Socially Responsible Magic: What Defines Good Leadership?

Socially Responsible Magic: What Defines Good Leadership? October 1, 2014


I’ve always liked the line from Spider-man: “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility.” There’s a lot of truth to that axiom. In several responses to my previous post about Big Name Pagans, commenters made the point that if someone has influence, they need to recognize the responsibility that comes with that influence. I agree with their stance. When you have influence, it’s important not to let it go to your head and to also acknowledge that you have a responsibility to use that influence wisely. That recognition can only come from within you. While the communities you are part of can scrutinize your behavior and call you on your actions, it’s ultimately up to each person to recognize the responsibility they have for their choices. In a recent interview on Pagan Musings Podcast, we discussed the topic of leadership and BNPs at further length, particularly the difference between fame and leadership.

When you are in a position of leadership, this becomes even more important, because people look to a leader for guidance, advice, and direction. I don’t know of any Pagan community that doesn’t have some type of leadership. Even without declared leaders, the spiritual structure of a tradition can create a leadership dynamic. People who occupy such roles necessarily need to be working for the good of the community that they are part of. Unfortunately, we have examples of people in positions of leadership (both in and out of the Pagan community) who have misused their authority. But there are also good examples of people who’ve used the authority vested in them responsibly.

If you are a leader in the Pagan community, it’s important to ask yourself what that really means to the community and to yourself. For example, let’s consider what a leader in the Pagan community is. A leader in such a community may or may not be elected, but is typically is in a spiritual role and/or helping to run a community space. This person might help to organize a festival or conference as well as other community events. Sometimes this person may be a BNP to the larger Pagan community. This doesn’t provide a definition of leadership, though; all I’ve really defined here is that a leader is someone who shows up for a leadership role. We still don’t know what that leadership means to that person, both in the context of his/her sense of self and in the context of the community. To define leadership necessarily requires something more than just looking at the activities that involve leadership.

So what defines leadership? The following are my own ideas on what makes good leadership.

  • Responsibility is a trait all leaders should have. Responsibility can involve the ability to follow through on promises, but I think it goes much deeper than that. A leader recognizes the need to be responsible for their own thoughts and actions, which means understanding the potential consequences for their choices. They recognize their influence and understand the need to be responsible for it, especially when it comes to how people in the community will respond. The leader also feels responsible to the community, recognizing that what s/he does in the community is scrutinized and observed.
  • Humility is what keeps the leader grounded. The leader may have people who try to put them on a pedestal, but a good leader insists on getting rid of the pedestal and making sure that people treat him/her in the same way they’d treat anyone else. The leader understands the importance of keeping grounded by being humble, acknowledging that people look to the leader because of the role, not so much because of the person in and of him/herself. A person who is a leader also has people who will call out any inappropriate behavior and make sure that the leader is grounded in reality.
  • Caring is an important aspect of leader. A person who is going to lead a community should care about the community as opposed to just caring about certain people in it. A leader wants the best for the community and is there for people in the community that are in need.
  • The leader is aware of and honors the boundaries of other people. At the same time, the leader is aware of his/her own boundaries and is able to express them in a respectful manner. The leader also helps the community define boundaries and appropriate behavior at community events and makes sure that those boundaries and behaviors are observed.
  • The leader is objective. Being objective means being able to be impartial, when needed, for situations that call for it. The leader doesn’t take sides and if s/he is taking sides, recognizes it and brings someone else in who can be objective.
  • The leader is open-minded, willing to consider the world from multiple perspectives and actively seeking to encourage such perspectives in him/herself as well as others. The leader recognizes that the cultivation of multiple perspectives can help him/her see different situations from a multitude of angles.

There are undoubtedly other traits that also define a good leader (feel free to share some below). It may seem like some of these traits are hard to implement. However, I think a good leader does the best s/he can to implement these traits and live them. And while such work isn’t always easy, its necessary for any person who would be in a position of leadership within their own community or the Pagan community at large.

Socially Responsible Magic is published on alternate Wednesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

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