The Garden | What does a leader do?

I’m doing some slow and challenging work around deconstructing Little Red Tarot and looking at how it can embody feminist, anticapitalist and anti-oppressive principles. It’s taking time, and it’s helpful for me to brain-dump from time to time. This My Business is a Garden tag is where I’m doing that.

It is also deeply important to me to be transparent – I know there are many other business owners and/or community leaders out there who are also feeling their way through this work. It is experimental, challenging and powerful. If you read these pieces, please take them as works in progress rather than conclusions or statements.

What does a leader do?

Because it’s not about soapboxes. It’s not about having perfect answers. It’s not about holding the mic and speaking for everyone and always, magically knowing the One Right Way.

Leadership is an ongoing practice of humility. Of service.

Defining what healthy, effective leadership looks like is a core part of the visioning work I’m doing right now. As far as I can see (so far), looking at the leaders I admire, feeling into my own decision-making practices, observing how folks show up (or don’t) and how change happens within communities, I see that an effective leader:

Listens

Asks for help

Consults with their community

Confronts what is happening

Emphasises and brings focus to community values

Acts in alignment with community values

Safely holds space for different and intersecting truths

Facilitates or provides appropriate, safe containers for discussion

Prioritises the safety of the community

Tells the truth

Makes mistakes – then discusses and learns from them

Is transparent and open

Is socially aware and conscious

Understands when to hold the mic and when to pass it

Understands their own intersecting privileges and power, and the implications of these within the community and in the wider world

Practices authentic allyship.


This work takes place in community. Not one of these ideas is mine and I do not claim ownership of these ideas when I post them here. I am inspired, guided and/or supported in this work by numerous people and programmes, including but not limited to adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, Jennifer Armbrust‘s project, Sister, Desiree Adaway‘s Freedom School programme, and Tada Hozumi‘s work on the cultural nervous system. I am also inspired, guided and/or supported by a huge number of folks who are part of or in relationship with our beloved and complex witchy/queer community. 

I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.

I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.

9 comments

  1. Nico says:

    Thank you very much for this list, Beth, I agree with most of the points. I’d like to add that it might be that the community you lead does not agree. This is what I’m learning the hard way at the moment in my job. The team I’m responsible for is not ready to help, they deny what’s happening and are not open, they think a lot of my values to be rubbish and I don’t want to share some of their values, they don’t accept different truths, and are not interested in honest, safe discussion, they don’t want to get tasks delegated to them but want close control and rigour (I don’t exaggerate). I’m dealing with this for a year now and I’ll leave as soon as possible because I’m not ready to lead under such circumstances. I’d never thought that there are people who decline a leadership like the one you describe, but obviously there are. It’s not only difficult to find a good leader but also a good community to lead…

    • Nico that sounds extremely sad and frustrating.. I think ideally a person or group of people join a community by choice, and by alignment, and sadly that doesn’t always happen in a place of work.. Good luck with your future choices about remaining or leaving!

    • Beth says:

      Ouch, Nico. Sounds like a good move to take your skills elsewhere 🙂

      It raises an interesting thing about the difference between leaders who are ‘officially appointed’, eg in a work capacity, vs those who kinda ’emerge’ in a community-supported way, eg within movements. In the first, there needs to be an explicit checking that values are aligned, otherwise how can a person lead – if values are different, it can’t truly work. It’s too often the case in a work environment, I think – I’ve certainly been in a team with a leader where I don’t support their values (or in some cases don’t know what they are – that’s not good leadership!) In the second instance it is more likely (but def not a given!) that values will be aligned, as the community are kinda identifying and supporting the leader’s emergence. oh – then there are also the leaders who appoint themselves, declare their values and see who wants to come along!

      • Nico says:

        Thank you to the two Beths for your support 😉 It has been quite a difficult time for me and I’ve learned a lot about leadership. I’m looking forward to a better future with more space for my values of serving and to make a positive difference that is appreciated.

  2. I LOVE your list Beth! Its literally the best description of a leader.. I used to think the role of leader was terrifying and ghastly, and something id not want the smallest thing to do with. I have been feeling different recently, and your post is an inspiring and deeply encouraging start on what it could be to lead… Fabulous 🙂

    • Beth says:

      Beth I totally relate. Years ago when I was grappling with something big (and value related) in a community group I was part of, my all-time hero said to me “don’t be afraid of leadership. Everyone is scared of leadership, but it is a wonderful word.” – at the time I didn’t get it, didn’t step up, and left the group. Afraid to take a stand. But her words always stuck with me, and its only now I’m starting to think about what she meant. It’s exciting, intimidating and humbling to think about the great leaders I know, and how they operate.

      And one thing they all have in common is: they’re polarising! I cannot think of a single one who is universally loved.

  3. Reba says:

    Hi Beth,

    I’m hugely appreciating your deep-dive into exploring how to embed Little Red Tarot within a culture of feminist, non-capitalist, non-oppressive ways of being (I think of these things collectively as ‘a culture of nonviolence), and especially valuing your transparency in sharing your explorations with the community, which I too see as a core component of nonviolent leadership. I also see speaking from a place of one’s vision/what one longs for in the world or any given specific context rather than speaking only of what is not wanted (which of course holds within in it a vision and desire unarticulated) as part of the role of leadership, and so I also want to acknowledge and celebrate your doing that here.

    My nonviolence mentor, Miki Kashtan, talks about leadership as being about taking responsibility for the wellbeing of the whole, of considering the needs of all people involved. You might find richness for your journey in Miki’s work — they blog at thefearlessheart.org, and have two books on the subject of living nonviolence on a personal and societal level: Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness, and Reweaving Our Human Fabric. The latter you might find particularly relevant to your visioning. One of my favourite things about that book is that it includes twelve short stories set in an imagined future world where we have collectively shifted into nonviolent ways of being, centred around tending to the needs/wellbeing of every single person. These stories totally transported me into the felt sense of what that world could be like, and how incredibly possible it appears to me to be.

    With love & warmth for your journey, from a fellow traveler <3

    • Beth says:

      Thank you for this response Reba. It felt quite scary to publish this piece if I’m honest, and I’m finding these comments are helping me to breathe easier.

      It is hard to speak of what is wanted when there is so much to say about what is not wanted! Both are so important.

      I appreciate your focus on community and collective shift. It has to be, in order to change anything. And I believe there are lots of ways. What we need are clearly defined spaces where each of us can go to be in community and practice what resonates for us. And this won’t be the same for everyone. There has to be space for disagreement within the movement, there has to be space for some to try one thing, and some to try a different way, and for us all to learn from each other, understanding that we are in movement together.

      I have actually not had much contact with the explicitly nonviolent movement (including NVC, which I see Miki Kashtan champions. I haven’t explored NVC myself, but have heard mixed stuff – from wild enthusiasm to strong critique – at some point I will need to explore, will check out her book!) That said, I am seeing more and more how the values I’m guided by are part of nonviolent culture.

      I’m realising that ‘nonviolence’ is a word for what I want to try within the container that is LRT, insofar as I can ‘control’ it. I don’t want to police or judge responses to (for example) systemic or state violence in the wider world, and I definitely do not intend to tell a community under attack what tools they can or can’t use to fight fight for justice.

      This is not about preaching, but about creating a safe container here within LRT. At this stage I want to cultivate compassion and accountability as a culture within this space, and see what we can learn as we show up and do that together. Trusting that, whilst all folks here carry the socialisation of a violent world within ourselves, this is a space we can unlearn that and begin to practice different ways that don’t replicate the violence of the system.

      I think I am learning how to be a pacifist, what pacifism and nonviolence actually mean, and trying to get there slowly and intentionally, rather than leaping there easily via my privilege, if that makes sense.

  4. Roger says:

    Hi Beth, this is great and such a valuable contribution. Thanks for posting your process and having the courage to do so. This subject is dear to my heart having lived in intentional non violent and progressive communities and for me is something I’m valuing in the LRT space. Love Rog

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