Pagan Leadership: Community Building, Facilitation, and Personal Growth

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Control Freaks, Perfectionists, and Micromanagers


There's a whole overlapping suite of behaviors that are found in a lot of grassroots leaders. There's the combination of being a perfectionist, a control freak, and a micromanager. All too often, folks also engage in the know-it-all behavior pattern as well.

In just about any leadership textbook you'll read the advice that you shouldn't micromanage, that you should learn to delegate, but that does nothing to work with the underlying reasons for these particular leadership patterns or how to shift them. These patterns don't serve our communities and are (in many situations) the reasons many Pagan groups implode.

But how do you get around it?

First, here's my guilty admission: I do this. I consider myself a control freak and know-it-all in recovery. (And it is a very addictive pattern, so recovery's a pretty useful term for the process.) One of my first big steps in personal growth was the day I recognized this in myself. I believe in the power of "know thyself" as a magical axiom. When we stare into the mirror and see ourselves--and our flaws--only then can we work to address our behavior. 

This goes into the Jungian concept of shadow; I've seen a number of people write about how one of the first ways we start to become aware of our shadows is when someone else does something really annoying...and then, we finally realize that we do that thing. When that fully penetrates us, we then have the choice to shift our behavior.

How Did I Notice It?

In my case, I was working as a graphic designer and I got transferred under a different manager. This guy was a real jerk in many ways, being a control freak was just one of them. One day, he had to make a presentation to our VP of marketing and he called us all into his office to help prepare the display boards. He completely failed to communicate what help he wanted, and finally he pushed me away and said, "Never mind, I'll just do it myself."

I think I fumed at my desk for a few hours before I finally realized, "Oh shit, I do that."

Around that time, I was part of a Star Wars fan club. We ran run themed hospitality suites at sci-fi conventions, and because I was an artist and had a background in tech theater, I was in charge of the decorations. Every year our decor got more and more elaborate, but also harder to build.

Some of our members weren't really very good with tools, or good artists, or technically inclined at all. Others just didn't want to commit that much time to building scenery. I would complain bitterly. "Why do I always have to do all of this myself?" 

But here's the problem: I really sucked at explaining my vision for the scenery in a way that people with limited carpentry skills could grasp. Heck, even people who are good at building things might have a hard time.

I also failed to recognize that many of the volunteers really just didn't want to work that hard. I don't mean that in a disparaging way, more in the sense that I wasn't respecting their boundaries. I was expecting them to put in the kind of effort that I was prepared to put in. It never occurred to me that people wouldn't want to put in 40 hours a week above and beyond their paying job.

Thus, most of the decoration effort would happen right at the last minute when we were running late and tensions were high. I'd give vague direction to the volunteers, and they would try to do what I asked, but whether it was because I failed to explain things well, or they didn't have the technical skill to do that job, or a combination of both, I'd get frustrated at their result and sigh, and then try to patiently say (but it really didn't come across as patient) "Don't worry about that, I'll get that part."

A few times I ended up accidentally employing an excellent leadership technique by shifting people's task to something they were better suited to. One guy could not figure out how to saw a 2x4 despite three of us trying to show him how to do it. Finally I said, "Why don't you go put up flyers for the party."

The problem was that this was done in a moment of frustration when everyone had a short fuse, when if that had been done earlier we'd all have been happier.

Visionaries and Dreamers

I've written about this before, but a lot of the folks who end up in positions of leadership tend to have that visionary, entrepreneurial spirit. They can visualize a thing that doesn't yet exist. They can reach for a dream, for a goal, before it's manifest. These visionary folks tend to be good abstract thinkers, meaning they can envision things before they are made manifest.

Concrete thinkers tend to need things laid out in a way they can see/hear/touch them.

And right there is where we end up with our first conflict. Our visionary leader has an idea of what they want, but visionary/abstract folks tend to (by their nature) communicate vaguely. They can see the vision of what they want, and it often doesn't occur to them that not everyone can see what they want.

Concrete folks, on the other hand, need to have the picture painted for them. They need visuals, diagrams, bullet points, scenarios, examples. Spreadsheets and plans or talk-throughs. And if you want someone who is concrete to help you do something to manifest your vision, you need to break the tasks into bite-size chunks.

Visionary/abstract folks tend to not be as good at breaking down tasks into small, doable pieces.

I'm speaking in broad brushstrokes here but you can see what I'm getting at. Your visionary leader who wants to run an event or decorate a ritual space may lack the ability to communicate the vision to the rest of the team. And they may lack the ability to break the tasks down into bite-size chunks. The visionary may also not have thought to work to match people's skills to what they're being asked to do.

For that matter, visionary leaders tend to be a little pushy. They get fired up for the vision of what they are trying to bring into the world, and they're willing to put in 40 hours a week. They don't think to ask if others are willing to do the same, they just assume.

So then we end up with this pattern of a visionary with the big idea, and people trying to help, but unsure how to. Or, people frustrated that they're being pressured to help with a bigger project than they signed on for. Or, people who may simply not have all the right skills, because when you're working with volunteers, you may not have a carpenter or graphic designer or special effects nerd on hand.

Visionary Control Freak

Visionaries get caught up in their idea of what they want the thing to be like, look like. This is often the source of those control freak tendencies, and that then leads to the micromanaging. Because, they've done projects before and had people fail to live up to their vision, so they get reinforced into the bad habit of micromanaging to try and make the vision "perfect."

The perfectionism often grows from that place. The control freak has this idea of what they want the event or other project to look like, the experience they want to create, and they try to hold to that. The vision becomes corrupted as soon as other people start to take on the various tasks and do it in a way the visionary leader did not intend, and this frustrates the visionary.

And none of this is served by our dominant culture which pressures us for perfection. It's not good enough unless it's perfect. Many perfectionists also deal with anxiety and absolutely dread hearing any negative feedback about their work, so they try to make it perfect to avoid that. They're trying to protect a very sensitive core.

Part 2 of this article will go into root causes and how to get out of the pattern.


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An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  


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