Being Open About Difficulties in Leadership

I have noticed that the culture of leadership in our Communities has changed over the last period such that far fewer Reference Persons are leading in isolation from the people around them. It was never intended that leaders should function on their own without much consultation or engagement with others. However, in the early decades of RC many of our Reference Persons functioned like that. Given the heavy isolation and separation installed by oppression and early hurts, I don’t think anything else was possible. It wasn’t possible until we as a Community discharged a significant amount on our early separation and isolation.

Many of Harvey’s1 writings on leadership show his intent that leaders not function on their own:

Groups can have more than one leader but must have at least one.

The role of the leader is to elicit the thinking of the members of the group and make proposals, not to do the thinking for the group.

The central function of leadership is to organize other intelligences to act jointly with one’s own for common goals.

Part of good leadership is developing all people’s leadership.

(from Chapter 10 of The List)

However, some common distress recordings have interfered with us as leaders engaging with others in a meaningful and ongoing way:

•Feelings of not being smart or confident in our thinking have led us to stay away from situations in which others could question our thinking.

•Feelings of isolation and separation have led to our not having any idea that we are functioning solo.

•Feeling criticized and attacked anytime someone doesn’t agree with our thinking has made it hard for us to distinguish between criticism and a discussion of different possibilities.

•Feelings of competition have led us to compare ourselves with others (especially if we’re working closely with them) and feel compelled to win or dominate rather than want to work cooperatively or follow someone else’s lead.

•Feelings of always needing to be the center of attention have made it hard to bring other minds in close to ours and support others’ leadership.


In many places, Co-Counselors have been working steadily on early loss of connection, and their leadership reflects that work. They are more connected to each other. Some of them have done enough work that the distress doesn’t have a big hold on them (or they can at least identify and maintain a correct perspective against it). Communities have taken stands against attacks and implemented Guideline O (on handling attacks, criticism, disagreement, and upset) of the Guidelines for the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities. Leaders are figuring out how to lead with their minds engaged with other minds. They are seeking out and considering others’ thinking to a greater extent than in years past and struggling through differences in thinking and experience to come to solutions that work better for their Communities.

Here are some specific examples I’ve seen recently:

•An Area2 Reference Person working for a year with his leaders’ group to reach agreement on how to restructure the classes in his Area

•A white Regional3 Reference Person working together with a team of Regional leaders of people targeted by racism to collaboratively lead a teachers’ and leaders’ workshop and develop a Regional plan to move forward the work on racism

•Tim4 developing a group of young leaders who would support the International Liberation Reference Person for Young People, and a group of men leaders who would work together to support each other’s leadership

•Liberation Reference Persons and Regional Reference Persons developing “gangs” of upcoming leaders who would support the Reference Persons and build strong relationships with each other and the people they were leading

•Leaders having more meetings and conference calls, in conjunction with workshops, to increase communication and contact.

That leaders are working more collaboratively to build the RC Community is a significant advance. And we have achieved it at a time when the dominant society is splintering us more and more from one another and attacking every liberation movement, every pro-human effort for change, every challenge to the profit motive, every move toward unity. While we have more work to do, we are more united than we’ve ever been; we have each other and we have each other’s backs5 in ways that we’ve fought hard to achieve. We can be pleased with this.


I think all the work we’ve done has laid the groundwork for us to be able to acknowledge and more effectively address another struggle in our referencing: how once we become Reference Persons we often struggle to talk openly about our difficulties. And when we can’t talk openly about them, it’s harder to give each other a hand6 with them. We do have “self-estimation” for Area Reference Persons, Alternate Area Reference Persons, the International Reference Person, and the Alternate International Reference Person, and we changed the Guidelines in 2009 to require that Area Reference Persons and their Alternates do self-estimations annually, but self-estimations are not required for anyone else and people struggle to use the format. As Reference Persons, many of us have been loathe to say we can’t do something, or can’t do it well. There’s an unspoken myth that because we have the tool of RC and are a Reference Person, we should be able to do everything (or at least everything we’d like to do in our referencing job)—that if we can’t do something, it’s our distress, and that to say we can’t do it is to surrender to a pattern. I think we’ll do better if we acknowledge that there are things we can’t yet do (while continuing to do the work to move the distress that limits us). We’ll have to work on all the ways we feel defensive and criticized; those recordings7serve no useful purpose and often keep people away from us.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t ever be able to do the things we can’t do yet, or that we’re not trying as hard as we can to do them now. It simply means that each of us has a list of human attributes and skills that we are discharging and deciding our way to recovering, and that if we can openly acknowledge we can’t do something, it’s easier for people to counsel us there. We might also be able to see who can function where we can’t and ask that person for help.

Instead of seeing what we can’t do yet as a weakness in our leadership, we can see it as an opportunity to develop more leadership and learn how to work with others more collaboratively, using all of our strengths. A Reference Person shouldn’t be replaced because he or she can’t do something (as though we could find someone who could do everything). Instead people could work closely with the Reference Person to get the job done.

Most of us don’t know very well how to collaborate openly in leadership. We’ve had to work hard on our distresses about leadership to be able to fully take up8 the role of leader, and not co-lead or lead by committee, and all of the distresses I mentioned earlier still affect us. However, I know it is possible to work more closely together—to stay close and help each other fight out of the material9 that’s had us struggling in leadership, and also help each other do the things we can’t yet do ourselves. I think we’ll find greater unity with open communication, counseling, and discharge and by experimenting with working together more closely to lead our Communities.

One way we often do collaborate well in leadership is in supporting our Reference Persons. We notice what they can’t do, or can’t do well, and we help them with it. This has played a good role, but I think it will work even better (in the long run) if we talk openly about what we see and the role we are playing as support people. A lot of us do the supporting without talking to the Reference Persons about it and addressing their struggle. Sometimes they aren’t aware of the difficulty or are defensive about looking at it. If we simply take care of the problem, they never have to face and discharge on it. It may be painful for us, and the Reference Persons, to talk to them about the difficulty and how we’d like to counsel them on it and help them with it, but we will all move forward more if we do this.

Talking to leaders about their difficulties and where they need help can run perilously close to criticizing them and telling them they have a pattern, and a lot of us have distresses that make us want to criticize leaders and point out their patterns, so how are we going to do this? First, it doesn’t make sense to do it if we don’t already have a strong relationship with the Reference Person. We can trust that those who are close to the Reference Person, who have a strong relationship from which to counsel him or her, can play this role or with help grow into playing this role. We can get close to those people and be a resource for them. We can also model having close Co-Counseling relationships with the people around us and supporting leaders well. We can read and discharge our way to understanding Guideline O on attacks, criticism, disagreement, and upset, and help others understand it too. If we have solid relationships with our leaders, we can ask them how they’d like to hear our thinking about their struggles, or we can talk to them about how the leaders’ group might work toward being more open about leaders’ difficulties and the assistance that is needed for the Area, Region, constituency, or leader to flourish.

While being out in the open about leadership struggles can open the door to patterned behavior that can be restimulating to and hard on a leader, with thought and discharge it can be done well. If we use our theory, and discharge on the mistakes we make toward others and others make toward us, I think it will bring big benefits.

Diane Shisk
Alternate International Reference
Person for the RC Communities
Seattle, Washington, USA

1Harvey Jackins’
2 An Area is a local RC Community.
3 A Region is a subdivision of the International Re-evaluation Counseling Community, usually consisting of several Areas.
4 Tim Jackins
5 We have each other’s backs means we are protecting and supporting each other.
6 A hand means some help.
7 Distress recordings
8 Take up means adopt

Last modified: 2014-10-19 06:13:21+00