Organizing Terminology – Shared Leadership

By Lynn Buske, JONAH Organizer

Many of our followers, no matter how long they’ve been part of JONAH, aren’t familiar with our organizing techniques and terminology simply because we don’t talk about them enough. In our JONAH Journal we provide short snippets to help you understand more about ourorganizing model.

One of our beliefs in JONAH is in Shared Leadership. But what does that mean exactly? 


What do you think of when you think of a leader? Do you see yourself as a leader? What makes JONAH different is that we see everyone as a leader. And everyone as a potential public leader. So now ask yourself, in what way am I already a leader?

I think there is two ways to talk about leaders – the internal stuff, and the external action.

Externally, Gamaliel (the organization that provides our training material) says that “one defining criteria of a leader is that a leader has followers.” A key teaching and agitation is that every leader needs to have a team. “We don’t want to have leaders who can only speak for themselves and who add no power to the organization. Every leader needs to be building a team.”

Why a team? The goal of every leader is to create large numbers of public relationships and effectively order them to meet their self-interest and the self-interest of the organization. Teams are ways of ordering your public relationships to serve your own purposes, to meet your self-interest, and to live out your values. 

An image we use to talk about leadership is the axle in the center of a spoke wheel. A person has people around them. Not below them, around them. And each person on that spoke is the center of their own wheel.

So, a leader is someone who reaches out to someone else (10 others is the number we often use) about what they value/believe/want to change.

I recently had a conversation with a task force member who reached out because he didn’t feel he was contributing anything of value to the group. I pointed out that the way he speaks up, asks questions, and took the initiative to contact me shows great leadership. He hadn’t thought about it like that. During our conversation he mentioned almost 10 people that he has already talked to about our work. He didn’t realize he was already being a leader. 

When you think about leadership as a wheel of people around you as opposed to a single public person with all the people below them, it changes something, I think, and makes leadership not only easier to connect to, but more attainable, more desirable, and it shifts the concept of power.


What about the internal side of a leader? In our training we talk about the following qualities: 

  1. ability define their own world and act on it and be open to others’ opinions (but not directed by them), 
  2. sense of balance and perspective about others and self and not thinking in static patterns, 
  3. curiosity that asks questions and seek alternatives, 
  4. passion – aimed reaction to the violation of a value, 
  5. ability to overcome fear of the unknown, 
  6. capacity to envision that which does not yet exist, 
  7. capacity to share leadership with others, and 
  8. willingness to grow as a person and challenge others to grow in their self-interest. 

What do you think about this list? Are there things you thought might be on there? Did you notice that confidence, certainty, loud speaking voice, know all the answers, and be perfect were NOT on the list? Those are NOT leadership qualities. Most of the most famous leaders we admire struggled with those items or more. We cannot let our fears or perceived weaknesses prevent us from seeing our capacity. 

Let’s go back to that example I just gave of the task force member. What was going on internally for that to show up externally? This person showed all  of the qualities. All of them! It takes practice to see them and nurture them to be stronger and more frequent. It is all of our jobs in JONAH to look for where we can support the growth of these qualities in each other.


We also talk in WISDOM about different levels of leadership, since not everyone is the Organizer, Task Force Chair, or President. It simply doesn’t look the same for everyone and doesn’t have to. We mention three levels of leadership: Primary Leaders, Secondary Leaders, and Tertiary Leaders. An example to explain this: A pastor is a primary leader in a congregation. The head of the choir is a secondary leader. A member of the choir is a tertiary leader. 

How are you a leader in the groups you already are a part of? How can you show leadership in your tertiary roles that support your goals and the goals of the group or organization?

BUT all people in a power organization are potential primary leaders. “The power organization is the testing ground for leaders, the vehicle for leaders to grow and through which to exercise their power.” Also, it is good to experience different levels of leadership. A person like a pastor might be the primary leader in his/her congregation but the secondary leader in another organization. I personally currently enjoy being a tertiary leader in my congregation’s Green Team.


God calls each of us. This call really is a call to lead. Think about that. God calls each of us because we each have something that is needed by the world.

From our Attitudes and Disciplines handout:

  • Everyone has something to offer, and we need everyone’s gifts if we are to succeed. 
  • We reject a model of a few people with all the answers and the rest of us just following. 
  • Meaningful participation is as important as the “result” of our work. 

Can you seek the value in everyone that crosses your path? Can you admit that you don’t have all the answers but you have some? Sometimes it is hard to be honest and have long conversations with everyone who needs a voice, but are you willing to be open to true collaboration? Are you willing to step up and take your turn sharing your voice? It is crucial that as in organization in JONAH we do continual organizing, recruiting, inviting, and challenging new people to assume significant leadership roles. It is important that we create structures with multiple leadership roles and potential “ladders”, mentor each other, take turns, and rotate positions.


We are all always growing. What gets in the way of us becoming the “center of relationships”, the force that orders relationships? The same as that which causes us to avoid power and to not define our self- interest: fear, insecurity, refusal to accept responsibility, avoidance of work. The consequences of us not being at the center, being the force ordering the relationships, is that we become the pawn in other people’s games, the insect caught in the web. 


  1. Do you have 10 people you could bring to an action? Do you have 10 people who would help sell tickets to a fundraiser (and not the same 10 people as everyone else in JONAH)? Do you have 10 people you could call about something that just came up with one of your issues? Write out your wheel of support.
  2. Review the qualities of a leader: what do you already do well, what do you struggle with, and who can you connect to about it?
  3. Who do you see in your group or organization who does not see themselves as a leader? Where do you see their leadership potential and value? Can you point that out to them?

In summary, not only is everyone a leader but we need everyone to see that in order to work best together. This means we need to give others support to see themselves as leaders by sharing roles. We need to support each other because most of us don’t see our leadership potential. Together we can reclaim our capacity to have power in our own lives and community. We are more effective together and working to create a community where all people feel connected, valued, and able to contribute. Shared leadership is how this is accomplished!