Re: Can We Live Without Hierarchy?
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Fri, 7 Aug 2015 05:20:21 -0700 (PDT)
A few thoughts about the leadership thing:
Bosses don’t exist without employees, generals don’t exist without soldiers, 
and leaders don’t exist without followers.  Employees and soldiers may be 
trapped in, and abused by, bad institutions, but followers are typically 
volunteers.  For instance, the followers of Donald Trump or Tom Brady have 
simply volunteered themselves into a fan club.
Whether formally institutionalized or informally self-evolved, cohousing — like 
virtually all social organizations — has both leaders and followers.  It just 
does.  But cohousing shuns formalized hierarchical roles like CEO, President, 
Chairman and so on, so the power of leaders is informal:  It’s a matter of 
influence, not command.
Influence varies from issue to issue.  The leader in financial management — 
whose opinion about how to collect, save and spend money is well-regarded — is 
probably not the same leader who can influence conflict resolution or the meals 
program or policies for use of the Kids’ Room.
Influence varies over time.  Sometimes it slowly earned and accrued, sometimes 
it is frittered away by erratic performance.  Change of life circumstance can 
cause someone to step forward into new leadership roles, or drop out of old 
Theoretically, the cohousing model offers a wide range of leadership 
opportunities, and everyone can be a leader at something, at least sometimes.  
But and however …
Not everyone wants to lead.  Some people are happy to remain followers:  Give 
me a meaningful task, let me do it, and thank me when I’ve done it.  There is 
no shame in being a reliable and productive follower.  It’s only followers that 
make leaders possible.
So, does any of this shed any light on the hierarchical thing?  I’m still not 
convinced that pursuing and smiting the demon of hierarchy is at the top of my 
cohousing priority list …

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at] <mailto:rpdowds [at]>

> On Aug 6, 2015, at 9:33 PM, Elizabeth Magill <pastorlizm [at]> 
> wrote:
> As a leader of a religious community, from a denomination that isn't
> supposed to have leaders, I will say that it isn't that simple to keep
> from having people in charge.
> My experience in cohousing is the same--people see some people as the
> leader and see others as not the leader. When those seen as leaders
> speak, others follow. Is that heirarchy or not? Is that good or not?

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