Barry Crossno

Barry Crossno is the General Secretary of Friends General Conference. He is a member of Arch Street Meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) and has served as General Secretary since 2011.

Spiritual Life

Work Life

Advices

Spiritual Life

What faith did you grow up in?

Barry: My mother was raised Methodist and Jewish. Her father was Jewish and would take her to high holy days at Temple. Otherwise, she was playing piano at the Methodist Church. My father was raised Baptist. They married as Episcopalians, and decided that their children should find their own way spiritually, so I did not grow up attending church with any regularity. It was kind of an Easter/Christmas scenario. I found my way to Eastern spiritual practices as a teenager. That’s what most appealed to me at first.

Have you ever left (formally or informally) for a period of time and then come back to it? Tell me a bit about one of those times. What did you learn from that experience in terms of your faith and spiritual life?

Barry: When I first started attending Dallas Monthly meeting, it was very sporadic. A friend took me, because they had been Quaker and thought it might fit for me. What I found was an  intellectual fit, but I didn’t really find a way into the community at first. There wasn’t a big wide bear hug waiting for me when I arrived,so I found myself going very intermittently. It was a period of time when I was starting to have some mystical experiences that I wasn’t quite sure how to process. That was part of this coming to Quakerism. It’s not that I ever left. It’s more like I had a very slow start. My commitment to Quakerism didn’t happen until I moved from Dallas to New Mexico, where I started attending the Taos Worship Group. It was the right time and the right place and the right people for my Quaker practice to finally coalesce. Years later, I moved back to Dallas, and I found an incredibly different experience. I was embraced. My membership process was pretty intensive, but I’m grateful for it. It took me a lot of searching, and I prayed a lot around that time about Quakerism, because in some ways culturally it was a challenge for me, having spent a lot of time in the Buddhist community. What I got back in prayer was: stay the course, become a Friend, this is your path, live into this.

What is important to you now about Quakerism?

Barry: I think a major piece was that I was looking for a spiritual tradition that affirmed gender equality and racial equality. I was looking for a spiritual tradition that affirmed direct access to God as a primary piece. I was also really concerned with having an involvement in a spiritual tradition that was based in progressive witness. I was looking for a tradition that was open to multiple paths to God, which among Quakers I have a found receptivity to. In many ways, I was skeptical of Quakerism. I learned about it in college, while I was at a Catholic university, and it sounded a little too good to be true. I spent a lot of time reading about it. It took me six years between when I heard about Quakerism and when I first attended a meeting, because my experience of western Christian traditions was not what I might have wished. However,  I was grateful to find out, when I started attending, that even though Quakerism has its cultural quirks, its base tenets and its practice lined up pretty well with my experience of God.

What feeds your spiritual life?

Barry: Being in nature is an incredibly important piece. I find being able to walk in the mountains really connects me to Spirit and opens me up. Another big piece for me is being in prayer and worship with other people who are in a very intentional space. I enjoy going to meeting for worship on First Day, and I’ve had some really beautiful openings there. But I have often found that gathering together with just one, two, or three other people, and having a very quiet time of prayer and worship together as a small group, is sometimes a more powerful experience for me. I belong to a spiritual peer group, and I also have an anchor committee. My anchor committee is very important to me in terms of my spiritual accountability practice. I find it’s important to do readings. They vary a great deal as to what they are, and why they are important at any given juncture—but I find that’s important to reconnect me at times. A surprising new piece has actually been watching movies and videos with spiritual content. That’s something I’ve been doing much more, and that’s been interesting.

Do you attend a worship service on a regular basis? What is powerful for you about that worship?

Barry: Given the work of Friends General Conference (FGC), I’m in worship quite a bit, but it varies a great deal as to where it’s happening and with whom. There might be a longer worship that precedes committee meetings, or impromptu worship with donors. Formal worship at my own Meeting is actually more rare than I would like, in part because FGC committee meetings are often on the weekends. So I’m traveling back to Philly often on a Sunday night. Arch Street Meeting has a regular Wednesday night worship that I try to go to occasionally. I found there are anywhere from five to nine of us who are there. So it’s an intimate, quiet experience. I’ve enjoyed that. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to connect with newcomers. Usually there are one or two newcomers every time.

What struggles do you have with being faithful, generally? Where do you find renewal?

Barry: I think in asking the question, “Do you have challenges around being faithful?”, the question for me becomes, faithful to what? I feel like what Spirit has asked of me is multifold; I have been asked to make the Quaker way more visible and accessible for people who are seeking God, the deep well, or whatever you might wish to call it. I have been asked to make a connection between the spiritual practice and the witness that so many Friends are engaged in. In particular, I have a concern with the environment and I feel like I have been asked to engage on that topic. I also feel in that some ways I’ve been asked to witness around the mystical reality of Spirit. So what’s challenging in being faithful to those pieces is, how do you go about doing those things? What does it look like in lived practice? When I became General Secretary, I had a particular vision of how that might look through this position. I also knew that it was going to be service of spirit and the body, and that what I ended up doing might not look like what I’d imagined. Overall, it’s been a little bit of what I expected, and also a number of things I didn’t. The faithfulness piece, for me, is around asking myself, over and over again: is this what it looks like? Am I properly engaged? Am I walking a walk that has a godly outcome, for the benefit of others? One of the challenges of asking that question is the answers aren’t always clear. In particular around making Quaker faith and practice more visible and accessible to seekers—are we actually doing this? I feel it’s important to keep asking questions and really have faith that there’s guidance. That where I need to be and where others need to be will be revealed, and we will walk it together. And maybe at the end of the journey I can look back and say I was faithful.

Work Life

When you were 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Barry: When I was fifteen years old, I wanted to do a few different things. I wanted to be a politician. I wanted to be an industrial designer or design engineer, preferably designing cars. And I wanted to work for a Tibetan Buddhist Lama.

Where did you attend college? What was your major in college?

Barry: I went to the University of Dallas, which is small, Catholic, liberal arts college in Dallas, Texas. I majored in History. I then immediately followed up by going to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in Modern European History.

How would you describe your career path?

Barry: My interest in design has never left me. I’ve really come to rely on what I would consider systems thinking or design thought, because I look at design as being about cohesive systems. It’s very much allied with my interest in history. History is a record, not so much of the past, but of what’s possible in the future. It gives a record of human possibility. The history and design pieces are very much interwoven for me, and so is the spirituality. When I was in graduate school, I worked for a special collections library which took me into a curatorial role part time. I was the assistant to the curator for photographs, and then assistant to the curator for manuscripts. I then jumped to museums and became a fundraiser for the arts. All the while, my love of politics had never subsided, and I found in my late twenties I was exploring a run for county commissioner in Dallas.

However, my life was about to take another detour. I resigned from my fundraising position to start a company, thinking about making this run. I went on a vacation in New Mexico with my then girlfriend, who is still a good friend, and had what I call “the accident.” This is where spirituality and career really started to collide for me. I was in the desert, and I had some sort of health event. Stroke? Heat stroke? Don’t know exactly, but it was life-altering. It was a year’s recovery, punctuated with really severe panic attacks. It really opened an existential can of worms for me. I ended up doing a very unexpected reevaluation of my life, while I was incapacitated. Realizing that, at the time, I didn’t know if I would ever hold down full time work again, whether I would actually ever be fully functional again. It was also a time where I started to have my spiritual openings become much more intense. Mystical experiences were happening more frequently, sometimes in my waking life rather than mostly in dreams as before—and I realized I had to make a massive life change. I went to work for my cousin, and found over time I could hold down a full-time job again. It actually was a really wonderful transition for me, and I am very grateful. He didn’t expect any more of me than I could do as the year was progressing. It allowed me to slowly get back into the world, and it allowed me to use a lot of the skill sets I had built up. That was great until we outran our cash flow and had to let go of the business.  I learned a lot from that experience about judicious growth and planning.  While he very successfully started another company, it was at that juncture that I decided to go to New Mexico to explore the spiritual leadings that were growing in me.

I ended up working for Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and that experience was extremely Spirit-led. When the company went out, I was looking for the next thing to do, and I had gone out to see my best friend Scott Affleck. I had spent a great week with him and was getting ready to go back to Dallas, because I had been admitted to get an MBA at University of Texas, Arlington. Scott looked over at me and said, “Why are you going back?” It was crystal clear in that moment. I thought, I don’t know why I’m going back. I sat there a while longer, and I said, “You know, I’m going back just long enough to get my things together, and I’ll be back.” And he said, “Ok. Let me know what I can do.” I went back to Dallas and started getting my things together. It really felt like Spirit was intervening over and over. Even though I didn’t have a job, I knew I would still leave Texas for New Mexico. I ended up getting a job at the Buddhist Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. That’s when all the various pieces around career and spirituality really started to plug into each other. It’s also when my Quakerism really took root. It was when I was working for Lama that I became a committed Quaker and was receiving a lot of direct guidance from Spirit. This was my path and where I was getting my energy. There was purpose in serving the Dharma at this juncture. Those experiences of serving the Dharma for those four years really set the stage for my walk now as General Secretary.

How did you come to apply to this job?

Barry: I knew that Bruce Birchard was retiring, and the thought had gone through my mind a couple of times, but not seriously. At the time I was in service at Pendle Hill, and was looking. I really thought that I might be moving to North Carolina after that. Then I received a phone call from a member of the search committee, Byron Sanford, and it was a really important call. Byron knew how to engage me, to talk about what matters. I love and appreciate Byron. He asked me if I had considered applying for the position, and I told him that thought had not occurred to me. And… he chose his words carefully. “Your spiritual community needs you to prayerfully consider this.” And I just went,“Oh. Ok.” I really felt taken to accountability by those words, especially by it being Byron. I took it very seriously, and brought it to my Anchor Committee, and we spent two months in discernment around it before I decided to apply. I was not clear that what I was asked to do was best fulfilled through being General Secretary. I really had a thought in mind to try and create what at the time I called a path within the path. I wanted to create a set of practices, to design a form of Quaker practice that was within the FGC tradition, but for people who were wanting a more intensive spiritual experience. Something that would be relatively transformative, pack in, very front loaded, very much in the tradition of what I had experienced among Buddhists, in terms of people having a really intense experience of Buddhism over a relatively short period of time.

So I really had a long debate about whether I should be pursuing that project, which I called the Clearlight Project, or apply to become General Secretary. Ultimately, my anchor committee was able to ask questions and guide me in a way that it became clear I should apply. It was interesting, because I started to have doubts. I applied and found myself a finalist.  Then I found out who the other finalists were and decided that this was a stellar group of human beings. I was not needed. So I went to my Anchor Committee and shared with them that I thought it might be possible for me to withdraw from the process, because of the strong candidates who were in it, and we went into worship. One of the members of my anchor committee broke the silence, and the words that came through her were, “This is no longer up to you. This is between our community and God. You will not short circuit the process.” It was one of those moments where I very clearly knew the truth had been spoken and that I was simply to submit, and so I stayed in the process. I actually didn’t believe that I would get the job. When they offered me the position, I have to admit, my reaction was I was sick to my stomach, because I kind of understood what went with this. That this was going to stretch me in ways I couldn’t imagine. Friends General Conference (FGC) is an institution that’s really important for Friends, and really important to the renewal movement. There are many friends who have deep hopes for the continuation and growth of the Society of Friends. I knew that if I said yes to the position, I was going to be making myself in some ways a vehicle to carry all of those hopes and aspirations, and that was not something to carry lightly. But it did become clear over the next twenty four hours that I was to say yes. That’s what brought me here.

How would you describe your current position?

Barry: There’s what it is, and then there’s what I hope it will become. It’s an interesting position: I’m the hierarchical head of staff in an organization that makes its decisions through Quaker process at the board level. It’s fascinating to go back and forth between those two worlds constantly. There is a community of both staff and governance who are very well practiced in walking those two worlds simultaneously. A lot of my work is spent trying to guide the mission itself, fulfill the mission, imagine how the mission will evolve; trying to shepherd the resources necessary for the fulfillment of that mission; and trying to make sure that the right people are in place to make all of that happen.

Where I would like the job to go over time is that I would love to have a little more public role than I’ve had. I had imagined there was a larger symbolic role for the General Secretary of Friends General Conference (FGC) to play in the broader Quaker world, in addition to the world at large. Since I became General Secretary, there’s been a lot of shifting here, which has really required me to be in the nuts and bolts of making the organization work—that the money was raised, that we met the budget. We will see in future years if I can have the opportunity to be more of a public figure. In some ways, I view it as fairly important, because there’s actually not that many Quakers who try to function as public figures in the broader society and yet those who do have really helped many seekers find transformation through Quaker practice.  I find myself thinking of Parker Palmer among others. In trying to be a public figure there’s a delicate line to walk. What can the General Secretary of FGC really say in the public sphere about who we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going?  It has to be thoughtful and done with accountability.

What influences does your faith have in your job today?

Barry: The influences are from a few different directions. One is around how we choose to interact with one another as colleagues. Friends General Conference (FGC) is at a challenging moment in its history: we have lots of support, we’re doing lots of good work, but there are not the financial resources that we might wish. We’ve been in the process of cutting back, in terms of the number of programs we offer and our staffing levels. In the midst of this, we’ve had to really carefully consider: what does it mean to be letting go of staff as a Quaker institution? How do you do that in a way that is, we pray, s loving, compassionate, and rightly ordered? I’m not going to say that we’ve done that exceedingly well, but we’ve had the intention to do it as well and as thoughtfully as we can. Another aspect is around, what does it mean to be Quaker? What does it mean to live a Quaker life, especially in a work environment?

On a larger level, the faith tradition informs me in terms of mission. The part that gets me up in the morning is the recognition that there are people seeking for a different way forward around Western spiritually. We have something that I believe is compelling, so fulfilling the mission really means something for a lot of people. Having a spirituality that is trying to affirm that of God in everyone, trying to affirm basic tenets of equality, in a world that still denies equality to many people—to have a spiritual tradition that attempts to talk about stewardship and attempts to understand our place in world around the environment and around science and the intersection of ethics and development issues—is really important. There is so much good work being done by secular activists on these issues, but I think there’s also a real need for people of faith to be engaged there. There are sometimes particular, important pieces that people of faith bring to these incredibly important worldwide issues around climate change, social justice, and economics. To provide a faith tradition that people can use, not only to transform their personal life, but to consider how it is that they are going to live in the world as a personal witness, is really important to me.

We talk about the prophetic tradition among Friends. There’s been a long standing discussion and understanding around how personal transformation transforms a society. I’m intensely  interested in how the spiritual practices actually result in changed lives and a changed world.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Barry: 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.

How did you learn leadership skills – within the Quaker world? Outside of it?

Barry: One of the best things my mother ever taught me was: surround yourself with people who are better and smarter than you. That’s really been my mantra since I came to FGC, to try and find people who were smarter and better than me. One of the pieces I learned outside of the Quaker world is public speaking. At about fifteen, I recognized that having the ability to speak effectively in front of a group of people was going to be crucial in whatever I choose to do in the future. I joined the Future Business Leaders of America. I was competing in impromptu speaking, which was really terrifying. I was very shy. Something that has been important for me is that at various junctures, I’ve tried to steer into fear.

For someone who wants to develop leadership skills, involving yourself on different boards is tremendously important, especially in your twenties and thirties. There are so few people who serve in their twenties and thirties, and you end up knowing phenomenal people and picking up a ton along the way. I served on four non-Quaker boards in my thirties, and it was really pivotal for me to be surrounded by a lot of people in their fifties and sixties who had been there, done that, were really good at it—just soaking all of that up from them.

In terms of Quaker places, Quaker business meetings taught me a lot in terms of coming to an understanding of what happens in a meeting with a group of people. It taught me about the preparation that is necessary, both spiritually and also just logistically, before a group of people come and sit down together and try and talk through something. What I’ve learned over time is that the intellectual, especially if you’re Quaker, is really necessary, but it’s the emotional and spiritual where people actually engage. It’s where I think people ultimately make a determination of what truth is.

Do you feel that your work brings you closer or further away to your faith?

Barry: It depends on the day. The greatest challenge of this position, in terms of Quaker practice, is that sometimes the days are so jam-packed that I don’t feel like I’ve actually had much time to step back and center, pray, worship—really be in a listening space. There’s a lot that happens with this job. Sometimes just the crush of: sign the contract, read the paper, go to the meeting, take the phone call, return the 50 emails. There are days when I leave that I don’t actually feel very connected to the Divine, just from the pace. Where it brings me closer is when I can step back and have an opportunity to engage, especially when it’s an opportunity to engage around what’s really driving people, whether it’s people who are volunteering for the programs, people who are using the programs, a staff member who is feeling called to a particular piece. When I can be in some sort of relationship with those movements, then I feel really connected.

Advice

Do you have a support committee, elder, or other structure for support and accountability in your meeting?

Barry: My accountability is lodged in two places. One is with my spiritual peer group, and the other is with my anchor committee. Neither of them is actually grounded in my local Meeting because they formed ahead of me transferring to my current meeting. My anchor committee is not designed to be solely about this job, since it pre-existed my becoming General Secretary. My whole life is accountable to them, so while the job is a piece, they’re concerned with the whole person and for the larger ministry. They’re clear that being General Secretary of FGC is a role that I’m currently fulfilling, and it is the vehicle through which I am currently fulfilling my ministry, but my ministry pre-exists and has a mission that is more than this job. My spiritual peer group also pre-existed this job, but is much more about the job than the anchor committee, because our running question is always, “Are you faithful?” Often when I’m thinking in terms of faithfulness, I’m thinking about this work and whether I’m fulfilling my responsibilities.

How well do you feel your work is understood and supported by your meeting?

Barry: Part of the reason I selected Arch Street Meeting is they really don’t care that I’m General Secretary of Friends General Conference. That suits me well, because my need of my worshipping community is an opportunity to decompress, to plug in and hear Spirit and hear God, not necessarily to be a vehicle of their concerns around my daily position. From that standpoint it works out really well.

Who have your mentors been (generally, spiritually, work, all of the above)?

Barry: My mother was huge mentor to me. She ran restaurants. When I was growing up, she had a staff of about 40 people, and the way she interacted with people taught me a lot about how to be a leader, how to be fair minded, how to try and create win-win situations for people. In terms of mentors, there’s the real life people, and then there’s people that I’ve only read about. One of the people I’ve only read about is Theodore Roosevelt. I grew up fairly sick as a child. I was in danger of passing away a few times in my childhood. Theodore Roosevelt was someone I fastened upon because he had also been a really sickly child. When I was young, it was important to have a role model who had overcome their physical frailties in order to do something larger. Some mentors in the Quaker world have been Marcelle Martin, Michael Wadja, Jim Perkins, Stan Brown, Sue Regen, as well as Jean-Marie and Frank Barch. I want to stop naming names because the more I name, the more I know there will be people left out.

Scott Affleck was my best friend for many years. He had been raised Methodist, became Quaker, then became Buddhist. Absolutely brilliant, one of the finest minds I’ve ever known, extremely funny, deeply spiritual, and taught me what grace looks like while suffering. He died young, suffered the last fifteen years of his life with a really crippling illness, and completely changed my life and the lives of many other people. There’s a whole pack of us who are in leadership positions now that he mentored.

 

What is something you wish you’d known at x, y, z points in your spiritual path and/or career?

Barry: Something that’s been an important part of my journey is that I’ve struggled with chronic depression. I’ve had depression, deep depression, on and off through my adult life, which is kind of an interesting thing, because I’ve also had these really powerful experiences of God, and I sometimes don’t understand how the two things can coexist. But, in me, they do. Part of what I would tell my twenty-something-year-old self is to have faith that there’s meaning, and that through listening it’s possible to find our way through the darkness. There were some junctures where I felt pretty hopeless. It’s important to understand that there are things we can’t see and can’t know, and that there really is meaning even if it’s small. It doesn’t have to be world changing.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten about spiritual/ faith journeys? What is your favorite piece of advice you like to give others about spirituality/ faithfulness?

Barry: The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten about my spiritual journey was said by two different people, a week apart. One right before I had the accident, and the other one right after. It’s been something that I’ve reflected on over and over again: “Control is not a way to God.” What that’s meant to me over the years is to engage in a practice of surrender to Spirit. I find that really challenging, on a personal level, and it’s important exploration for others as well. In the modern world we can get very caught up in the idea that we’re driving the boat, and I think the reality is much more complex than that. Having an ability to let go and see something larger than we might see with our own eyes is really important.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about your career/work path and then what’s your favorite piece to give, of advice to give to somebody if they ask you for their career path?

Barry: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten was in graduate school. Dr. Hopkins, my advisor, asked me to meet with him and he said, “You’re struggling a little bit, right now. I think it’s because you’re suffering from an illusion.” I said “What’s that?” He said, “I think you’re suffering from the illusion that graduate school is about being brilliant. Graduate school is really about perseverance.” It was another one of those moments where I really understood the truth of what he had shared, and it has stood me well over time. There’s that saying that 90% of success is just showing up. I find that to be true, especially at times when the outcome is not at all guaranteed. That you just keep showing up, keep persisting, keep working, being open, listening. There may be something different that needs to happen. Just keep at it. It makes all the difference in the world.

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I’m excited to launch the Spirit Works: Journeys of Quaker Heads website and share it with you all! Please share as much as you’d like.

To the people I’ve interviewed: thanks for the laughs, your honesty, and sharing your stories! To my family, friends, sweetheart, support committee, & more: thanks for your support and engaging with me on this project this past year.

#spiritworks #coffeecoffeecoffee #quakernerd

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about your career/ work path? What is your favorite advice to give to other people on their career/ work paths?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten was in graduate school. Dr. Hopkins, my advisor, asked me to meet with him and he said, “You’re struggling a little bit, right now. I think it’s because you’re suffering from an illusion.” I said “What’s that?” He said, “I think you’re suffering from the illusion that graduate school is about being brilliant. Graduate school is really about perseverance.” It was another one of those moments where I really understood the truth of what he had shared, and it has stood me well over time. There’s that saying that 90% of success is just showing up. I find that to be true, especially at times when the outcome is not at all guaranteed. That you just keep showing up, keep persisting, keep working, being open, listening. There may be something different that needs to happen. Just keep at it. It makes all the difference in the world.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

I got typical advice which just seems kind of canned now, but I think it’s very true, which is to follow your heart. I think there’s some truth to that. And I think — there’s a Biblical reference to this — don’t be afraid. Be not afraid. I think about that, when I think about what either intimidates me or puts me off. When I think about it, I have had people who say, “Don’t be afraid of this. Just do it.” A lot of it has to do with speaking to power, and leveraging my own power, which comes from a sense of groundedness and purpose. So the advice is to use that power, and go to the highest level. If you have the opportunity to talk to the person in charge, go to that person, don’t go to the three people underneath them.

There’s not one send-off thing I say to everybody. Here in this work, I definitely encourage people to network, and that is not a natural thing for many people to do, particularly people who are introverts. That’s a hard thing, to walk up to strangers, people you’ve just met, and stick out your hand and say, “I want to talk to you.” But I do think that’s the way we make connections like that across social media and we should be doing it in person. I think now, actually, I would advise people: put your phones down and look people in the eyes and have conversations. I think there’s something completely powerful about that. That’s the way the world changes, where you can have an effect that other people might not be able to.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

Don’t settle into something that’s not fulfilling for you. Don’t hesitate to pursue an opportunity, even if it seems beyond your grasp. There’s a lot to be gained from the asking. Sometimes trying on a fit too big can reveal growth opportunities, and most anything can be worked on and practiced through, until it becomes a skill. There are some innate characteristics that might not sound like leadership skills, but that executives would name as leading to their successes, and which can be really helpful to have in your bag of tricks. I’ve mentioned a few times the value of learning from other people’s life experiences, but I don’t mean that to imply that only people who’ve had longer lives than mine are wonderful resources. They often are, but I think it’s helpful  to have a social life with people who are like me and dissimilar to me, so that I don’t fall too much into a self-affirming groove of friends. Being around my daughter and her friends, and the older students at her school, and high school and college students, and grad students, and people and leaders from different camps around the country, I’m reminded of the potency and relevancy of different stages of life.

Do your best to know yourself. Not just the self that you were five years ago, or yesterday-but knowing yourself in this moment, and knowing yourself in general is a responsibility that we have if we want to be in leadership. Knowing myself prepares me to share my stories and make my requests for support, pass on the benefits of things that have come easily or been granted to me, so that that could be shared by the community, as well as the places where I’m deficient or limited. When I know that, it makes it easy for me to specify what I could use in order to be strengthened. When I’m with others who are doing the work of knowing themselves, I can respond with tenderness and gladness to their requests, because part of knowing myself is knowing the struggle of being human, the emotionality, and where my different reactions and responses are coming from. That’s something that makes us all so able to relate to one to another, that emotional experience. So, how to join with that connection? Find those people who, like you, are waving the flag of self-discovery pointed towards beloved community building, and when you find those others, join with them and dedicate yourself to doing good work with them.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

We only have a few years in which to do what we want to do. So if I’m feeling called to my work, I want to give it my all while I’m here because I’m not sure how long one can sustain it. I want to offer what I can. They hired me in this position in part because of my organizational development experience, and so I want to be effective and useful as best I can to the organization. It’s that servant leadership way of, “How can I best serve your organization?”

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

I’ve been reading Seth Godin lately, and what he advises is to figure out what you’re good at, and what you alone see, and find a way to turn that into something that works. The tools and technologies are out there now, in a way that is without precedent in human history, to allow you to find an audience and do the work. You don’t need to get picked to do the work you’re meant to do. Society now rewards people who take initiative to do something rather than follow all the rules and become selected to do something. Figure out what you’re good at, and figure out a way to make that your life.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

Don’t be afraid of asking for help, asking for mentors, and doing that networking and reaching out. Especially for young people there can be a tendency and it was for me, too, to wonder why this person would want to spend time with me or not think I’m important enough to ask this person. Generally, everyone likes to be asked for advice. Just say, “I think you’re interesting, would you have lunch with me?” Who is going to say no to that? So that’s advice I give, especially to young adults. If there’s something you’re interested in, seek out those people that you think are going to be useful to you, good mentors and good connections. A lot of what I did in the early days of QVS was think: who do I need to know, to build a relationship with, to talk to and convince about this vision? Think about how you build relationships and seek professional networks and connections and support outside of your organization. How do you build relationships with other executive directors, or other people in leadership positions, who are in similar situations?

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

I always encourage people who have questions about themselves and about whether or not they want to be leaders–it’s the Jan Brady thing, sign up for every club. Do something, because if you don’t, you won’t know. Sometimes when I say it to people, I say to them, “This is going to seem really simple, but tell me what you could do with your school right now, that you could initiate?” It’s, “Let’s figure out a way to put yourself in some positions to try.” And again, it’s part of that advice to practice. You won’t know until you’ve tried it out. The second thing I tell people who are aspiring is, I always like to connect them with someone else other than me. I’m like, “You need to talk to a few of us, and then let’s circle back around and tell me what you’ve learned.” And nine times out of 10, leaders give similar advice, “I didn’t know I could do this until I tried it,” and in a couple of cases they’ll say, “I tried it because I asked.” In some cases, you’re lucky enough to be asked, but if you’re not, you need to push and ask.

I think with me, it relates back to the “getting out of your own way.” There were a couple of teachers I hired who were my students–they graduated from school and became teachers, I was a middle school principal–who sat down with me and gave me important advice about talking less and listening more, and they were very good about it. They came together. They could see that I was trying to engage better level of conversation at our middle school staff meetings, that I was trying to get out of the way and encourage them to talk, and they helped me see that the kind of talking I was doing was kind of in the way of that, and that helped me redesign. So it was pointing out an opportunity to get out of the way, and encouraging me in ways that I could practice. It opened up a really important path that I’ve been on ever since.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

The best advice I think is to try to get anybody I work with is to set things in context, to see the whole picture, to think about it in the hackneyed strategic planning language: strengths, weaknesses, opportunity, threats. Never lose sight of those questions, and understand there are a lot of things that are going to bedevil you, but there’s only one or two things that will kill you, and you better understand those and how to avoid them. There are probably a lot of good things that will happen that you must be aware of, but only a few really big possibilities, so if you ever had a glimmer of hope, you should grab them. Think about the bigger plan.

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

The best advice was really about staying focused on the mission of the organization you’re serving. Always keep that in mind. Why does this group exist, and what would it look like for this group to be faithful to that sense of mission? Wherever I’ve been, that’s the thing that I’ve tried to keep in mind, as sort of the steward, helping to care for or cradle that sense of mission.

In terms of advice for others, in some ways it’s parallel to what I just said trying to help the person to really think, “What is your sense of call? What is it that you really feel called to do, and does that connect with what this opportunity is for you?”

For more of Colin’s story, click here

What is something you wish you’d known at an earlier point in your spiritual path and/or career?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

Something that’s been an important part of my journey is that I’ve struggled with chronic depression. I’ve had depression, deep depression, on and off through my adult life, which is kind of an interesting thing, because I’ve also had these really powerful experiences of God, and I sometimes don’t understand how the two things can coexist. But, in me, they do. Part of what I would tell my twenty-something-year-old self is to have faith that there’s meaning, and that through listening it’s possible to find our way through the darkness. There were some junctures where I felt pretty hopeless. It’s important to understand that there are things we can’t see and can’t know, and that there really is meaning even if it’s small. It doesn’t have to be world changing.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

Hannah Whitall Smith has this great line in a letter she writes to her daughter, “I make it a practice to never live with regrets.” I agree with that a lot. I told you that I regretted not getting an advanced degree, and when I think about things that I regret in my life, choices that I’ve made, that’s probably one that I have.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

I’ve certainly had struggles in those areas–personal life, work life, and career life–so the things I might have wished to have known would probably be different in each of those arenas. But one general message I’d send back to younger me would be that whatever fear, confusion, destabilization you’re experiencing is natural, and that all of your heroes and role models feel equally fearful and destabilized, but that it need not paralyze you. This too shall pass. Courage–coeur, from the heart–is to go towards or be with that which gives you fear, and then when you’re tempered by that fire, you’re stronger for next time. So–persist. Listen for the opportunity or invitation to change you. Understand that you can’t change others, but that you can play a role in their change, and persist. When I’ve been heartbroken, or terrified of hurting others, or of doing something which might seem to be for the greater good but which will cause some people to feel angry or disappointed, I made it, through the grace of others who’ve made such moves letting me know that on the other side, there’s joy again, and stability, and a better way.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Shan Cretin, American Friends Service Committee:

That question kind of goes against my personality. I am not a person who looks back and says, “Oh, if only.” It just isn’t in me. There are lots of choices in life and I think I’ve always felt, “Don’t agonize over them. Make a choice and make it work.” So it’s hard for me to think of something in that way-what do I wish I had known then-would it have changed something. I feel like I’ve been really lucky. I wouldn’t have changed anything. If I am giving somebody else advice who’s agonizing over things, one of the things I say is, “If a decision is hard, it’s a sign that it doesn’t matter what you choose.” Easy decisions are when this is obviously what you need to do. If you can’t decide, because it could be this or that, it’s not a big deal, pick one!

For more of Shan’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

I think fearlessness is a really big thing for me, and part of that just comes with age and experience. As I’ve gotten older, I’m not worried about what people think, but really rely on what I know, feel, sense, intuit to feel confident that God is speaking through me, and not worry about outcome.

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

If I were to give advice to my younger self, I think it would have been in the period where I knew I was a Quaker but didn’t have a meeting membership, and hadn’t found a community. My advice would have been to try harder, either to find another meeting or to talk to somebody about that, because I get so much out of being an active member of a meeting. It’s easy to say, “I can be a Quaker, but I don’t have to go to meeting every Sunday, let’s have brunch or whatever.” I think that’s laziness to some extent. We’re super fortunate here in Philadelphia, because there’s 106 or so meetings in the area. I had to go halfway across the city to find one that really clicked for me. I should have done that earlier.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

I wish I had known that, for the most part, people do not judge you for the biggest mistake that you make. For the most part, people are still going to love you, trust you, and support you. Making mistakes is part of what you have to do to learn, to do something new and be creative. You’re going to do things that don’t always work or that you have to redo, or you didn’t know something important that you learn and do it over. I always want to do things right and have people think highly of me and all of that. For the most part they do, but also, that is just part of being human. Part of doing something at all worthwhile is that you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to do things imperfectly, but that’s okay. I wish I’d known that; it’s also something that I am continuously learning.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

I believe that it’s not possible for any of us to get outside our own heads. We live in our heads. There’s that David Foster Wallace guy, who gave a talk at Kenyon College that’s what it was about. I’d be disingenuous if I said I was a fully practiced master at always recognizing when I was in my own way. But I can’t say that when I was a younger person, that I was aware of that as fully as I am now. One of the beauties of a place like Earlham was it really challenged you to get out of your own way. I feel lucky that, in formative years, I did have mentors and peers who were really pushing on me to get out of my own way.

But I also remember in college–it’s interesting watching people react to Black Lives Matter right now, because it reminds me of women I went to college with who were challenging the patriarchy. First time a lot of us guys had heard all this. And I remember, my freshman and sophomore year, personalizing a lot of what they said, instead of just listening to them, which I learned to do later. Just listen to what they were trying to say. And in listening, realizing that there were personal things that I needed to wrestle with, as a man, in thinking about this. And the second piece is, while I struggled with that, there’s no reason why I couldn’t been supportive of them. As I’ve gotten older, I wish I had found the level of confidence, personal confidence, that I have now, at earlier points along the way, so that I would have been better able to get out of my own way, and more supportive of the people who worked with me and for me. That would have been a helpful thing to have been better practiced at when I was a younger person.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

One of the things that Rufus Jones taught me deeply was that final big answers are not available to human beings, and they are not going to fit together it into any deep intellectual package; that it was ok to be comfortable with not knowing. I don’t know how you teach somebody that, especially somebody who grows up smart, doing well in school, for whom knowing the answer comes easily: to learn that not knowing the answer is important.

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

I think there was a time, a long time ago, when I realized that, “Oh yeah, this isn’t about you,” and I wish I had known that earlier. Especially when you find yourself in one of these weird roles where you’re a public Friend, or that sort of thing, it’s really good to remember, “This isn’t about you.” Maybe somebody can’t tell you that, you have to figure that out. But I was really glad when I finally figured that out. It made me a better person, I think, and helped me do my job better. I wish I had known how draining managing staff can be sometimes. It’s not any comment about my current staff! But honestly, there are just things that come up between people, and there are hard decisions that have to get made sometimes in our organization for its health and for individuals. I didn’t realize how draining that can be, how much time it takes, how much emotional energy it costs, and so that would have been good to know. The other thing that comes to mind is — and I don’t know an easy answer for this — but, what’s the balance between one’s individual calling and their family, and how does that get held together in a way that’s good for everybody? You make your choices, and you do the best you can, and you still scratch your head and think, “Did I do that right?”

For more of Colin’s story, click here

Who have your mentors been? (Generally, spiritually, work, all of the above)

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

My mother was huge mentor to me. She ran restaurants. When I was growing up, she had a staff of about 40 people, and the way she interacted with people taught me a lot about how to be a leader, how to be fair minded, how to try and create win-win situations for people. In terms of mentors, there’s the real life people, and then there’s people that I’ve only read about. One of the people I’ve only read about is Theodore Roosevelt. I grew up fairly sick as a child. I was in danger of passing away a few times in my childhood. Theodore Roosevelt was someone I fastened upon because he had also been a really sickly child. When I was young, it was important to have a role model who had overcome their physical frailties in order to do something larger. Some mentors in the Quaker world have been Marcelle Martin, Michael Wadja, Jim Perkins, Stan Brown, Sue Regen, as well as Jean-Marie and Frank Barch. I want to stop naming names because the more I name, the more I know there will be people left out.

Scott Affleck was my best friend for many years. He had been raised Methodist, became Quaker, then became Buddhist. Absolutely brilliant, one of the finest minds I’ve ever known, extremely funny, deeply spiritual, and taught me what grace looks like while suffering. He died young, suffered the last fifteen years of his life with a really crippling illness, and completely changed my life and the lives of many other people. There’s a whole pack of us who are in leadership positions now that he mentored.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

First and foremost, my mother has had an impact on me. We’ve always been fairly close, and she has been a leader in her own work, which was education, and talked about her role as a woman in a leadership position. Both from what it was like to work with men when she was the only woman, and also what it was like to negotiate for salary. She would have never identified herself as a feminist, but I felt like I had this role model of how to operate in a world that’s not always open to women, and how to be a leader. That was really important to me.

When I was working at the Partnership for Strong Communities, before I came here, we were funded by the Melville Charitable Trust. The executive director, this guy named Bob Hohler, was a real mentor to me to think about the power of big ideas and the ability to change systems and what that takes, how to hold onto those big ideas and think about the arc of change from both a policy focus and from a political focus. Then there are people I work with who are lobbyists, just really good strategic people about how to to do a power analysis, just figuring out what’s going to motivate people, and trying to come up with a plan and execute it.

This is kind of an aside, because we don’t do political endorsements at all — but I was captivated by this idea that, Hillary Clinton just turned 68, and she’s running for this super-big job. It’s an amazing inspiration to me.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

I think of people who’ve provided excellent counsel or helped me a lot. Clerks of the Pendle Hill Board. My friends and my mom. My husband is somebody whose counsel I rely on on a regular basis, and who I really look up to. Sarah Willie-LeBreton, one of our board members, is somebody who I knew prior to being on the board. I lift her up because I’m thinking about how many Quakers I know have personal/professional overlap, thus in the Quaker world where many of us are known to each other, we must learn to wear various hats (f/Friendship). So many people have been generous and helpful, role models and nurturers, too many to count!

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Shan Cretin, American Friends Service Committee:

One of my undergraduate professors in probability theory, and his wife, who was an MIT graduate: they really were my mentors. They taught me a lot of things, gave me a lot of advice along the way. Since I got to AFSC, I have had some wonderful mentors, a couple of women of color who have become friends, mentors, and helpers for me in understanding my role and my privilege and how I come across sometimes. One is a woman, Eisha Mason, who’s my associate regional director in LA. She’s a member of the Agape Church. She studied with Reverend Jim Lawson, and she just totally has nonviolence at her core. She’s a wonderful person who’s been a mentor.

For more of Shan’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

My dearest mentor died last year – Warren Witte. I worked with him, for him. He was sort of my Quaker organizational guru. He was just a really wonderful teacher. He and I met years ago when I work for Friends General Conference and he worked at American Friends Service Committee in communications. We were part of a group bringing together Quakers Uniting in Publication – we kind of got that started. I’ve always said to him his middle name is collaboration because he’s really great mentor. He’s my major one.

Larry Miller is a great spiritual mentor. He was my former father-in-law, and he also worked for AFSC. He had a degree in divinity, and yet he was always questioning his spirituality. He’d always say to me, “Gretchen, I don’t know how you’re always so sure of God’s presence.” And I’d say, “I don’t know either, but maybe I came into the world with that.”

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

First of all, I would name Susan Corson-Finnerty. She did a wonderful job leading an organization that has been a big part of my life. I’ve been there for 11 years now, and seven of those years working for her. She’s been a great mentor. Many members of my meeting come to mind. JoAnn Seaver is an elder of the meeting, you can practically see the Light shining out of her. She’s great example of a radiant, wise Quaker, and she has been a rock for me. Gabbreell James was one of the people who really grabbed me right away saying – we are going to have a great, spiritual, and fun friendship, and we’re going to be able to talk about deep stuff and learn from each other. She’s a wonderful person to have as a friend and teacher.

I have gotten a great deal of value and insight from the teaching of Seth Godin, who is a well-known marketing business writer, a clear communicator. I had the good fortune of taking a workshop with him and 60 other people for a weekend. He also blogs daily, so I feel mentored every day.

When I started as executive director, we also brought in Chris Mohr as a new board member and clerk of the board. He had just moved cross-country from San Francisco, and happened to also be a member of the meeting I was starting to go to. He and I have had a great working relationship, trying to help lead the organization. He has experience as executive director of a non-profit, so he was really helpful. Having access to Chris’s mind and spirit has been really important for me.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

I think I’ve mentioned some people from longer ago-from the Catholic Worker days, there were people who I really admired who were pastors or other people involved in faith communities doing really powerful work. A couple of professors in college and graduate school have been really valuable to me. One person in particular at Atlanta meeting has been very consistently there. Whether she’s on my support committee or just meeting one on one. She cares for me, asks me questions both from a professional and a personal perspective, and helps to keep me grounded and connected. A couple of board members, in a professional capacity, have done things like coaching: how to run an organization, how to manage people well, how to network, all those kinds of professional things.

One of the things I’ve done a lot of is asking people to meet with me, asking people to be my mentors and teachers, and not being too shy or hesitant to say, “Hey, I just met you but you seem really great and interesting and like you have experiences that I can learn from. Can we have lunch?” That has really helped me and helped QVS in a lot of ways.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

Somebody I never met but began to be aware of when I was at Haverford, was Rufus Jones. As I grew more interested in Quakerism I began reading a lot of Rufus Jones, and realized that if I had intellectual and spiritual forbearance for Rufus Jones, that he had thought through a lot of the difficulties in faith that I found myself confronting, and he had thought them through a lot better than I had. Douglas Steere is someone else who I’ve read a lot. I learned a lot as a fellow with the American Council on Education during the week-long seminars we attended. They’d bring in a smart person, and they’d say things to us, and we’d ask questions. As a professor, I thought my job was to be the smartest person in the room. At the end of that year, I realized I needed a complete transformation of the way that I approached what I did. I need to go into the room thinking: I am the person who knows the least. I am the perfection of ignorance, and my job is to ask questions and to draw as much out of everybody else in the room as I can, and try to see if we can distill that into something that makes sense.
For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

Some of them are dead Quakers whose writings have affected me deeply. Another mentor was the pastor of the first church that I ever attended. His name’s Gayle Beebe. He’s currently the president of Westmont College out in California. He was really influential for me. He just sort of took me in. He was a thoughtful leader type, and that was useful for me. There’ve been other people along the way, people who’ve been tremendously supportive, helped me think through stuff. Paul Anderson from George Fox University, Howard Macy from George Fox, are two good friends who’ve been helpful. Here at FUM, the former presiding clerk Kelly Kellum from North Carolina Yearly Meeting has been, not only a really good friend, he’s just been a spiritual encouragement, he’s helped me learn about FUM and about the community. I think he models some good ways of relating to the diversity of Friends that I’ve found really useful. There’ve been some wonderful elders that I’ve worked with along the way. A woman named Jean Shoehart from Oregon was a really good elder, not only for me but for the church that I served. I’ve learned a lot from lots of different people.

For more of Colin’s story, click here

Do you have a support committee, elder, or other structure for support and accountability in your meeting?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

My accountability is lodged in two places. One is with my spiritual peer group, and the other is with my anchor committee. Neither of them is actually grounded in my local Meeting because they formed ahead of me transferring to my current meeting. My anchor committee is not designed to be solely about this job, since it pre-existed my becoming General Secretary. My whole life is accountable to them, so while the job is a piece, they’re concerned with the whole person and for the larger ministry. They’re clear that being General Secretary of FGC is a role that I’m currently fulfilling, and it is the vehicle through which I am currently fulfilling my ministry, but my ministry pre-exists and has a mission that is more than this job. My spiritual peer group also pre-existed this job, but is much more about the job than the anchor committee, because our running question is always, “Are you faithful?” Often when I’m thinking in terms of faithfulness, I’m thinking about this work and whether I’m fulfilling my responsibilities.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

I don’t have a formal one. I’m currently participating in an anchor committee for a dear Friend, and I’m finding that even as we seek to support her, it’s as affirming and nourishing for me to be part of it. I understand the value of those, because so many people have recommended that for me since I took this position. The truth is that, due to the nature of the position, my time is limited, and what I find nourishing is time with my family, time with my daughter and husband, and frankly, as an introvert, to be alone. When I need support, I call a particular individual or two–often outside the Quaker world, sometimes in. I also know that if I needed something more, it would be a short turnaround to create that for myself. That’s one thing I love about our community-knowing that there are so many different ways you can seek out deep listening and supportive engagement from others.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

As soon as I moved to Britain, the then-clerk of FWCC said, “My last task is to get you a support committee, to be sure you have them.” I really appreciate that I chose the people. There are three people: we meet three times a year, and I have called them when I’ve been struggling. They were so responsive, they were fantastic. We have worship together. I find it very grounding. They are the type of people that send me a card on occasion, or they’ll text or email to ask, “How are you doing? How are things?” It’s more of a personal supportive group. In relation to the job I hold, for accountability, the Central Executive Committee is great.

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

It was originally formed before QVS, when I was in seminary. I asked for it because I was doing an internship at the meeting as part of my seminary requirements. Normally in seminary structure, the pastor of the church would be a mentor or supervisor for that person, but since Quakers there wasn’t a pastor I asked for a Care Committee to play the role for me in that context. It has morphed over the years, and a struggle for me with my Care Committee is: is this committee for me, or is it a committee for QVS? Sometimes even I don’t see the distinction between the two, which is kind of a problem. Yes, it’s about my ministry, which right now is QVS, but that might not always be true. Also, knowing that my ministry is more than just the functioning of the organization-so that has shifted and become better.

It is officially under the care of the Worship and Care Committee of our meeting. That committee checks in to see how things are going, and our community has a number of committees like that. I’m definitely not the only one; there are a number of Care Committees for folks that are meeting. That’s generally something our meeting does pretty well.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

I do, with this board. At some point it would be good if there were a group of Quakers nationally who were formerly in the role of helping to support and evaluate me, but I don’t think we’re there yet. You planted an interesting seed in my head, that that might be something to aspire to. The members of the board–I’d say about half of them on that support group are Quakers and they know what I’m talking about and feel it themselves. The others are people–I call them fellow travelers; without these folks, we wouldn’t have Friends schools, and they actually are perplexed that this is the state of Quakers in their schools. They’re good because they help focus us Quakers on ways that we might talk about this with Quakers, that we hadn’t thought of because we’re sitting in the middle of it. I have a good support system among some Quakers who share my profession.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

I didn’t, and I think it would have been awkward to form one. There’s a lot you know as president that either takes too much time to explain sufficiently to other people to be comfortable hearing their advice and guidance, or that you can’t tell them. Paul and Margie Lacey let me know early on it in my time at Earlham that anytime the Bennetts needed a night when they could say anything they damn well please and not have it repeated, the Laceys were up for having dinner. I used to get killingly funny notes from Margie when something really egregious happened in the faculty meeting-in a couple of sentences she would just skewer whatever was going on and let me know “I’m paying attention, I know your job is hard.”

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

I have had them in the past. I don’t currently. It’s something that I need to do. I think I need something a little bit more intimate than that. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve not done it, because this was a move across the country for us-I’m gone so much, and we just haven’t built the kind of depth of relationship, that would make it more obvious who that group should be. But it would be really, really healthy.

For more of Colin’s story, click here

How well do you feel your work is supported by your Meeting?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

Part of the reason I selected Arch Street Meeting is they really don’t care that I’m General Secretary of Friends General Conference. That suits me well, because my need of my worshipping community is an opportunity to decompress, to plug in and hear Spirit and hear God, not necessarily to be a vehicle of their concerns around my daily position. From that standpoint it works out really well.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

I should have asked for a support committee from my meeting before I left, and I didn’t do that when I got here. I feel very appreciated, and I feel like there’s a certain level of understanding, and then there’s a level where…I don’t really know how to talk about it broadly. But I think there are some people who kind of understand and are just like, “It’s great that you’re doing this and we’re so glad,” but I’m not sure that they truly understand the work or my role in it. I don’t feel that I have a meeting community that says, “We have a responsibility for this work,” and I think that’s significantly because I haven’t asked for it. So I’m not suggesting that people haven’t taken it up. My own personnel committee often acts in terms of trying to provide support, and they recently have said to me, “We are going to create a support committee for you.” I think that’s great, and I’m really appreciative, so I think that’ll happen soon.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

I’m a member of a large meeting, Central Philadelphia, and membership in that meeting for a long time has included people who are working in various Quaker organizations, and leaders of those. So I feel like there’s a culture of understanding for that, and forgiveness for my low attendance that can be partly attributed to my involvement in this work. I would say that if there’s been any disjointedness between myself and the meeting, it’s on me for not drawing on its many support resources or participating as much as I might like. My meeting’s pretty incredible.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

Doylestown Meeting has asked me to speak about FWCC; they are very supportive of what I’m doing, to the extent they can in my absence. I recently got a note which the meeting sends to far flung members, and I just cried. It was so sweet, so supportive. I feel their support. The meeting in London-I’ve spoken there about FWCC.

I feel there’s so much that Friends at large don’t understand about FWCC. The farther we get away from our meetings the more challenging it is to describe the value of a Quaker organization. How do we help people understand that when you join the meeting, you join this larger organizational world?

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

I think it’s very well understood, and really appreciated. I have people tell me all the time, “I’m so glad for what you’re doing.” There’s another member who is on the board of trustees, and so there’s a number of us who have had long connections with Friends Journal. When I was joining and going through the clearness process, I was very forthright in saying that I have a demanding job, and I may not be able to serve on as many committees as another person, is that ok? And they said, “Yes, it’s important what you do-how can we be supportive of that? We want you as a member of this community.” Nominating committee has invited me to undertake work that is spiritually nourishing rather than strict application of what it seems like I might do, because of the job I have.

Some people in my meeting have asked for support committees to help them be supported in the work they do. I haven’t asked for that, but if I did I would get it. I’ve been okay, and I think my meeting has been terrific at supporting the work of people who worship there. It’s a great meeting.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

I’m in a bit of a unique position because QVS began in Atlanta, and Atlanta Friends Meeting was the first meeting to formally take a QVS program under their care. So in some ways I would say it’s very well understood, because the meeting made a commitment to us in the very beginning. Part of that was because they knew me, trusted me, and wanted to support me. Over time that has changed a little bit, because we’re no longer new – we’re in the 4th year in Atlanta. There’s probably a bit less of an understanding of what all of QVS is. I think the meeting understands more or less what the Atlanta program means. I travel a lot, so I’m not always in Atlanta, not physically there making the connections and talking about QVS as much as I used to.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

Part of why I’m sort of itinerant right now is, I’m trying to answer, in my current role, what I think is a serious and important question for Quakers generally: that, in my opinion, the front door to Quakerism is, in many ways, Quaker schools. The Education Committee commissioned a poll of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting members about 10 or 15 years ago, and it turns out that about 60% of the adult members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting found their way through a school to a Quaker meeting. And yet, I do sense amongst Quakers more broadly at the meetings that I attend that there isn’t good general support for Quaker schools, that they’re perceived–and again, I share some of their perceptions, although I think about it differently than they do–that they’re elitist, that they’re exclusive, that they’re privileged. So to answer your question in a straightforward way, I do not think in a broad sense that Quakers, generally, fully support the work of a person like me out in the world, or people who teach in Friends Schools or who work at Friends Schools who are Quakers. I feel like right now, partly why I’m moving around is I think it’s important for schools to learn the answer to this question. Does the Religious Society of Friends support its own schools? And I’m trying to decide whether or not I think it’s important for schools, and me, to start a little bit of a conflict or a fight about this. I feel like I’m going to live the rest of my life in this very complicated spiritual territory with my own faith community because of the work that I do, which is in fact inspired by that same faith.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

For most of the time I was at Earlham I kept my membership at 15th Street. I talked to 15th Street early, and I said “I want this to go on for a while, I don’t know how long but it’s unclear to me which of the meetings in Richmond I should join.” It also allowed me to spend a lot of time at College Meeting for Worship, especially with a very young son-first one and then another. It was hard to go to two different worship services without putting a lot of torque on my family and my own ability to relax on a Sunday. But I want to go to College Meeting as many Sundays as I could. 15th Street, I think had no understanding and was of no support to me but I had never settled very well under that meeting. Towards the end after Robbie was born, Ellen and I began to think it would be good to start going regularly to a family centered meeting and I joined First Friends. I don’t know that it understood a lot of what I did, but there were a lot of people there who were warmly supportive of Earlham’s “Quaker-ness,” and very sympathetic to the ongoing struggles we had with the two Yearly Meetings in Indiana.

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

That’s a really great question, and I have no idea. When I was superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting, I had pastored the church that we were attending, and they really wanted us to stay there, and we did. So the people knew me, and they kind of knew what I was doing. On that level they did but I felt disconnected from them. It felt like it was, “That’s his ministry.” I feel that same way here, that whether it’s the meeting that we attend some, or my home meeting, it’s like, “Well, that’s his thing.”

For more of Colin’s story, click here

Do you feel your work brings you closer or further away to your faith and faithfulness?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

It depends on the day. The greatest challenge of this position, in terms of Quaker practice, is that sometimes the days are so jam-packed that I don’t feel like I’ve actually had much time to step back and center, pray, worship—really be in a listening space. There’s a lot that happens with this job. Sometimes just the crush of: sign the contract, read the paper, go to the meeting, take the phone call, return the 50 emails. There are days when I leave that I don’t actually feel very connected to the Divine, just from the pace. Where it brings me closer is when I can step back and have an opportunity to engage, especially when it’s an opportunity to engage around what’s really driving people, whether it’s people who are volunteering for the programs, people who are using the programs, a staff member who is feeling called to a particular piece. When I can be in some sort of relationship with those movements, then I feel really connected.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

Most days, closer. There are occasions when I can be frustrated and think, “Wow, this is a distant idea.” But most times, closer. It certainly makes me think a lot about the best of Quaker practice. I’ve also spent more time recently wondering, “Who am I, apart from this role and the Quaker practice? Who am I with God, apart from this role and Quaker practice?” I’m not very far along in that. I feel like a lot of my time is spent asking “Who am I in this role in relation to God and this organization?” But that’s a good thing. It’s interesting to contemplate.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

I don’t know. It’s hard for me to separate the fact that I live and exist here from the work that I do in and for the place. They’re all so bound up together in my worshipful seeking. I take workshops here, just like other people do, and I learn and grow. I seek here. I don’t know how to find a dividing line between those two things, so I guess they’re joined.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Shan Cretin, American Friends Service Committee:

Mostly, the vast majority of the time, closer. Although I have been known to say that the quickest way to turn a Quaker into a Methodist is to make them the head of a Quaker organization. In my view of Quaker decision-making, discernment and seeking unity-that’s meant for big decisions. God does not care what color the curtains are in the kitchen of the meetinghouse. If you try to discern on that, you’ll discern a long time. You won’t really get a lot of spiritual guidance out of that. So I think there’s a tension between recognizing that there are big decisions that we need to look at and come to unity about, but not make everything bogged down into a six-month process in order to decide something that really is not at that level and needs to just move on. I like to try things and adjust. You can try a particular way of organizing things, and then if that doesn’t work, you can change it. Sometimes from the board, there’s this, “No, no, we have to have a working group, and it has to meet seven times over two years,” and then I think, “Things are happening! We have to do it!”

For more of Shan’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

Overall, closer, in a deep, fundamental way. The challenge can be more on a day to day, week to week, Sunday to Sunday basis. Mostly, my work brings me closer to the Quaker faith and deeper into my faith ,and makes me different by relationship with the Religious Society of Friends, even though there are challenges day to day.

For more of Christina’s story, click here

 

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

Probably closer. I used to say that I was the most fortunate person on earth because I was married to the best person I could be possibly be married to, I had the two most wonderful sons I could possibly have, and I had the best job I could have on the planet. Nobody could call me and up and offer me another job that I would want more than the one that I had. Aristotle says human happiness consists of doing well that which we have the capability to do well. When I read it as an 18 year old, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I had read in my life-it seems perfectly circular-but I’ve come to realize it is a profound piece of wisdom.

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

Most every day, I would say closer, because I see the work of God through the work. I see stuff happening that would otherwise not be happening. Despite all the cruddy things in the world, I see these amazing things and amazing people that are making a transformative difference. I think that enlivens my faith most of the time. The challenge of it from the administrative role is, you’re several layers removed from the actual hands-on work. When I can’t see the connection between what I’m doing and the hands-on work, that’s where I wonder, “Am I making a difference? Is this really God’s work? Or is this me just propping up an institution that may or may not be making a difference?” That’s one of the reasons why I like to be out of the office and see what’s going on, because it gives me hope.

For more of Colin’s story, click here

How did you learn leadership skills – Within the Quaker world? Outside of it?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

One of the best things my mother ever taught me was: surround yourself with people who are better and smarter than you. That’s really been my mantra since I came to FGC, to try and find people who were smarter and better than me. One of the pieces I learned outside of the Quaker world is public speaking. At about fifteen, I recognized that having the ability to speak effectively in front of a group of people was going to be crucial in whatever I choose to do in the future. I joined the Future Business Leaders of America. I was competing in impromptu speaking, which was really terrifying. I was very shy. Something that has been important for me is that at various junctures, I’ve tried to steer into fear.

For someone who wants to develop leadership skills, involving yourself on different boards is tremendously important, especially in your twenties and thirties. There are so few people who serve in their twenties and thirties, and you end up knowing phenomenal people and picking up a ton along the way. I served on four non-Quaker boards in my thirties, and it was really pivotal for me to be surrounded by a lot of people in their fifties and sixties who had been there, done that, were really good at it—just soaking all of that up from them.

In terms of Quaker places, Quaker business meetings taught me a lot in terms of coming to an understanding of what happens in a meeting with a group of people. It taught me about the preparation that is necessary, both spiritually and also just logistically, before a group of people come and sit down together and try and talk through something. What I’ve learned over time is that the intellectual, especially if you’re Quaker, is really necessary, but it’s the emotional and spiritual where people actually engage. It’s where I think people ultimately make a determination of what truth is.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:

Well, definitely within the Quaker world. People whose way of being and speaking and leading I’ve watched have influenced me. My mother’s been a big influence on me, as someone who could stand before people and speak engagingly. I am an observer of how other leaders interact and react. I’ve read some books on leadership. I have had friends with whom I talk a lot about leadership, the strengths, and the different styles of leadership. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve worked with people, consultants and others who have done leadership skills training. I think naming leadership and having ownership of that within the Religious Society of Friends is important. I’m really grateful to Jay Marshall’s work at Earlham School of Religion about lifting that up as a conversation at a conference that they do. It has sometimes been something that Friends don’t want to name, and yet, we cultivate leaders. Clerking is cultivation of leadership, from my point of view: if you know how to clerk, you know how to lead. I’ve also talked a lot to people about how to you translate those clerking skills or other things that we learn as Friends into the wider world, the non-Quaker world. Sometimes you can, and you can see how they have an impact on people.

For more of Diane’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

No one source. Lots of life and job experience.  And with dedication, pursuing my own growth over life. I think that’s a characteristic that I bring to this. I think that every outcome of that is due to the good graces of other people sharing their stories and cautionary tales, and making their witness known so that I could be inspired and have a template for myself in human others, not just fiction. Repeat exposure to amazing people. And keeping eyes open to that which is broken all around, so that I felt compelled to apply myself, and whatever skills I didn’t have to bring to it, going and finding them.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

Certainly life experience is a great teacher. I’d say one of my most challenging leadership experiences was being clerk of a yearly meeting. It’s not a paid position and I was very committed while I was working. It’s an important message for me just to not be fearful, don’t be afraid, God will hold us. I think of the Buddhist bowl and there’s all the space in the center that held by the bowl or held by God and then we have lots of choice within those workings. We have to be very fearless and just come out of love, but say what needs to be said and not be overly worried. It’s always that person’s choice how they hear it-it’s an interaction, its relational. If you’re being faithful to our relationship with each other then God gives us the words for that. We can be held to speak truth to power and it’s important to do that as a leader.

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

Sister Mildred was very much in charge at the Shaker community where I used to work during the summers. It was a small little community, about 13 people, and then about ten every summer who came and worked at the museum, of various ages. She was gentle with us, but she didn’t hesitate to be firm when she needed to be. She was a teeny-tiny person, but she carried her authority with humility, and that’s been a big important lesson for me.

There are many elders in my meeting, who are all very different characters, but were all very influential in different ways. I can trace my “be straightforward” thing that I always try to impose on myself, all the way back to Walter Darnell at Haddonfield Meeting. He was the person at business meeting who was often the one who would just cut right through the bullshit. Not in a mean, negative way, but he had a way of putting things succinctly that caused anything extraneous to fall away, and he never hesitated to do it. His wife Mona is another one of those four people who, like Sister Mildred, carried herself with sort of a gentleness, but also, like Sister Mildred, and her husband, wasn’t afraid to speak the truth or say things plainly and look you in the eye while she did so.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):

I learned a lot in the year I spent at Swarthmore College from David Frazier and Jim England who was the Provost. Jim would say with the exception of this one, you’re welcome to any of these meetings I’m going to be in. If you want we’ll talk about what I think is going to happen in this meeting, some of which are called, and some of which someone has asked to have with me. I’ll tell you what I think is going to happen for the meeting and then you can watch the meeting and then we’ll talk about what happened afterwards.

I realized that every morning he would walk from his office to a little coffee shop at Swarthmore and get a cup of coffee and stroll back. One day I was going by his office, I was on my way to the coffee shop and I stuck my head in his office and asked him if I could bring him a cup of coffee. He said nope but I’ll go with you. As we walked across campus, he said “I do this everyday because every member of the faculty knows I do this every day. So if you want to have a “by the way” conversation with me, everybody knows where and when to do it. Sometimes people just need to say something to you, or ask you things, and want to look like it was just off the top of their heads and I need to give him that opportunity.”

For more of Doug’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

Quakers have a funny relationship with leadership. We often ridicule ourselves for being as easy to lead as herding cats. We laugh about that, but it’s really not funny, it’s actually an issue that we have to address. Part of it’s built into our theology. There’s a healthy side to that, but sometimes it gets out of whack, and it gets unhealthy. I had a sense of being called into leadership, and I see that as a role and a gift. It’s not a better-than sort of thing. It’s just a part of how every group functions. There are some people — and it’s often people at different times, and in different ways — who provide leadership. We should be grateful for whoever that is, and support them to the fullest. We don’t always do that as Quakers.

I think I got sort of sucked into that unhealthiness for a while, and had a sense for a while That, “Well, nobody should be a leader,” or, “We’re all always equally leaders at any particular time.” Then I was serving at a church, and part of my philosophy about leadership is, you need to do your best thinking, your most careful discernment. You bring that to the group and offer it as a gift, and then you trust that they’ll actually engage with it, and they may modify it, they may change it, and hopefully we come to a better place afterward. Well, I kept bringing all these ideas to the church, to the elders at this particular church, and I kept asking them for their input. Finally one of the wise women of the group said, “Colin, you have all these really great ideas. We’re not a group of leaders here. We really trust you. So do them! You don’t need to bring everything to our attention all the time.” That was really freeing for me. It made me think, “What is leadership? How do you be a leader, and be accountable to a group of people, but not be stymied by it, or put so many restrictions that you don’t move forward?” Which I see us doing sometimes. That kindled an interest in me to do some further study, and that’s one of the reasons why I went back to school and did this doctorate program that focused on leadership. I knew I had these notions in my head about what leadership was and what leadership wasn’t. It was good for me to have to read a bunch of books that I may not have read otherwise, and to do some more thoughtful self-analysis about the kind of leader I am and what it means to lead an organization. So, it was both within the context of a Quaker community, but also stepping outside of it and looking at what business people had written, what nonprofit organization people had written, what I saw as healthy leadership models in other denominations and institutions.

For more of Colin’s story, click here

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?

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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.

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