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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

To Be a Better Boss, Act Like a Witch

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Misty Bell Stiers is a witch. But for her, practicing Wicca isn’t just about being at one with a universal, divine energy—it’s about becoming a better manager.

“The backbone of Wicca, to me, is making sure I’m present in the moment,” says Stiers, the creative director at Isobar, a global digital marketing agency. Wicca, which dates back to the mid-20th century, is centered around living in harmony with nature and seeking to tap into the creative power that practitioners believe permeates everyday life. “So everything I do, every decision I make, is done with awareness of the consequences of my actions, and confidence that I can live with those consequences, good or bad.”

Stiers’ path to Wiccanism began twenty years ago, when a friend recommended that she read Margot Adler’s Drawing Down The Moon—a sociological exploration of neo-paganism and ritual traditions in the US. She was skeptical, but then gave it a read. And then another.

Today, Stiers, who lives in New York City, is an active Wiccan practitioner. She’s raising her two children in the religion, and writing a book about how being a witch affects her daily life and work, too. Here are just a few of the management lessons she’s gleaned from witchcraft—all of which are useful for Wiccans and non-Wiccans alike.

Do away with unnecessary hierarchies

In 1974, a group of 73 witches met for four days in Minneapolis. The group, The American Council of Witches, had a clear goal: Write down a set of common practices so that Wicca could be recognized as an official religion in the US. The witches wrote “The Thirteen Principles of Wiccan Belief,” still endorsed by most American Wiccans today. Then they disbanded, never to unite again.

The council did this because it wanted to avoid the temptation to form hierarchies—which go against Wicca’s anti-authoritarian ethos. “We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership,” reads principle six.

As a creative director at Isobar, Stiers manages a number of designers, strategists, and client relationships. The company certainly has a pecking order, but practicing Wicca has taught Stiers that good leaders don’t care about being in control—they care about sharing knowledge and facilitating the exchange of ideas, across people of all ages and levels of experience.

“The greatest ideas and paths forward are surfaced through discussion, not direction,” says Stiers. “As a manager, you have to be open to that reality, and leave your ego at the door.” In her case, she says, she recognizes that her direct reports are actually better designers than she is. Management does not mean it’s her job to have the best idea, but rather to “identify that seedling of the best idea, and nourish and protect it.”

The importance of intentionality

Intentionality is also a central part of Wiccan practice. “A Witch seeks to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and will without harm to other and in harmony with Nature,” reads principle eight. Contrary to stereotypes about witchcraft, Wicca emphasizes the importance of knowing and controlling the self—not others.

Stiers applies this approach to her professional life as well. “Every time I walk into a client meeting, I can tell you want I want out of it,” says Stiers, “and it’s usually not logistical—like ‘I want them to sign off on this design.’ It’s something as simple as ‘I want us to communicate in a way that we understand each other; I know this is going to be tense, but I want to keep my energy under control.'”

When she’s working with her direct reports, meanwhile, one underlying intention helps her keep the meetings focused: “When I’m talking through their designs, which can seem critical and personal, I’m thinking, ‘I want them to be the absolute best they can be.'”

During client meetings, Stiers stays present by pausing to listen after anyone speaks, rather than immediately springing to the defense of her team’s work. “As a director, my job is also to act as a translator—to hear, internalize, and empathize with my clients’ and teams’ thoughts,” she says. Her pauses give her team implicit permission to slow down and act intentionally, too.

Recognize the importance of connection

People often ask Stiers if she does spells. Her answer: “Sort of.”

Wiccans believe that a divine creative power lives inside, and connects, all living things. So to perform a “spell” in the religion does not mean pointing an external force at someone or something; rather, it’s a matter of harnessing the divine force already within us, and using it in a way that’s respectful of others.

“We all have the capacity to do this,” says Stiers, “even if you’re rolling your eyes.”

Imagine this situation: You and your team have been prepping a project for weeks, get to the conference room early, and are ready to hit the ground running. Then your client storms into the room, 10 minutes late, clearly in a bad mood. Immediately, the energy shifts: You all fall quiet, retreat into your notebooks, and discreetly make eyes, unsure what to do.

This is a classic example of the power of universal energy. “Understanding that connection empowers you to make a change,” says Stiers. As a good manager, part of your job is to manage a group’s energy—especially because often you direct the energy shifts.

Rather than ignoring emotions at work, Stiers tries to find a way to use them productively. If an employee shows up to a meeting in a withdrawn mood, she’ll lead the conversation more slowly so that they have time to ease into it and let go of the energy they came into work with. If an employee enters in a hyper mood, she rides that energy to create an atmosphere of enthusiasm.

Recognize magic

Magic isn’t about clouds of fairy dust, flying broomsticks, or toads turning into hot guys, says Stiers. It’s about recognizing that our world is full of majestic, inexplicable phenomenon, and that many things are capable of inspiring awe.

“What keeps me coming back to my job is that, every day, I look at the creative development happening around me and think, ‘This is magic, I don’t know how we got to this place,'” says Stiers. “The sheer wonder that I have for what my clients and my teammates accomplish on a daily basis never wavers.”

Of course, there are days filled with spreadsheets and emails that feel entirely without wonder. And if Stiers delves into every detail of every project, it’s clear how the final product arose. Yet if Wicca teaches anything, it’s that there is value in recognizing the moments that blow us away—whether it’s a beautiful garden, a shared laugh, or even a really productive meeting. If you can find a way to create more of these moments, says Stiers, you too are making magic.

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