisms, hurt feelings, etc etc turning that religion into "what we can all agree on" rather than 'What truth would we cop to if we looked at things straight on?'

Our need to cling to the formalities we call "Quaker process" are a sign that the true Quaker process, alignment with the Spirit of truth and love, has proved too hard for now...

Reply to Discussion


Support Us

Did you know that QuakerQuaker is 100% reader supported? If you think this kind of outreach and conversation is important, please support it with a monthly subscription or one-time gift.

You can also make a one-time donation.

Latest Activity

Robert Kirchner posted a discussion

Looking for a reference

There's a story I once came across about an early Friend, and I can't remember which one, or where…See More
11 hours ago
Keith Saylor posted a blog post

The Impulse of Immanent Being

There is a way of being, consciousness, or self-awareness that is innate in human beings and which…See More
4th day (Wed)
Noah Merrill updated their profile
8th month 17
Kirby Urner posted a video

A Pensive Cowboy

Another American sounding off on various issues. Stetson hat.
8th month 17
Anne Marie Hutchinson shared Mike Shell's discussion on Facebook
8th month 15
Paulette Meier updated their profile
8th month 13
Paulette Meier liked Anne Marie Hutchinson's blog post A Japanese Filmmaker’s Perspective on Filming a Quaker Blessing for the Urakami Cathedral Cross
8th month 13
Mike Shell replied to Mike Shell's discussion 'Facing hostile nationalism: Quakers in Nazi Germany and now'
"Thanks for the question, Keith. Yes, I wrote these words, though they were approved by the other…"
8th month 12

© 2019   Created by QuakerQuaker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service