Lead Like…the Amish?

This is taken from Gifted for Leadership, an on-line community for women that is part of Christianity Today.

Lead Like…the Amish?
by Caryn Rivadeneira

December 18, 2009 |

A month or so ago, Suzanne Woods Fisher sent me a copy of her new book, Amish Peace, with a note that said, “The chapter called ‘For the Good of the Community’ might have some leadership applications for GFL.”

Although I was a bit skeptical on what a book about the Amish and peace might have to say about women in ministry leadership, since I’ love Suzanne’s writing and since all things Amish are pretty “hot” right now (at least in the publishing world) I cracked the book open—maybe there was an Amish leadership angle after all.

And lo and behold, at the end of this little chapter were some words that struck me—and have stayed with me since I read them. I think there is indeed some application—especially for us leaders who tend to fall in the “comparison/competition” camp more than the “cooperative” one. But I’ll share what I read and then we can discuss.

Here’s an excerpt from Suzanne Woods Fisher’s Amish Peace:

Cooperation is a cornerstone for the Amish way of life. It is a value that is ingrained at home, reinforced in school, and illustrated in the community. As cooperation is encouraged, competition is equally discouraged. Even on the playground.

Matthew is a thirteen-year-old Amish boy who loves softball. Maybe a little too much, worries his teacher. “Just the other day,” said Lydia, Matthew’s grandmother, “Matthew told us that he was playing softball during recess and yelled to his team to get some hits. He was frustrated because his team was losing. The teacher chided him. Said he shouldn’t be so concerned about winning.”

The problem with winning is … it requires someone to lose.

Comparison, like competition, are discouraged by the Amish. For example, an Amish teacher would never grade on a curve. During so would mean that one’s child good grade depends on another child’s poor grade. The children encourage one another’s good performance so that the whole class or school may do well. Differences in learning are acknowledged and respected by the teacher and the children. “Hard learners probably have an easier time of it here than if they were in the public education,” said Susie, mother of six. “They’re still ‘in the conversation.’” She means that an individual is valued, even if he learns at a slower pace and can’t keep up with his peers. To the Amish point of view, there is a place and a purpose for each person, like pieces of a pie. Each person is part of the whole.

The very nature of competition seeks to extol an individual by crowding out rivals, causing them to fail. To lose. In the upside down world of the Amish, they seek to build community by helping all individuals succeed. Everyone wins.


I’ve continued mulling what it means for me as a ministry leader to embody a true spirit of cooperation. Honestly, I’m not hugely competitive, but I do spend too much energy comparing my life, my efforts, and my ministry with others’—which is awfully close to unhealthy competition.

So, I’d just like to know from you how the whole competition vs. cooperation thing plays out in your ministry. How might a little bit of Amish attitude help you as a leader? How might it just not work—because maybe being driven by competition isn’t so bad…?

Caryn Rivadeneira, managing editor of Gifted for Leadership, is author of Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom. She and her family live in the western suburbs of Chicago. Visit her at her blog or or The Mommy Revolution blog.

Excerpt used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

About Suzanne

Suzanne Woods Fisher writes bestselling, award winning fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her interest in the Plain People began with her Old Order German Baptist grandfather, raised in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne's app, Amish Wisdom, delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone or iPad. She writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She lives with her family in California and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you can't take life too seriously when a puppy is running through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.


  1. Karla Hanns says:

    I think this a marvellous article. As a retired teacher, I was constantly trying to convince every child that they had something to offer the rest of us. Low self image was a great problem in the inner city school I taught in. The Amish have the right idea- faith, love, compassion are all qualities that a child can have to influence the rest of us – does reading and writing have to be the most desired skills to excel in???