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Whether you're in a leadership role now or expect to attain one, this straightforward text will help you achieve your ambitions. Plus, the information is ...
Whether you're in a leadership role now or expect to attain one, this straightforward text will help you achieve your ambitions. Plus, the information is equally valid for social, civic, government and business organizations.
On Being Chosen Leader
You have been elected to serve as a leader. You may be pleased about this and looking forward to the role. On the other hand, you may feel honored by being so named but anxious about the assignment and fearful that you will be unable to handle the job successfully. Bear in mind that any person selected to lead a group, club, committee, organization, lodge, or whatever, would likely feel much the same way. There is some comfort in the knowledge.
Some person or group selected you for leadership responsibility because they had confidence in your personal qualifications for leadership. You should not consider this confidence of others as a burden, for they do not expect perfection of you. Examine the qualities that others might have seen in you as a potential leader. How can these qualities be used to guide the group you will lead?
Accept the fact from the beginning that everything will not run smoothly. Don't fantasize problems but simply acknowledge to yourself that conflicts will occur, as they always do when persons of different opinions work together for common goals. Actually, we would not want matters any other way. If all members of the group held a single opinion or belief, there wouldn't be any need for group action. As Walter Lippman once stated, "Where everyone thinks alike, no one thinks very much."
During some sessions, you will leave with a glow of satisfaction, while others will fill you with great discouragement. Accept these ups and downs as part of the game. You will make mistakes. Rest assured that even after many years of leading groups you will still make mistakes. The day you start expecting perfection will be the beginning of endless frustration and disappointment. You will move closer to effective leadership as long as you are able to learn from your mistakes.
You will find that what works successfully in one meeting, or with one group, may precipitate a crisis at another. Unfortunately, there are no blueprints showing what a leader might do from moment to moment. There are basic guidelines, however, that you can use to direct your course. And while there is no tidy formula, the purpose of this book is to provide a kind of basic guidance which will help you find your own solutions to leading your group.
What is leadership?
By way of defining leadership, we could say that it refers to that process whereby an individual guides, directs, or influences the thoughts, feelings, or behavior of other human beings. Better still, we might add that good leadership helps others to arrive at a better understanding of themselves, of others, of the issues at hand, and to use this greater understanding to accomplish whatever common goals brought the members of the group together.
Whether leadership is planned or unplanned, it always has a purpose and a goal. It is a process of human interaction. There can be no leadership without followers, but the relationship is only successful as long as the followers wish to follow the leader. The distinction is an important one. A leaderless society doesn't exist, for whenever two or more persons come together there is no such thing as uncontrolled, unrestricted, or uninfluenced behavior. The existence of any group is evidence of the willingness of the members to work together rather than alone toward a goal. Working together is a give-and-take business, and the leader is the catalyst of the process. He is successful when the members find the group accomplishments greater than those which could have been achieved by individuals.
There are reasons to believe that some persons have greater natural tendencies for leadership than others, but there is sufficient experimental evidence to prove that leadership can also be created, trained, and developed in persons of normal intellectual ability and emotional stability who are willing to make the effort to learn.
The leader is a person who, on the whole, best lives up to the standards or values of the group. If the leader fails to embody or depreciates these values, the group is likely to be confused and disorganized. In the matter of bestowing favors, the leader is careful not to be under obligation to any one member, and he generally gives out more favors than he receives. He takes his pay in accepted leadership. Understanding the relationship of the individual to the group, the leader is attuned to the will of the majority. The group seeks greater wisdom and vision in its leader than in other members, but the leader must also bear in mind that this wisdom must be distilled from the best efforts and ideas of individuals and the group as a whole. The task of the leader is to help each member of the group to give and receive from the group.
Examining your role
You may have played the role of leader in one group or another, but have now reached that point where you are no longer sure what, if anything, is being accomplished, or why members are reacting in certain ways. Perhaps you are asking yourself, "What is it that they want? What are we trying to do? Is it worthwhile? Do I really know what I am doing?"
Or, this may be your first experience as a leader and you have been asked to serve as committee chairman of a Boy Scout troop, or perhaps you have been elected president of your Rotary Club. For a number of years, you have been an active member of the organization and you feel proud to serve as this year's president. But as that day approaches, you begin to have feelings of doubt. "Should I make some introductory remarks? Will I handle the proceedings correctly? Will my nervousness be obvious?"
These feelings and the questions you ask of yourself are normal ones for any conscientious leader. As a matter of fact, it would be advisable to continue to examine your relationship to the group every so often, regardless of how long you remain in office and after handling meetings has become routine. A good leader takes inventory often.
Your anxieties are a natural reaction and come with the excitement of entering into a new adventure. When the day arrives when you can conduct a meeting or give a speech without at least a few butterflies in the stomach, that will be the day when you are completely indifferent to the task at hand. Many years ago when conducting my first statewide youth conference, I asked our keynote speaker, U.S. senator Frank Carlson of Kansas, if he still felt his heart pound a little faster when it was his turn to speak. "Yes, thank God, I do," he said. "When I don't, I will know it is time for me to turn the podium over to someone else."
The group experience
It is generally accepted that what we are and what we will become depends largely on those with whom we associate. Throughout our lives we are participants in group activity whether at home, in school, church, work, or social and recreational activities. It is surprising how few of our activities are done alone.
As often stated, man is a social creature, and he enjoys being with those persons who share his interests, likes, values, and goals. Sharing these with others makes life worthwhile. Your first group experience outside of the home was with the other children in your neighborhood. As you grew older, your contacts were broadened through school and perhaps church, and your choice of companions increased. You became a member of some groups involuntarily because of your age and where you lived. You were drawn to other groups because of your interest in sports, music, drama, and so on. Most people today belong to several groups. They will have their particular friends, but they will meet also with many other people because of specific interests and pursuits.
While our lives are spent with other people in groups of all sizes for a variety of purposes and reasons, formal and informal, these arrangements do not necessarily ensure individual fulfillment and contentment. Successful relationships with others seldom occur without work, dedication, and sensitivity to their thoughts and feelings. This would seem to hold true whether the group is a family, a baseball team, a large corporation, or a nation. People who live in a democracy can best learn the democratic process by practicing it. Being able to function democratically with other people cannot be learned from books; it has to be experienced. In our groups, clubs, sororities, fraternities, lodges, churches, agencies, and organizations, we can learn how to share in the decision-making process, and how to take and delegate responsibility and fulfill goals. These shared experiences, the give and take, the failures and successes, conflicts and harmony, provide us with our concepts of democracy. Through our experiences with groups—from the gang of kids on the street to perhaps membership on the board of a giant corporation—we learn to live and work with others and make a contribution to our neighborhood and our community.
Serving as chairman of a committee or serving as the leader of some type of small group can help to initiate effective community leadership. Within such experiences the individual can take the first steps in learning the responsibilities of leadership. This does not mean that you should rush out immediately in search of a leadership role. It seldom works that way. But, if you are an active member of an organization, and are an enthusiastic worker, your chances of being cast in some kind of leadership role are good, and if you accept, what you will learn will amply pay you for the energy you expend.
Attributes of a leader
What attributes do members seek in a leader? The specific responsibility of the leader, of course, depends to some extent on the type of organization. An informal discussion group will more than likely want the leader to serve more as a moderator than as a decision-maker. On the other hand, the Boy Scout committee will want the troop leader to establish and maintain certain rules and codes of behavior. In other cases, for example, the presidency of a local chapter of the Mental Health Association, the tasks of the leader are clearly set forth, and the person filling this position knows that he must function within a certain structure. While these assignments and procedural tasks will be described in some detail later, there are some general characteristics of sound leadership which we can consider here.
In order to answer the question of what members want from you as their leader, ask yourself what you have sought from leaders. These characteristics might include the following:
1. A solid knowledge of and dedication to the history, goals, values, achievements, and current directions of the organization.
2. An ability to keep issues in focus and matters in perspective; to demonstrate emotional stability in time of stress and conflict.
3. To value the opinions of each member, to judge each on their merits alone and not to be persuaded or intimidated by displays of emotion or aggressiveness.
4. A willingness to give credit to others and to accept the blame for failures without being overly dramatic or obvious.
5. A good sense of humor, the ability to keep meetings lively and interesting will contribute as much as anything to good attendance, morale, and overall achievement.
6. To find enjoyment in the meeting and be able to infect others with enthusiasm.
7. To be responsive to the individual members but to be firm when necessary in order that the members know where they stand.
Effective leadership does not automatically happen. It requires thought, study, and practice. While it may be true that some persons have a certain knack for leading others, chances are that their experiences have prepared them for leadership.
We sometimes hear people say, "She's a born musician," or "He's a born athlete." These people apparently have certain natural abilities that allow them to perform effectively and with apparent ease. But what is so often overlooked are the long, hard hours of practice, the mental and physical discipline that brought these people to the level of superior performance.
I attended high school and later college with a person who was branded a "natural quarterback" while still quite young, and his performances eventually won him the rank of All-American. Yet, in some ways, he resented being tagged as a natural, because he earned every minute of his glory. While his less gifted teammates put in their scheduled time on the practice field, my friend worked out every moment he could spare. He kept himself in top physical condition all year long. He practiced passes with anyone who could catch them, studied the various plays and formations and their potential effectiveness. He studied other quarterbacks in action at every opportunity.
In the same sense, a natural leader can learn from practice, experimentation, and by using whatever resources are available to him. He should continue to ask himself why certain things that he did or said were either successful or not. One shouldn't hesitate to seek assistance from persons who can offer constructive criticism or suggest ways of handling certain kinds of problems.
Sources of help may include the program director of a local agency involved in group work, the field executive in the national organization, the district governor of the service club, the field representative of a university extension service, a scout executive, the director of religious education in the church, and so forth.
If such a person is not available through your own organization, you may be able to locate an experienced individual in some other organization.
There may be training courses within your agency or organization, or within the community. You may want to check with the local chamber of commerce, the college or university closest to you, adult training courses offered by public schools, the local Council of Social Agencies, the local unit of the National Jewish Welfare Board, Catholic Charities, the Council of Churches, the YMCA, and YWCA., and others. Some cities have now established central volunteer bureaus, and these agencies sometimes conduct youth and adult leadership training courses.
Some of the larger churches conduct annual in-service training courses and periodic leaders' meetings for the exchange of ideas and experiences. Such meetings can be quite useful. If your church is not one that conducts such meetings, perhaps one of the churches that does can be persuaded to allow you at least to sit in.
If you can find the time, it might be advisable to attend meetings of other organizations for the purpose of observing their leaders in action. While doing this, keep in mind your own strengths and weaknesses so that you will not endeavor to mimic but rather develop your own style.
There are books and pamphlets which can be of help and articles examining theories and practice of leadership. Some of these sources explore the problems faced by leaders in working with various groups. A selected bibliography is included in this book.
Qualities of leadership
Before moving on to the specific tasks and problems of leadership, let's review some of the qualities of leadership generally accepted as essential.
Leadership has been defined as the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose. In order to be able to do this, self-confidence is necessary. People find it difficult to follow a leader who does not believe in himself. A leader must have sufficient energy to do anything he or she asks of members, and probably more. A real leader must be able to work harder, carry the greater responsibility, and go the extra mile.
There is also the important matter of timing, which is a combination of foresight, alertness, and imagination. "No man thinking thoughts born out of time," wrote Woodrow Wilson, "can succeed in leading his generation." General Mark W. Clark noted in a Reader's Digest article several years ago that Wilson's own career was a dramatic proof of the virtue of correct timing. "He led the United States into World War I when the country was ready for it, not before. But later, when Wilson pressed for U.S. participation in the League of Nations, the country was not ready, and his effort ended in crashing failure. Same leader, same country—but wrong timing."
A leader must demonstrate clear-headed thinking. He must be able to reason logically, weigh alternatives, and make decisions. Above all, he must be able to convey his thoughts clearly.
Excerpted from How to Be an Effective Group Leader by Bill D. Schul. Copyright © 1975 Bill D. Schul. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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