How would you describe your leadership skills?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

It’s necessary for me to think of myself as a leader, and simultaneously, it’s not a very comfortable mantle for me to wear in some ways. Many Quakers wrestle with the role of leadership in an egalitarian society, and I do as well in some ways. I also recognize that different people, at different junctures, are asked to carry particular messages and to complete particular tasks. At this time in my life, I have a particular piece to carry. First and foremost, recognizing that I am not the only leader in this equation. This is a huge group effort and there are many people who play really pivotal roles. Part of my role as a leader is to find, recognize, and empower other people who are leading, and to try and put them in a position to succeed. I look at my position as a facilitative position; my role is to find and acquire resources and put them at the disposal of people who can get it done. A good leader is one who listens. I think that is a very interesting piece especially in a Quaker organization, because listening is so core to our spiritual practice. It’s a key skill, because if you’re not listening, you won’t be leading anything. Listening is critical in order to understand where people really want to go. What is it that they’re hoping for, what are their aspirations, and what are the things they have at their disposal that can help fulfill those aspirations? Sometimes it’s almost like a naming of gifts in ministry, helping people realize what it is that they have already in their own skill set, their own resources, that they can bring to this. Working for a Quaker organization is fascinating, because we believe in ongoing revelation, and we also believe in really thorough planning. I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive.We’re now living in an age where a lot of corporations have shifted: they really don’t do five-year plans, for the most part, especially tech firms. They’re working more along the lines of what some would call “dynamic steering.” You do a little bit and then you adjust, do a little bit, adjust. We’re coming into an era where we absolutely have to keep our eye on the long-term goal and mission, but we need to be much more iterative, much more experimental. Part of my role as leader is to bring some of that structural thinking to the question of how to restructure an organization to be experimental instead of only long-term-planning based.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

Let me just define leadership overall, and I think I fit this. I think a leader is someone who is willing to stand up and speak, and stand up and listen, and/but to really occupy a space and be present for something. In that regard, it doesn’t have to be leadership of an organization or of an entity; it can be in our own right. There’s a certain ground that you hold and a presence that you convey. I think with regard to how I lead the organization, I try to be collaborative, certainly with the management team, the leadership team here at FCNL, so there’s a certain collaborative nature to it with the executive committee. I try to be clear about boundaries: what’s my work versus what’s the policy, what’s the board of governors’ work versus what’s my associates’ work-and I expect that back from them. I try to have clear expectations. A leader has to have some vision for where, in this case, an organization should go.

With a Quaker organization, because we are a community, it has to be a community. It can’t be a single person’s vision. I think a person can offer real ideas and a forward-leaning approach to the work, but I think you have to be really aware of the grounding and the backing that surround. I am constantly learning and being reminded that because of the role that I have here, what I say and do has an effect that it wouldn’t have if I wasn’t in this role. That’s an interesting place to be. I try to be cognizant of that and respectful of it, which means I have to sometimes not say what I want to say. Because it is different being the head of a Quaker organization than it is being a member of a Quaker meeting.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

Collaborative. Open to change. Relationship-oriented. My leadership style tries to say as many possible “yeses” so that on those occasions when I have to say “no,” it does not feel arbitrary. I don’t feel like I have a permissive leadership style, but I have an accepting style; accepting of what is, accepting of style differences. I have a desire to maximize the range of gifts and differences of personality and work style among the many people that contribute to the organization, while minimizing anything that comes up as a roadblock that doesn’t have to be there. I think it’s my job to help the community set strategy and vision, make sure all these talented staff people are clear on their roles, then just rove the landscape, scan for detritus, and get prohibitive factors out of the way so that everyone can make good use of their gifts and achieve shared goals.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

The way I manage people is to look at what their gifts are and what they have to offer, and provide them resources or to help them over barriers but let them do their work. Most people are highly motivated. In the office, we have a clear sense of what we’re there for. People love to come into the office; it’s a really lovely environment – a bright space, windows that open, pictures on the wall from around the world, beautiful and colorful. There’s a good energy.  I think that’s important, to provide the space to greet people. I love when we have guests and visitors.

What’s important in leadership, especially in Quaker organizations, is to offer some ideas, some structure, some ways to consider things; but it’s not my decision whether any change goes through. I’m just the servant, and do my best to offer what I think would be best for the organization. But then I let it go. It’s about gathering people and giving them a voice.

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

I see myself as a communicator-in-chief, and I think one of my gifts is being able to perceive something and say what I see. Communications is at the core of what we do as an organization, trying to make things clear so people learn something. Modeling speaking and writing really clearly, and having alignment with what I believe and what I say, being really consistent-that’s important. One of the things the coach taught me was that it’s important to model. When you’re the leader of an organization, everybody looks at you for cues as to what you care about and what you think is important. Those cues might be ones you’re consciously or unconsciously sending. It’s important that you recognize those, and that you consciously communicate the right things with how you’re carrying yourself, the way that you communicate in body language, energy level, the way that you write and speak. All of those things are sending the signals that people need to understand. They’re not necessarily going to be asking you what you think about something all the time; they’re going to try to read what’s important.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

I have really high expectations, and everyone knows that-but I’m also very collaborative. There’s not a lot that I feel like “has to be done this way.” I’m very open to other people saying, “I think we should try this or try that,” and I usually say, “Yeah let’s try that out,” “Sounds good,” or “Let’s talk about how to make that work.” I definitely like to make decisions by talking through them with several people, whether it’s the board or the staff. At the end of the day, I might be the one making some of the larger decisions, but I hope and I think everyone would say that it’s mostly a very collaborative team process where everyone brings different skills and gifts. I like to find ways to encourage someone to bring what they’re really excited about into QVS and that makes us as an organization who we are. We are different, because of this person working for us than we were before that person came. Everyone’s individual passions, leadings, and skills really influence the organization, partly because we’re so small and partly because that’s how I want it to be.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

My mom used to say to me that I can’t charm my way through life. And I used to say back to her, because I was a smart-ass, “Yes I can.” I learned pretty quickly that she’s right, and she’s wrong. I’m good at making people feel like equal partners in our enterprises, and if there are times when we’re not equal partners, then I’m clear about that. When an organization that I work in has a big decision to make, I very rarely make it by myself. I always do so in partnership with others. I hope, although I’ve never asked anyone this directly, but that part of my leadership style is trying to “walk cheerfully over the earth, answering to that of God in everyone,” which means that I feel very open to the idea that I don’t have all the answers. I think if you have that disposition that feels you can answer every question, you’re in big trouble. I like to think of myself as collegial, a good team member. I’ll stand in front of you if needed, or I’ll stand in front of the team if needed, and I’ll be as direct as possible.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

Early on in my presidency I wrote a two-page thing, which I used subsequently and then revised a little bit: a kind of outline to talk through with potential and current members of the senior staff what it’s like to work with me, what I expect, and how I do things. One of the things it says is there are big differences between three modes of work: planning, deciding, and operating. You always need to know which of those three you’re involved in. People tend to smush them together. Lots of times at Earlham, students and sometimes faculty would get upset that something wasn’t “done in a Quaker way,” by which they were saying something like “I didn’t know that this was going to be done and I don’t like it-so it must be wrong because we do everything by consensus.” Well, it’s in the middle layer of deciding, where we’re policy-making or direction setting that we need waiting worship to guide us, and we need to be careful to think through whose responsibility it is to gather in waiting worship to make that kind of decision. Planning is a much more playful open textured work. You don’t have to do that through Quaker meeting, you can do that lots of ways. I was both a planner and somebody who likes data. I needed to teach, and I needed to find lots of ways to be with students. Some of them worked better than others, but every year I was there I spent a lot of time thinking- what’s my approach, given that I’m not going to spend every minute of every day out among students. What are the ways I can plunge into the student body-write a column in the newspaper, perform in the air guitar competition? What am I going to do this year that gets me some sense of Earlham students?

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

Relational. I like the image of, “You lead from the front and you call people forward, you lead from the back and you kinda push people along,” I like the idea of leading from the middle, that it’s done relationally, and whatever vision emerges from the community actually emerges from the community; I might have a sense, a piece of what our vision is, but it’s also evoked from talking to people and asking them to participate and to share in the community’s life together. I think my interest is, “How do you inspire community? How do you invite people?” Thinking about invitational leadership rather than demanding leadership.

For more of Colin’s story, click here


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s