Leadership in the Religious Society of Friends

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Friends have a long history of exercising leadership. Through a combination of faithfulness to the leading of the Holy Spirit, innovation, and courage, they offered new approaches to business, education, prison reform, and peacemaking, to name a few. Seldom along the way did they pause to reflect on how such leadership occurred. These Friends were doers, living witnesses to the faith they professed.

Early Friends reacted against powers that they viewed as corrupt. Over time the culture that developed within the Religious Society of Friends took a suspicious stance towards human authority in general, especially when institutionalized, and were resistant to most notions of leadership. However, as founding Dean Wilmer Cooper once wrote, “Leadership abhors a vacuum.” The real question is not whether or not Friends will have leaders; the question is whether we will be intentional about developing the quality of leadership we desire.

In recent years, many Friends have begun to talk more openly about issues surrounding leadership. On several occasions, Earlham School of Religion has been invited to help address the situation. This web site is one outcome of those efforts. It is offered as a resource for Friends interested in the topic.

Included here are several video interviews of Friends who work and serve in a variety of fields, corporate and non-profit alike. They are individuals who were often named when we asked others about Friends who exercise leadership well. No doubt, many others could take a place alongside of these. These interviews are conversational in nature, the result of inviting Friends to reflect aloud about their faith, their work, and the integration of the two. 

This website also includes a working bibliography of resources by Friends on the topic of leadership. As well as digital versions of certain items that are presented with permission of those who created them. These two resources are works in progress and will be expanded as we become aware of new resources.