Group leaders and effective group members
This report looks at the importance of group leaders and effective group members, and compares the need for each.
Both traditional and modern leadership theories will be discussed, looking at what apparently makes a good leader. I will also discuss this in terms of my own experience. I will also look at some of the theory on the formation of group roles.
I will conclude with a summary of my own opinions explaining my reasons for these opinions.
Compare the importance of effective group leaders to effective group members.
If a group is not made up of competent and dedicated group members, then they have little, if any, chance of working together effectively. However, at the same time, without a supportive manager/leader, will the team still have any chance of achieving that success? This has been a popular area for discussion and new research recently as people are starting to question the need for leaders.
When a team is fully operative, each individual member should be contributing to the team as a whole. So singling out a leader as the one person who is responsible for the success of the team would not usually be a fair picture and would ignore the huge significance of every other member of the team. Although, when a team does not have a leader it could easily become directionless and digress from its main aims and goals.
Hayes, 1997, who has tried to look at both sides of the argument, for and against leaders, suggests that the team leader can have a huge impact on the group's chance of achievement. A leader who is apathetic, openly cynical or unimpressive is very unlikely to maintain a positive team. But, then again, neither is a leader who is dominating and dictatorial. In order to create positive working attitudes all individuals need to feel they can contribute to the group. This way the group benefits as all skills and abilities are being used to the group's full advantage. A leader is more likely to contribute to the success of the group if they can create this kind of working atmosphere, even if they have to sometimes stand back and let the other members in the group take some responsibility.
One of the most well-known theories on managers and working practices is McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y. McGregor's Theory X managers believe that humans are fundamentally lazy, would prefer not to work and need close supervision in order to ensure they are actually doing the work. Theory Y managers believe that human beings are self-motivated, enjoy their work and are quite happy to be there, and if they know their work is appreciated then they will work hard without constantly needing to be watched over. This ties in with the self-fulfilling prophecies. Theory X and Y has a big impact on the way that people work, although this influence is implicit and those who transmit it are usually totally oblivious to what they are doing. For example, a manager who believes that a particular task is pointless will unconsciously fail to offer encouragement and assistance for the team working on the task. The team will also pick up on the fact that the leader feels that what they are doing is a waste of time and will put little effort into the task. The manager's initial belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the outcome of the task will be disappointing.
However, self-fulfilling prophecies can have a positive effect too. If a leader is genuinely convinced that a project will be a success and is a worthwhile task then they should successfully encourage the team and will provide them with the guidance they need in order to make the task a success.
McGregor's Theory X & Theory Y is useful for seeing how a leader's beliefs can affect the outcome of a group. However, it is very unlikely that it is as simple as that. An individual's personality is very complex and will probably not fit comfortably into either the X or Y category. It is more likely that a person may have traits of both in their character, or may move from one group to the other, depending on their mood and the situation they are in. I do not feel that we can categorise people as simply as McGregor thought.
There have been many more tests and studies carried out to try and explain how leadership can affect a group. Probably one of the most common is Lewin, Lippit and White. Lewin, Lippit and White, in 1939, studied the effect of leadership style on a group:
“Groups of ten and eleven-year-olds were run by three adult leader who adopted each of three leadership styles for a specified period: autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire. When the groups were under an autocratic leader, they were more dependent on the leader and more egocentric in their peer relationships. When rotated to a democratic style of leadership, the same children evidenced more initiative, friendliness, and responsibility and continued to work even when the leader was out of the room. Their interest in their work and in the quality of their product was higher. Aggressive acts were more frequent under autocratic and laissez-faire leaders than they were under a democratic leader. Hostility was thirty times as great in the autocratic groups than in either of the other two. Nineteen of twenty members liked the democratic leader better than the autocrat, and seven of ten liked the laissez-faire leader better than the autocrat.”
The theory behind Lewin, Lippit and White's study is useful in terms of seeing how the boys responded to different leadership styles, however the validity of the tests possibly lets down these results. The boys in the study were already used to the democratic style already as they came from middle-class families and this was the typical style taken on by their parents. This could mean that the boys performed better with the democratic style of leadership as this is what they were used to rather than because of the natural qualities in the style itself. If the study had included boys from firm authoritarian backgrounds then it is likely that the results would have been far less dramatic. However, today's society tends to adopt a more democratic style of leadership so perhaps Lewin's findings are still valid today. It is also worth bearing in mind that even though the sample used was not typical of it's time, it is definitely typical of ours.
The Lewin, Lippit and White study does not so much argue the need for a leader, but I feel it is still relevant to include it in this section of the report as it stresses the significant affect that a leader can have on a team, both in a negative and a positive way.
A more modern approach to leadership is empowerment. According to www.empowermentillustrated.com empowerment is "The process of sharing information, training and allowing employees to manage their jobs in order to obtain optimum results". If empowerment is successfully implemented within an organisation then it can be argued whether there is any need for leaders. Members of a team should be able to effectively make decisions and to structure and manage their own work. They should be able to work together to achieve success without needing a leader telling them what to do and when to do it. Meindl and Ehrlich, 1987, argue that leadership has been “over-romanticized” and that people tend to link an organisation's success to its leaders, when really there are other huge contributing factors which have determined this success, such as the groups which worked under the leaders. They explain how organisational studies are biased towards focusing on leaders due to the attractiveness of the typical charismatic leader. This results in leaders being perceived as being more important than maybe they really are.
However much the idea of a leader is criticised, it is impossible to deny that leaders can make a significant difference to how people work and that they can transform a struggling group into one that is extremely efficient. Then again it is also quite possible that once people have learned to work in ways which produce the required results they may no longer need a leader to maintain this efficiency. After reading about the leadership debate, I do not feel like I am in a position to either agree or disagree with the need for a leader. Some teams will undoubtedly work better using their own initiative, without a leader, whereas other teams will be doomed for failure without someone to guide them and to take responsibility. I agree that teams may need a leader at the beginning, someone to organise them and show them that they are capable of achieving high standards, but after a certain amount of time, and after reaching a certain level of success some groups may feel that the role of the leader is a pointless one.
I do not think there is just one right or wrong answer, I think both the leader and the team members are just as effective as each other in achieving success, but this varies from one situation to another.
According to literature, what apparently makes a good leader? How does this compare to my personal experience?
Many traditional theorists have attempted to define and explain leaders and the idea of leadership. Lately there has also been many modern theories which attempt to explain leadership. For example, Katzenbach & Smith (1993) identified six principles of good team leadership. They state good team leaders:
1. Keep the purpose, goals and approach of the team relevant and meaningful
2. Build commitment and confidence in team members
3. Strengthen the mix and level of skills in the team
4. Manage the relationships with outsiders, including removing obstacles from the team's path
5. Create opportunities for members of the team
6. Do real work
I agree with these principles to some extent. If a leader adhered to these six principles then I think the team would function excellently. You would expect the team to be very focused on what they are doing and what they want to achieve, they should be very motivated, they should be extremely skilled in what they are doing and in turn should produce excellent results. However, I also think that a leader who always works by these six principles all of the time would be very hard to find. An individual may choose to adopt this style of working but it would be very difficult to maintain all of the desired behaviours all of the time.
During my 12 month placement at the Highways Agency my team leader demonstrated all of the above principles, but I don't feel that she worked that way all of the time. For example I can only remember one or two times when she did the actual work that the team did. However she did demonstrate some of the behaviours continuously throughout my placement, for example, she repeatedly created opportunities for team members. I think that for all six principles to be used the organisation itself needs to have some input. It needs to encourage leaders to work in this way and to assist them in being able to use this method in their leadership style. So in the case of my team leader, I think it wasn't part of her job role to do the same work as the team, she had other responsibilities which took up the majority of her time. If the organisation chose to incorporate this way of working they would need to make certain changes and would have to work with team leaders in order to convince them that this was a worthwhile way of working. In the ideal world Katzenbach and Smith's principles are a great idea but I think for an organisation such as the Highways Agency they would not be very practical. The team I worked in seemed to function fine and I feel that the team leader did a very good job in guiding and motivating the team. In may be possible to use some of the principles in the way that team leaders work, but I don't think all six would work.
During the research stage of this report I revisited the Highways Agency to carry out several informal interviews. The interviews were unstructured as I wanted the conversation to flow freely so that the interviewees could say what they wanted to say. When asked some typical traits of a good leader, nearly all interviewees talked about behaviours which were very similar to those six principles listed by Katzenbach & Smith. I then asked how many leaders they had come across who incorporated these behaviours into their leadership style, all interviewees either very few, or none. This shows that we are all aware of what constitutes a good leader in theory, yet in practice a leader seems to be something very different.
According to Katzenbach & Smith there are also two things that a good team leader should never do. Firstly a leader should never blame. They must be prepared to accept that mistakes do, and will happen. A good team leader should deal with errors without increasing the pressure on the individual concerned. They should help the team to learn from the mistakes in order to prevent them from happening again. I agree with Katzenbach & Smith to a certain extent. We all make mistakes in everything we do, and mistakes are probably one of the most useful tools in learning. So like Katzenbach & Smith stated, a leader should not blame an individual if they are to make a mistake. Instead the leader should use the experience to help the individual to learn what they did wrong and how they can do things differently. However, I think this is only true when the mistake is a genuine one. In some situations a leader may be seen as not being strict enough and some people may take advantage of this. In cases like this mistakes may happen very frequently as people know there will be no outcome to their errors. In this situation the leader must become more assertive and should let the team know that this is not acceptable.
The second thing which Katzenbach & Smith say team leaders should never do is hide the fact that a team has underperformed. Rather than do this they should acknowledge that the team has not accomplished what they intended to. They should then look constructively for ways in which the problem can be sorted. In the majority of organisations failure is normally punished so the problem is rarely actually dealt with. When responsibility is taken for the team's mistakes as well as for the team's achievements, the leader is reinforcing the sense of teamwork and commitment within the team. It should also generate an environment of problem-solving, rather than problems merely being ignored. I agree entirely with what Katzenbach & Smith are trying to say. During my time at the Highways Agency I can remember times when the team did not achieve what we had intended, sometimes through our own mistakes, sometimes through things which were out of our control. We were always encouraged to look at why we had not been successful and would look at ways in which we could avoid the same thing happening in the future. I personally found this really useful and I think it made the team more determined and also made the team itself stronger. However this did not seem to be the trend within other teams in the Highways Agency, as during the interviews which I carried out, more than half of the individuals said that under-performance was something which wasn't discussed comfortably within the team. One individual described it as being “simply brushed under the carpet as if it hadn't happened and we would move on to the next project. It wasn't encouraged to talk about the times when we hadn't succeeded.” So it seems as if my team was in the minority when it comes to learning from your experiences and working with it to make the team more successful.
These principles also encourage a sense of unity between group members. ‘by making opportunities for everyone to contribute, by making sure that the team has the skills needed for the job and - most importantly - by joining in the work personally, the team leader makes sure that all the team members can feel that this special group works together, as a unit, and that they have their own place in it.' Hayes, 1997, Pg 115. If a team leader chooses to implement these principles into their way of working, they should see that the team is able to meet targets and that the team members remain motivated and don't become sidetracked.
Bales & Slater, 1955, (cited in Hayes, 1993) showed that two different approaches are usually used by individuals who contribute to group relations. The first is when the person mainly focuses on the task in hand, and the second approach is to concentrate on maintaining good interpersonal relations. In 1970 Bales defined two different types of typical leaders who regularly seemed to emerge, these were the task specialist, who was very task orientated, and the social emotional specialist, who worked at the relationships within the group and wanted to keep motivation high, (cited in Hayes 1993). Some leaders were able to adopt both roles, but Bales found that two people would usually take on each role. I think Bales' two types of leader, the task specialist and the social emotional specialist, are a good generalisation of the types of leaders you could come across. However, again I do not think that everyone will fit neatly into one category or the other, some individuals will be a mixture of both, although Bales did consider this and suggested that one individual could take on the role of both. When a group first comes together and begins to assign different roles to the group members I think it would be useful to use Bales' idea and have two leaders rather than one, one taking on the role of the task specialist and the other taking on the role of the social emotional specialist. This should help keep the group focused (the task manager) while at the same time maintaining motivation and harmony within the group (the social emotional specialist).
Discuss the theory behind group roles and how these are formed.
There is usually a significant amount of differentiation present when looking at how different members of a group behave. The formal structure of a group is defined by the roles within it and these differ considerably from one group to another. A role can be defined as “a set of expectations defining the appropriate behaviour of an occupant of a position toward other related positions.” Johnson & Johnson, 1994, Pg 18. Roles tend to be assigned in a fairly formal manner, such as voting who will be leader, etc. Whereas other times individuals may just drift into certain roles because of their interests and abilities. When an individual has selected a role to take on, they are expected, by the other group members, to conform to their role requirements and responsibilities and to behave in a way that the group sees as being acceptable.
The structure of the work group and relationships among the members are formed through role differentiation. In order for the group to develop each member must identify a distinct role which they will fulfil, as some form of structure is necessary for teamwork and co-operation to successfully take place. When a group has clear roles it helps to clarify the structure and to simplify the complex relationships within the group.
Mullins, 1996, Pg 198 suggests that the role, or roles, that the individual plays within the group is influenced by a combination of:
Situational factors: such as the requirements of the task, the style of leadership, position in the communication network
Personal factors: such as values, attitudes, motivation ability and personality
Previous experience is probably also something which will have an effect on the role an individual ends up taking on. It is also likely that one person may end up taking on more than one role within the group. Depending on what type of roles they are, this could possibly cause problems if the roles are contradicting in nature, however everyone within a group is still expected to behave in a particular way and to meet up to their role expectations, despite complications.
Another useful idea for explaining group roles is benign projection. Wetherell, 1997, Pg 85, describes how it tends to be difficult for the majority of group members to take responsibility for owning certain emotions, such as anxiety or anger. Sometimes they may unconsciously choose another individual from the group to hold this emotion for them, or more likely, for the whole group. In benign projection, group members use a process known as reality testing. This is the checking of the projection against the reality of the individual and their experiences. If group members find that there is a mismatch between the assumptions made about the individual being projected into and the reality of that person then the projection will be removed and all members of the group will take ownership of the emotion.
If reality testing doesn't take place then a malign projection exists instead. This time the individual cannot reject the projection and becomes depersonalised, it is likely that they may then take on the behaviour that fits what is being projected. Once the projection has taken place the individuals who are carrying out the projection become, and will probably remain, depleted of the aspect of themselves that they have projected into that person.
A common example of a malign projection, given by Wetherell, 1997, is where one member of a group begins to show signs of anxiety. Despite others also feeling anxious, rather than show this they project their anxiety into the other individual who has displayed clear sign of this emotion. He/she may then receive a lot of concern from the rest of the group. While the anxiety is being projected the individual will become increasingly distraught and the rest of the group will become progressively calmer. Sometimes the person receiving this projection may have to leave the group if it becomes too much for them. If this is to happen the anxiety will probably be perceived as being ‘got rid of' and the remaining group members will continue to consciously worry about the member who left the group , and will talk about them as if they were still carrying the burden of anxiety for the group. Eventually this won't be enough and the anxiety will again return to all, or most, members of the group and either all individuals will be responsible for their own feeling of worry, or again another recipient will be found.
I have so far discussed the projection of feelings and emotions as a negative thing, but this doesn't always have to be the case, as it can help to lead to successful leadership. If a member of a group demonstrates qualities that display strength or ability then others, in their unease with their own ability to carry out a task or to take on the role of the leader themselves, may, consciously or unconsciously, project the abilities and strengths that they do have into the individual who they wish to be leader. If the individual chooses to accept the projection then this person will become the group's leader.
However, if reality testing is not present then a leader can be selected who is not necessarily adequate and who is possibly incapable of leading the team. However as the leader is idealised, the other people in the group may feel protected and comforted by the leader they have chosen, as just by having a leader in place, someone is there to take some form of responsibility.
I don't feel that there is much to dispute in terms of what I read about the forming of group roles. However I feel that there is not set pattern that all groups go through in order to define each individual's roles, it will depend entirely on the group size, the task to be carried out, duration of the task, etc.
I found the benign projection very interesting as it is not something I have particularly noticed before but after reading about it I could see that it is very appropriate in terms of why particular people have certain roles in a group.
I do not feel that I have one particular answer to the question which I had set out to answer. Before I began to write this report I had a different opinion to the one which I have now. Previously I thought that perhaps groups would function without a leader, providing they had sufficient numbers and resources. After further reading around the subject I have now slightly changed my mind. I don't believe that a good leader is more important than effective group members, however I do think that they both are vital in order to achieve success.
I do think that there are certain situations when a group will work better without a leader, and alternatively when a leader is needed in order for a group to achieve success, however generally, I think it is important for a group to have a leader. I don't necessarily think that a leader is needed for the entire duration of a team's time together, and the degree to which the leader should get involved will vary, but in order for a team to learn to function together and to learn their strengths and weaknesses, I think a leader is a vital ingredient.
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