In the Quaker tradition, leadership looks different than you might think. I spoke with alumni of Guilford College’s Quaker Leadership Scholars Program to learn why that may be, and why it’s powerful.
Rania Campbell-Bussiere: The Quaker approach to leadership I like to think of as if you think of a community or group as a tree, rather than thinking of the leadership as coming from the top, that it’s coming from the bottom. It’s coming from the roots. It’s giving the community what it needs to thrive and it’s facilitating growth but it’s not directing it.
How Do Quakers Approach Leadership?
Melissa McCourt: I think the Quaker approach to leadership is one that recognizes the gifts within a community and how every individual is necessary and important.
Yves Dusenge: People come together and have to actually talk and listen to each other before. There isn’t one person who makes all the decisions. That process is very important to Quaker leadership.
Dorsche Pinsky Krevitz: In my experience, leadership for Quakers is much more about community than it is about an individual. I think when people hear the word leadership, they think of one individual and I think that Quaker leadership is so much more about building up a community.
Melissa McCourt: In Quakerism I’m constantly thinking about the many different facets of leadership rather than only the charismatic forms of leadership. So whether I’m recognizing the way that someone else is quietly guiding a community or I’m recognizing the moments when I’m quietly guiding the community, and that it’s all essential and important.
How Quaker Leadership is Unique
Jesse White: I think the dominant idea about leadership is one in which the leader has a lot of power and invokes a community to move forward somehow with their power. I think what’s different about Quaker leadership is that it’s the Spirit moving through us, hopefully to find some kind of unity on a topic, and that’s where our power is, in being a reed, being a vessel, letting it move through us.
The Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford College
Melissa McCourt: The Quaker Leadership Scholars Program is an intentional community of Quakers and non-Quakers who want to build spiritual connections with one another and want to develop their spiritual connection to the divine.
Yves Dusenge: It’s bringing students who are interested in Quakerism and who are interested in community and interested in having a conversation around faith and spirituality.
Tom Clement: There’s worship, there’s discussion, and reflection, and queries, for the purpose of growth and for the purpose of growing leaders.
Learning About Leadership in QLSP
Rania Campbell-Bussiere: In the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, I was a co-clerk my 4th year. I learned a lot about how to listen to a group and support a collecting and support a conversation and a process that helped the individuals and the collective come together and listen and process and make decisions together.
Yves Dusenge: Before coming to QLSP, I grew up in Rwanda, lived in Kenya, spent some time in Uganda, and finally came to college in the U.S. And being in QLSP, I learned a lot about leadership. In other places, you can think of a leadership position as someone who has to do programming or has to tell people what to do. I think what you truly learn about leadership in QLSP is that, especially during meetings, where you are a leader, you have to listen to the whole. As a leader, you have to take yourself out of the whole equation and try to discern about the people, the meeting, and try to get a good solution to the body, to everybody. It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in QLSP.
Jesse White: I think what the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program helped to show me about leadership is that the way that I hold space in a group, the way that I’m actively listening, the way that I can elder if necessary—that these are quieter, gentler ways of being a leader in a community, and they’re essential, just as somebody who might be the face of an organization or give the rousing speech.
Melissa McCourt: My senior year, I remember feeling so sad that I wasn’t asked to be a clerk. Not only that I didn’t have that position but that I didn’t have the opportunity to give back to QLSP in that way. But I think that throughout my senior year and up to now, that really informed my understanding of, like, I would sit in the meeting house and I would pray. I wouldn’t have been able to do that in the same way. So I think it broadened my understanding of what it means to be a leader, and that more than being a leader it’s about how can each individual think about what’s best for the community.
A Prayer for Global Leadership
Melissa McCourt: I think Quakers have a lot to teach the world about leadership. One of those things is valuing process over the product. Another thing is building relationship with one another, getting to know each other. Building connections, understanding the whole person.
Jesse White: I think my hope for global leadership would be that, similarly to how we do it in Quaker leadership, we’re seeking what’s best for everyone, for the common good, how we can move forward together. To really hear what’s being said and shared and what needs to happen for everyone, where the best decision is, and to be open and willing to be changed, if it’s for the good of everyone.