"The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." - Michaelangelo.


What is a Leader?  How does one become a leader?  Are leaders born or are they made?  The answers to these questions are not easy.  At different times and in different circumstances each of us will be faced with the opportunity to both lead and be led.  It is important that in order to help our groups meet their utmost potential we understand both roles and how through the context of those roles how we can best contribute to our organizations and consequently, our community.

Styles of Leadership

It is important to remember that there is not just one successful style of leadership.  Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and depending on the situation and the group.  A person's style dictates the way that a message is both delivered and received.  Some leaders might lead from a more autocratic style where they make all decision and lead without the input or discussion of the entire group.  Others might lead from a more democratic point of view where all group members thoughts and opinions are viewed as valid and important in the decision making process.  Finally there are leaders that adopt a laissez-faire attitude in which they do not participate in the decision making process at all, but instead rely on the decisions and competencies of the larger group.  As one can clearly see, the way a group functions and interacts will be largely effected by the leadership style.

How to be a successful leader...

As a leader you will be forced to face a variety of issues.  The ways in which you approach these issues will be different for every group of people based on the individuals that comprise the group, the purpose of the group and the dynamics and communication styles of each member.  The main issues that every leader will face at some point are:

  1. How to challenge the status quo:  "There is growth and decline.  Staying the same is not an option"
  2. How to create a shared vision:  This takes vision, communication and rational thought.  The whole group has to be interested in working toward a mutual vision, and a leader is one who finds a way to inspire that enthusiasm while listening and paying attention to the group's best interest.
  3. How to empower the members of your group to work together cooperatively: One of the most important tasks that a leader is faced with is encouraging their group members to form committed and caring relationship, at least within the confines of the goals the group has made.  Cooperative efforts result in trust, communication and interpersonal support and hinder the growth of hard feelings, miscommunication and disrespect among group members.
  4. How to Lead by Example:  "One does not improve through argument but through examples...Be what you wish to make others become.  Make yourself, not your words, a sermon"  ~Henri Frederic Amiel.
  5. How to lead with Encouragement and Understanding:  What makes the difference for a committed group member is the knowledge that his of her successes are perceived, recognized and celebrated through individual recognition and group celebration.

Decision Making Strategies

There are multiple decision making methods for groups and organizations.  An high functioning and effective group understands the various methods well enough to choose the best strategy for their organization and circumstances.  Things that groups should take into consideration when deciding which method to use are:

  1. Type of decision to be made
  2. Amount of time and resources available
  3. History of the Group
  4. Nature of the task being worked on
  5. Kind of climate the group wishes to establish>
  6. Type of setting in which the group is working

Here are seven different methods that you might consider when making a decision for your group:

  1. Decision by Authority Without Group Discussion~The designated leader will make any and all decisions related to the group.
  2. Decision by Expert~The group will rely on the member that has the most expert opinion on the subject at hand.
  3. Decision by Averaging Individual's Opinions~This is a method in which the most common opinion becomes the decision.  Remember that not all common opinions will equal out to be the majority of the people.
  4. Decision by Authority after Group Discussion~In this strategy the decision making is left to the designated leader, but the group is responsible to originate opinions and share feedback.
  5. Decision by Minority~If a group decides that an executive committee shall be its decision making entity this is the strategy they would employ.
  6. Decision by Majority Vote~This method requires discussion until at least 51% of the group agrees on a single solution or decision.
  7. Decision by Consensus~This is a collective opinion arrived at by a group of individuals working together and in the end all group members are able to articulate the decision in a way that shows how they understand it and all members are willing to try the decision even if they still have reservations.

Information adapted from "Joining Together, Group Theory and Group Skills" Johnson & Johnson, 2003.