January 30th, 2023
Leadership, Part 1
I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately. It sounds trite and cliche to say there are leaders and there are followers, because that isn't quite it. There are people that do lead, naturally, and well. There are people that lead through bullying and domination. There are people that think they are leaders, but hide behind the pretense of busy-ness and important-ness. There are also those that are naturally charismatic, and some sense of leadership just happens because that is how our society tends to work.
I think many of us work with people with some sense of intuition. I know at 55 years old, I can gauge a person within a few minutes, and rarely am I wrong. What we call our intuition is based on thousands of minutes and hours of our life experiences, culminating in an innate understanding of a persons behaviors and likely behaviors based on body language, verbal cues, choice of words, attitudes, and how they interact with others. Leadership, I think, takes those experiences of social cues and human behaviors, and works to identify and leverage the strengths of those we are working with, to attain a result through a common goal. Leadership is not so hard in a space of people of all of the same backgrounds and experiences - and goals. The problems happen when there are individuals with different experiences that impact how they interact and work with others, when there are individuals with their own agendas, and when there are individuals who are dominating, aggressive, manipulative, or who rock the boat when their personal power issues and struggles impact a group. We all know what it is like to work with someone that dominates rather than collaborates, who bullies or forces rather than communicates, or who attacks and belittles others rather than working together and lifting people up. Many people also confuse pushing papers and doing office tasks with leadership. They are two distinctly different things, and leaders must have skills beyond organizing papers and making spreadsheets. Leadership requires trust, collaboration, vision, respect for others, and, that intuition of experience. Leadership is not a solo endeavor or about the one, but about the many.
So, what does this have to do with growing, permaculture, herbalism, and community action? So often we see leaders in this community who don't have good leadership qualities, who do not inspire or lead by example and don't collaborate. We see people who are considered experts who are abusive and who harm others. Many of us are educated in facts of our industries, but not in human interaction, community building, developing collaborative environments, or leadership. But I think we should be.
In Permaculture, we work within the concept of Social Permaculture, which includes areas such as egalitarian leadership, building communities, right livelihood, reciprocity, and re-imagining social structures and societies. To do all of that, we have to look to leadership as a piece in the collaborative puzzle, guiding, mentoring, supporting, and engaging, instead of dominating, overseeing, forcing, and bossing. In permaculture we look to the ecological principles to guide how we understand the world around us, and create communities that work. In this model leadership is not about lording over, but playing a role in the success of an entire community (or family or workplace or group or school or event). It is about understanding different learning styles, different communication styles, and the needs of the whole. In our actions, as in permaculture, we look to REGENERATIVE practices, which includes human interactions. In sustainable practices we only maintain the status quo, but in regenerative practices, we improve and grow, and create a better system than existed when we started. In permaculture that might mean we reduce plastic or compost or divert waste into resources. In communities we might practice kindness, value knowledge over material wealth, look to collaborative groups rather than hierarchical structures to create a movement. Creating strong teams and partnerships that build resilience, belonging, community, and right relationships, builds forward supporting all involved.
Some might think the concept of leadership at all, especially in non hierarchical collaborate groups seems hypocritical. But leadership does not mean a singular person dominating in a top down way, and leadership can be a collaborative group dynamic of shared responsibilities and mentorship using regenerative practices and philosophies to create dynamic working relationships and community minded models. In the methodology The Art of Hosting, they break it down and remove the word leader completely, just calling people hosts. With any group of humans working together, we have to form some kind of agreement and consensus to move forward and grow/proceed. Traditional top down leadership forces a dynamic and power structure that reinforces a lot of our societal norms, whereas
The Art of Hosting is described as “an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges.”
While tossing out the old and bringing in the new paradigms can help people overcome some of the power struggles of hierarchy, leadership still happens in a group dynamic, in encouraging others to listen, to show respect, to take turns, to concede and debate fairly and consistently, and I think we can keep the word if we rethink and restructure how we approach it. To develop new leaders in our communities that are collaborative and regenerative minded is important. To form new regenerative leadership systems that drive our schools, organizations, clubs, groups, and communities, could create communities that work better together, reduce conflict and power struggles, and create a more sustainable future.
One book I have been reading is The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander. My husband recently picked it up because it is being used in software engineering. When I told him it has been in the permaculture community for a few decades, he looked at me like I was crazy. After all, what does architecture and systems have to do with permaculture. But patterns, order, communities, and symmetry in the whole is as much about philosophy and community and leadership as it is about ... buildings. I hope to share more about that book, and others, as I have been working through a big stack of reading.
We define organic order as the kind of order that is achieved when there is a perfect balance between the needs of the parts, and the needs of the whole." ~Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building
I hope to continue this thread, to talk more about leadership and collaborative environments, and building better teams. Permaculture principles extend to leadership, community building, relationships, teamwork, and regenerative processes. By talking about this, thinking about it, and creating new systems, we can create the work and life environments that are better for everyone.
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I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, certified permaculture designer (PDC), organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two young adults in south central Wisconsin.