I have served as a “leader” since I was a small child. My first memory of leading anything was in first grade. The Elementary School was undergoing construction. The tree that grew outside of the first grade classrooms was scheduled for removal. My friends and I were heartbroken and vowed to save the tree. We organized our classmates and started collecting names for a petition to save the tree at recess. Despite the names we collected the construction was too far along to change. So, I helped organize a fundraiser of selling “tree” themed crafts and bake goods. We raised enough money to buy two new trees to replace the tree cut down, seeds for the time capsule, and a little left over. When the construction was finally complete, we planted the trees outside the new first grade rooms.
Early leadership activities came naturally to me as I served as an officer in 4-H. In high school I served in other organizations such as: FFA, Student Council, Forensics, Science Club, and more. These experiences allowed me to gather a host of skills and connections that I’ve been able to build on to work in community development through college and into my communities today.
In 2014, I served as the co-chair of a group of neighbors designing and creating a new community garden. We had to write a handbook and create policies. We built raised beds and carried 13 tons of soil, by hand, to fill those beds. We’ve dealt with theft, neighborhood concerns, and county wide change in how the government works with community gardens. It’s a beautiful space, one in which I’ve met some dear friends and created a home in.
This year I’ve also served as a leader in a second community garden. It’s a different space with different challenges. Despite all the work and the hard times, I wouldn’t change my role at all. Leadership is the best place for me to help bring new ideas to life and to engage with my community.
I also spend a great deal of time as a leader convincing other awesome people to step up and become leaders themselves. I’m shocked that some people don’t realize the skills and gifts that they have laying in wait that would lend themselves to being fantastic leaders. In community gardens we struggle to find people able and willing to be leaders and burn out for those who are serving as leaders. The community gardens that focus on rotating leaders through, allowing new people to try their ideas out and pass their knowledge on, are the strongest gardens. Gardens are collective units functioning independently for most things. Leadership is still needed to keep things running and to pay the water bills. It’s a position that creates space for talented people to express themselves in new ways as well. Still the struggle exists to get leaders to serve.
The Pagan community also suffers from leadership woes. Many Pagans scoff at the very idea of having leaders (my video response to that here). Every community needs leaders no matter how small or large the role needs to be for that community. But many Pagans do not feel qualified or as if they deserve to be a leader. Getting talented Pagans to step up as leaders either online or in person can be like pulling teeth. Luckily, we the leaders we do have are usually wonderful people who serve gracefully. There are also those who claim the leader mantle while being complete dicks. I just think that there are more leadership positions needed than there are positions filled by the awful people.
So, if you are beginning to feel called to be a leader in whatever community you claim here are a few things to consider:
- You have talents. You do! You’re actually probably pretty incredible in ways that no one else around you is. What gifts and talents do you bring to your community? Work from these areas first. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. The more diverse your leadership is, the stronger your community IMO.
- What projects or ideas do you have for your community? Often these ideas will address the problems or concerns that many people share in your community.
- Who are your allies? What people do you love to chat with, bounce ideas off of, and gain perspective from. These will be members of your community and those outside of your community. Acknowledging these people as the assets in your life can help you feel empowered to reach out to them when you need help.
- How do you communicate? If the community needs someone to run the newsletter but you hate writing, can’t stand emailing or mailing things out, and hold no interest in the project, this is not the leadership role for you. Find the projects and roles that lend themselves to the communication styles that you thrive with. Be aware that you will need to communicate with people who might not share your style. Be flexible but conscientious of your strengths.
- There are parts of leadership that will terrify you. I still face roles and projects that overwhelm me. These are the areas that will stretch you and push you to grow. Do not fear and avoid these things. Do set yourself up to succeed by acknowledging what you will need the most help with and surrounding yourself with the tools that will make things run smoother.
- START. Today is as good of day as any to volunteer for something. Speak up, step up, and take the leap to bring your awesomeness to your community in a beautiful, new way. There is never the perfect day or project for you to start. Sometimes there are signs that this is a good idea. Sometimes the universe is silent. Just get started, today.