The Role Of The Elder Versus The Leader


By Jim Spivey.


Arnold Mindell differentiates between the role of an Elder and a role of a Leader.


The leader follows Robert’s Rules of Order, the elder obeys the spirit.

The leader seeks a majority, the elder stands for everyone.

The leader sees trouble and tries to stop it, the elder sees the troublemaker as a possible teacher.

The leader strives to be honest; the elder sees the truth in everything.

The democratic leader supports democracy; the elder does this too but also listens to dictators and slaves.

Leaders try to be better at their jobs; elders try to get others to become elders.

Leaders try to be wise; elders have no mind of their own. They follow the events of nature. (...)

The leader knows; the elder learns.

The leader needs a strategy; the elder studies the moment.

The leader follows a plan; the elder honors a direction of a mysterious and unknown river.”


These qualities are often based on experience and come as a result of the way we have dealt with pain and difficulties.


Being often oppressed themselves, Elders do know the pain very well, yet they have gone beyond revenge and see the oppressor and the victim inside themselves.


As she the leader grows in her awareness and fluidity, the role of leader and elder begin to merge. It is the elder, seasoned by the pain of failure, the joys of success, anger in the face of injustice, guilt from having acted unjustly, the loss of close one through death, and her own mini deaths, who gradually becomes a container for the whole. As she becomes increasingly transparent to the on-going process of life, the more she is there for all the parts – compassionately supporting their unfolding as the dance goes on”.


Eldership in that sense is an attitude and a state of mind.


Any time when we are very present with what is happening right now and yet free from personal expectations, when we deeply care for the whole group, family or organization while staying in touch with some larger source of order – we become an Elder.

It may happen at any age. There are moments when the child is the wisest and most caring person in the group. Each of us experiences eldership at one moment or another.

Through working on ourselves we learn how to use this quality as a meta-skills in our interactions with others, with groups and with nature. An elder embraces everything that is happening with compassionate attention. He or she has a longer perspective and sees outside of the immediate context.


This Story was originally published by Jim Spivey, Chief Relationship Officer at Mazzi Partners, consulting firm helping leaders awaken & transform in order to co-create more meaningful and purposeful lives & businesses.

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