Group theory has two main sources of direction in groups. One is leader-led, where the leader provides context and gives direction then the group works on how to implement that. The second source of direction is group-centred, where the group warm-up comes out and significantly shapes the direction.
When the two warmups clash and one or other side becomes intractable, mutiny or rebellion as in industrial action or leader-staff divisions result. When leaders accept the emerging direction of the group, and continue the conversation, engagement and participation occur. The experience of the second is unnerving for both leaders and participants. This is collaboration and requires trust, candour, abilities to listen and to be thoughtful, to mutually shape direction.
Trust is required by leaders to believe the shared agenda has emerged in the moment and in response to informal conversations usually over significant periods, rather than being politically motivated.
Group members trust the process they are in, ambiguous as it is. Their candour and good relationships relate to a shared productive future. This moves progress towards the outcome that both they and the formal leaders want.
Each person in the group is leading, contributing, and shaping the future.
A group I worked with this month was invited by their leaders to consider a refreshed operating model going forward and how former time-consuming overlaps would be managed.
The group was highly able and willing to do this, but their warm-up was not the operating model and what went where. They wanted to discuss how to build for the future, how they wanted to work together, the new behaviours they would need to make this happen, and what they would stop doing. On hearing this, their leaders realized while they were aligned, their group’s thinking had expanded. Their teams wanted to influence the direction and to have the mandate to do so.
Specific capacities helped this group’s conversations:
- Imagining a future and pragmatic next steps
- Good relationships with one another and their leaders
- Bringing elephants into the room and increasing understanding of what was important to one another
- Being bold with what they thought and wanting to achieve a shared vision
- Having divergent perspectives and continuing to relate well with one another
We fall into a trap to think that leaders are those in positions of authority. Leadership can come from anyone in a group who provides direction and enhances cohesion rather than difference.
How well does your leadership approach encourage leadership and influence from others? What might you do to create environments where others flourish in contributing ideas and direction in the groups you lead?
Diana Jones ©