A definition of leadership
It has been said that leadership is influence. Leadership may also be pictured as having “out front” authority or command, as with a marching band or orchestra. It may be recognized by its position among others, such as that of CEO or chairman or president or pastor or an officer in a branch of military service. But leadership is none of these. Leadership is service, providing when needed the appropriate functions that will enable a group of individuals to accomplish its task, to maintain its organization and vitality, and to meet the individual needs of its members.
The context of leadership
Leadership is always necessary within a group of individuals who are brought together for a common purpose. It may be a group of musicians who have been brought together to perform musical compositions. It may be a corporation that is to engage in some business venture. It may be a country of millions of individuals who are seeking to live together within specific geographic boundaries. It may be an athletic team that is to compete with other teams in some sport contests. It may be a committee that is a part of a larger group of individuals in a common organization. It may be a congregation or parish or synagogue or mosque. It may be a family of adults and children. It may be a military unit. It may be a jury that has been formed to make a legal decision regarding a matter of judgment against a defendant in a court of law.
Every such group has these three needs, as stated above: to accomplish its task, to maintain its organization and vital spirit of cooperation and teamwork, and to meet the needs of its individual members. These needs are to be recognized as being related to the content/task of a group and the process being utilized in its work and personal relationships. This is true no matter how the individuals were brought together: whether they were employed, assigned, elected, recruited, volunteered, married, born into the group, or called into service as part of one’s civic duties.
Leaders must emerge and serve
If any such group is to accomplish its task and survive, these three needs must be met by individuals who are able and willing to provide the appropriate and timely functions for the ongoing work and life of the group. It doesn’t matter whether or not such individuals have been designated as a “leader” or if they have been given the authority of a leader. The effective leadership function of service must be provided by individuals who recognize the need for particular functions and who take the appropriate actions to provide what is needed when it is needed. If it is not provided, the work and life of the group will be hampered in some way.
For example: in the work of a committee that is about to take a vote on a possible course of action, someone may recognize that there is at least one member of the committee or maybe several who have not expressed any opinion regarding the matter or participated in the discussion of the committee’s immediate task. When he/she urges the committee to postpone any vote until this person has been directly invited to share his/her opinions or suggestions regarding the matter to be voted upon, he/she is providing an important leadership function that will improve the work of the committee, strengthen its vital spirit of cooperation, and do a lot to meet the needs of its members.
After the vote has been called for and those in favor have expressed their approval, it may be too late for any silent member to make a positive contribution to the work of the committee. This is particularly true if a simple majority of the committee members are all that is required to approve a course of action and that a “majority” is ready to support the motion for action. A procedure in which the “majority” rules in any committee or group, no matter how small or big it might be, is probably less than GOOD or desirably if there is a considerable number or percentage of its members who are not personally involved in the work or vital maintenance of the group.
Good leadership must always be shared
No one person, regardless of his/her authority within a group, can provide all of the appropriate functions that are needed by the group at any particular time in its work and life. While the “out front” leader is giving his/her attention to the accomplishment of the group’s task, the completion of its agenda, the success of its business, the progress on the family’s vacation trip, the winning of the athletic contest, or other such group objectives, some real needs of individuals within the group may be going unmet, or the actual organization and vital spirit of the group may be disintegrating.
We’ve probably all seen a team of good athletes come apart in the last quarter of a contest. There are well-known examples of major corporations that have collapsed because of internal failures of leadership. Perhaps some of you have experienced a delayed or an aborted family vacation trip because some maintenance function on the car didn’t get done when it should have been done or the needs of someone in the back seat didn’t get met on time. Some juries get “hung” because they can’t function together and reach a unanimous decision.
Leadership functions must be shared, because no one can have enough authority to command anyone or everyone in a group to feel GOOD about what is happening or not happening in the work and life of the group of which they are a part. This is true for a military unit, a corporation, a part of congress, an athletic team, a committee, or even a family. GOOD group spirit and participation and teamwork can seldom be commanded, even in the face of deadlines for action. They must be provided by alert, insightful, and compassionate individuals who are willing to take the appropriate steps of GOOD group procedures that will serve the bigger needs of the group than just the completion of its immediate task.
GOOD leadership functions1
The following group procedures will be very helpful in enabling a group to accomplish its task when they are provided when needed by individuals who are willing and able to serve in the necessary “leadership” roles.
- Initiating: proposing tasks or goals, defining a group problem, suggesting a procedure or ideas for solving a problem.
- Information or opinion seeking: requesting facts, seeking relevant information, asking for suggestions or ideas.
- Information or opinion giving: offerings facts, providing relevant information, giving suggestions or ideas.
- Clarifying or elaborating: interpreting or reflecting ideas or suggestions, clearing up confusions, indicating alternatives, providing examples.
- Summarizing: pulling related ideas together, restating suggestions.
- Consensus testing: sending up "trial balloons" to see where the group is in its work or decisions.
- Testing feasibility: applying suggestions to real situations, examining the practicality of ideas.
These group procedures can be helpful in enabling a group to maintain the vitality of its organization and teamwork and meet the needs of its individual members.
- Encouraging: being friendly and responsive to others and to their contributions.
- Expressing group feelings: sensing feelings, moods, and relationships with the group and sharing feelings with other members.
- Harmonizing: attempting to reconcile disagreements, getting individuals to explore their differences.
- Compromising: offering to compromise one’s own position or to rethink it in favor of the possibility of greater good, more extensive benefits.
- Gate-keeping: opening channels of communication, facilitating the participation of others, suggesting procedures for discussing group problems.
- Setting standards: expressing and setting standards to be applied for the evaluation of group procedures and production.
- Following: being an active audience during group discussion and decisions, accepting the ideas of others, and supporting the decisions of the group.
Problems in the work and cooperative spirit of a group will become evident when the following behaviors are present: blocking, aggression, recognition seeking, special pleading, withdrawing from participation in the work of the group, and trying to dominate or manipulate the group. These behaviors can be signs that some individual needs are not being met in the work and life of the group.
What makes leadership particularly GOOD
Providing such service of leadership within a group is particularly GOOD when the group is engaged in a worthy and noble task, when its goal and objective is to provide some benefits to a larger group of people that will last for a long time, perhaps even for eternity.
Encouraging the participation of others in the work and discussions of a group can do much GOOD for individuals who may be somewhat passive or unsure of themselves and their potential value to the group. The respect and confidence of a “leader” in the group may be a great affirmation of personal worth to an individual who may have been consistently “put down” by others. Such encouragement can have eternal benefits for someone who may have a very poor self- image.
This is an essential function in any “support” group. That is a group that is organized to provide personal support to individuals who are seeking to overcome some personal addictions or problems, but it can be a very valuable function in any group. Everyone needs the support of others and to feel that they are accepted and included in the work and life of the groups to which they belong. Every group imposes its own pressures for its task and procedures upon its members, and GOOD leadership can enable the group to effectively handle these pressures for everyone’s benefit.
I would challenge and encourage each of you to provide this special service of shared leadership within all of the groups in which you participate. It is a very special gift that you can give to others. They can’t order you to do it, and they probably aren’t paying you to do it. You will be blessed as you share this gift, and you will be thrilled and amazed to see the unanticipated benefits that come from the groups who are blessed by God for such service to others.
1. These functions and behaviors are summarized from this resource: “What To Observe in a Group”, Reading Book Laboratories in Human Relations Training, revised 1969, pp. 21-23, NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science, Associated with National Education Association, Washington D.C.
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