Resource Review: Miki Kashtan’s Perspective on Leadership - Patriarchy, Dissent, Trust, Care and Power

Our series Leadership in Social Change explores books and resources that grapple with the challenges and opportunities in nurturing transformative leadership in our efforts towards social change. For this edition, we take a look at the work of Miki Kashtan. 

Contributor: Weronika Paszewska


We all have people who influence our views on leadership and power. One of the people who has and continues to influence me is Miki Kashtan, a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication. My understanding and experience of her wisdom comes from articles she wrote and my experience of her coaching (for example at Responding to the Call of Our Times: A Leadership Coaching Program). Below I refer mainly to three articles (although there are more of them!) she has written on the themes of leadership and power (Beyond Horizontalism: Co-creation within a Led Field, Increasing Collective Capacity for Visionary, Collaborative Leadership, Grappling with Our Own Power) and highly recommend reaching out for more, for example the comprehensive [Learning Packet] Leadership as a Way of Life

Traditionally leadership is associated with getting things done efficiently through telling others what to do.

Power, especially among progressives and people working in movements, often has very negative connotations. This is why I found the definition used by Miki Kashtan so refreshing. The same is true with her leadership definition, which I found very apt and on point for those who aim to decentralize movements and communities and want to create leaderfullness movements and communities. Below we will explore these definitions, as well as key insights.

Key Concepts & Insights 


Trust is a central element for co-creation and shared leadership. Trust is understood as  trust for myself and trust towards others and the community. 


“To me, growing the capacity to express dissent from within trust is key to our future. I see a deep need, anywhere and everywhere, to reweave our collaborative bonds. We also need to learn, somehow, how to expand the circle of trust to ever more people, eventually to all of us and to life as a whole. This is a deep antidote to patriarchy precisely because patriarchy is loss of trust in life that is the foundation on which the scarcity that leads to separation and powerlessness rests.”

The central question is “how do we engage with dissent?” This question arises not from the place of critique, questioning, or challenge, nor does it stem from a place of submission to others due to a lack of belief in our own opinions or visions. How do we dissent from within a place of trust?


“In patriarchal societies, in painful contrast, people become leaders based on their capacity and willingness to exercise power over others, as well as based on their social location. (...) This form of leadership emerges from and then reproduces and perpetuates relationships of separation and domination. Leaders stand apart and are served and feared."

Patriarchy is hard to ignore when we speak about new approaches towards leadership that will bring us different outcomes compared to what we see in the world today: increasing inequalities, and the Earth becoming gradually less inhabitable etc. Patriarchy according to Miki Kashtan is not defined by gender, it is about controlling life and separation, and it is rooted in a scarcity mindset and results in powerlessness. 

Scarcity means loss of flow. 

Separation means loss of togetherness.

Powerlessness means loss of choice. 

Defining Leadership

Leadership is caring for the whole. 

It is an orientation of assuming, unilaterally (and regardless of others’ actions) an interdependent (as it involves collaboration) responsibility that necessitates collaboration for the whole. 

It is perceived as a process of finding what is mine to do and no one else’s. Each of us has a unique role to play accompanied by our own vision that lives within us. 

Visionary leadership is to lead from within a vision while holding a shared purpose. It is imminently collaborative through stepping outside of dichotomous thinking that is trapped within binaries such as ‘either/or’, or even the distinctions between ‘top-down’ and ‘consensus’. It is about conscious choice about how power is exercised, leading from vision, values, purposes and principles that are rooted in practices. This is very important, as without tangible practices, these ideals are not embodied and might easily diminish in the everyday context of work and collaboration.

It is not about how to use less power. It is about how to use it more consciously. Miki Kashtan’s view of leadership emphasizes having care for the impacts my actions as a leader have on others. 

“When I am in a position of leadership, it increases my impact on others, regardless of whether I want that. It’s embedded in the relational dynamics of power. When I, or anyone in a position of leadership, say something, it carries more weight than when someone else speaks. When I express my preference about something, others are likely to take it as a decision, more so than when others express a preference. When I am upset, others are more likely to take it personally than when someone else is upset. This is not something any of us can change.” From Grappling with Our Own Power

Defining Power

Power - is about the capacity to mobilize resources to attend to needs.

Structural power (role, types of relationship): Access to resources that gives someone the capacity to restrict others’ access to resources. 

Relational power: Access to resources that one person has that emerges from other people’s respect, willingness to entrust, or cultural deference to that person.

Final Thoughts

In the [Learning Packet] Leadership as a Way of Life, you can find further elaboration on the qualities required for leadership, specifically focusing on feminist and nonviolent leadership principles, including:

  • Interdependence
  • Support
  • Power
  • Transparency 
  • Integration
  • Empathy and love
  • Humility

And also three steps important for those on the path of leadership:

  • Mobilizing towards vision
  • Taking responsibility for our lives
  • Transforming our relationship with power

In particular, the section on transforming our relationship with power has lots of key insights. I particularly enjoyed the discussion on myths surrounding the concept of ‘power-with’  as well as the“Stepping into power” section, which contradicts the common belief among progressives that power is something inherently bad and should be abandoned or at least omitted.  

When we are wrestling with such big concepts as leadership or power, it would be a mistake to expect straightforward solutions and answers to every problem (as many business-oriented leadership books claim to offer). This is why at Tectonica we launched this series and this is why we encourage you to reach out to us with your perspective on leadership. 

A central part of Miki Kasthan’s leadership definition is “caring for the whole”. I particularly love this definition as it shifts us away from what we have traditionally learnt about perceived leadership and encourages us to challenge this concept.