Your job is to facilitate and illuminate what is happening. Interfere as little as possible. Interference, however brilliant, creates a dependency on the leader. – John Heider*
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Reverse Paradigms, Intervening vs. Observing
Managing self is the leader’s first responsibility. Managing group process is next. Setting the example is a primary foundation for defining the transformational leader. In Bowen Systems, the leader changes the behavior of others in any group emotional system by changing self. Leading an ongoing business, ministry, or nonprofit requires a high functioning culture with leaders on teams aligned with the organization’s values and guiding principles.
I facilitate meetings. That’s one of my primary skills and passions. I have rehearsed managing group process for 39+ years in a career as musical conductor. What I’ve learned is that the leader can’t make anybody do anything – if they can, it doesn’t last very long and the outcome is typically compromised. The relationships are also compromised and many times damaged beyond repair.
Many leaders work in groups – teams, of various sorts which are group emotional systems. We impact everyone else in that system with our actions, both good and bad. More often than not, when group members are not performing up to the expectations of the leader, it’s a direct result of the leaders actions or inactions. The first principle of Transformational Leadership in my world is being able to let go of things that someone else can do and in mastering the art of delegation.
Micromanaging is deadly by taking power assigned to others. Coaching is empowering by enabling others. Leadership is a system in which the leader builds and equips leaders in teams. Sometimes the leader needs to intervene. Sometimes the leader should observe and comment later. Knowing the difference is the wisdom of leading.
In their book, Facilitative Leadership in Social Work Practice, Breshears and Volker provide a helpful sequence of steps in managing group process.
1. Observing and diagnosing what is happening in the group.
2. Hypothesizing what you would like to have happen in light of the group’s task or development phase.
3. Do something that encourages change.
Here’s the routine – observe, think, and then act.
We all learn from our mistakes if we pay attention and apply the principles to the next situation. It’s the leader’s duty and delight to assist others on the team to grow their skills. This can be accomplished in several ways:
- Affirming: Encourage boldness and the spirit of attempting to meet the challenge. Affirming is honest feedback and not trumped up artificial verbiage. Be sincere. Be direct. Be factual.
- Informing: Provide information needed to accomplish the assignment. Set a time-line for progress. Define “check-in” times for coaching and correcting. Provide information and check for understanding.
- Directing: The musical conductor directs and shapes the music. The musical score it similar to the strategy in that it provide directions for each person. The overall experience and the attention to details and the development of the culture depend on the direction of the leader. Don’t be AWOL when the team need direction.
- Correcting: Speak to what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change. The is mentoring and not micromanaging. When the musical director stops the rehearsal and tells the trumpets that they are too loud, they are not upset. The culture expects the director to make corrections with specific details. The conductor continues with the information that the trumpets need to reduce the volume by one dynamic level. Not making corrections gives the impression that the leader is not capable. Don’t focus on pleasing people. Focus on doing the right thing and people will respect you.
Rehearse for excellence by observing first and then acting. The reverse can be dangerous.
*Heider, John (1986-04-19). Tao Leadership: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age
**Breshears, Elizabeth M. and Volker, Roger (2013) Facilitative Leadership in Social Work Practice
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