Becoming an Effective Leader (Rick Curtis)

Part of The Backpacker’s Field Manual by Rick Curtis (first edition published by Random House March, 1998) This material is provided by the author for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience. Princeton University and the author assume no liability for any individual’s use of or reliance upon any material contained or referenced herein. When going into outdoors it is your responsibility to have the proper knowledge, experience, and equipment to travel safely. This material may not be reproduced in any form for commercial or Internet publication without express written permission of the author. Copyright © 1999, all rights reserved, Random House Publishing & Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

Learning to be an effective leader is on of the most demanding tasks you will face.
Some of the responsibilities and roles you will need to play are listed below.

Leader Responsibilities

*    Safety
*    Honesty
*    Establish trust
*    Teach skills
*    Be vulnerable
*    Role model
*    Provide balance
*    Adapt to situation(s)
*    Make decisions
*    Provide motivation
*    Facilitate group interaction
*    Move group from A B
*    Be sensitive to needs of group
*    Deal with expectations of others

Leader Roles

*    Listener
*    Confidant
*    Initiator
*    Decision-maker
*    Mediator
*    Observer
*    Authority
*    Advisor
*    Communicator
*    Friend
*    Advocate

Functions of a Leader

This model of leadership is based on the premise that in working with a group there are two basic functions which need to be attended to. One is working to accomplish the tasks the group has set out to do. The other is ongoing maintenance and development relationships within the group. Thus there are two basic types of roles or behaviors for leaders to engage in-Task Roles and Relationship Roles. Examples of these roles are identified below.

Task Roles/Functions/Behaviors

*    Information and Opinion Giver: Offers facts, opinions ideas, suggestions, and relevant information to help group discussion.
*    Information and Opinion Seeker: Asks for facts, information, opinions, ideas, and feelings from other members to help group discussion.
*    Starter: Proposes goals and tasks to initiate action within the group.
*    Direction Giver: Develops plans on how to proceed and focuses attention on the task to be done.
*    Summarizer: Pulls together related ideas or suggestions and restates and summarizes major points discussed.
*    Coordinator: Shows relationships among various ideas by pulling them together and harmonizes activities of various subgroups and members.
*    Diagnoser: Figures out sources of difficulties the group has in working effectively and the blocks to progress in accomplishing the group’s goals
*    Energizer: Stimulates a higher quality of work from the group.
*    Reality Tester: Examines the practicality and workability of ideas, evaluates alternative solutions, and applies them to real situations to see how they will work.
*    Evaluator: Compares group decisions and accomplishments with group standards and goals.

Relationship Roles/Functions/Behaviors

*    Encourager of Participation: Warmly encourages everyone to participate giving recognition for contributions, demonstrating acceptance and openness to ideas of others, is friendly and responsive to group members
*    Harmonizer and Compromiser: Persuades members to analyze constructively their differences in opinions, searches for common elements in conflicts and tries to reconcile disagreements.
*    Tension Reliever: Eases tensions and increases the enjoyment of the group members by joking, suggesting breaks, and proposing fun approaches to group work.
*    Communication Helper: Shows good communications skills and makes sure that each group member understands what the other members are saying.
*    Evaluator of Emotional Climate: Asks members how they feel about the way in which the group is working and about each other, and shares own feelings about both.
*    Process Observer: Watches the process by which the group is working and uses the observations to help examine group effectiveness.
*    Standard Setter: Expresses group standards and goals to make members aware of the direction of the work and the progress being made toward the goal and to get open acceptance of group norms and procedures.
*    Active Listener: Listens and serves as an interested audience for other members, is receptive to others’ ideas, goes along with the group when not in disagreement.
*    Trust Builder: Accepts and supports openness of other group members, reinforcing risk taking and encouraging individuality.
*    Interpersonal Problem Solver: Promotes open discussion of conflicts between group members in order to resolve conflicts and increase group togetherness.

The notion that leadership is distributed enters in because all of these roles do not need to be fulfilled by the leader. In many instances a member of the group may be the Energizer who gets people psyched to get out of bed in the morning etc. As the group matures and develops into a cohesive entity, more of these roles are taken on by the participants and the leaders can play less of a active role.

Situational Leadership

Situational Leadership Theory (SLT) takes the Distributed Functions Model of leadership one step further by stating that there is a most effective style of leadership in any particular situation (See Figure 9.2).

SLT states that Task Behavior is the extent to which a leader engages in one-way communication by explaining what participants are supposed to do as well as when, where, and how tasks are to be accomplished. Relationship Behavior is the extent to which a leader engages in two-way communication by providing emotional support, “strokes” and facilitating behaviors.

SLT is based on an interplay between

*    The amount of direction (task behavior) the leaders give,
*    the amount of emotional support the leaders provide, and
*    the “maturity” level that participants exhibit on a specific task, function, or objective.

Participant Maturity is defined as the capacity to set high but attainable goals (achievement motivation), willingness and ability to take responsibility, and education and/or experience of and individual or group. These variables should be considered only in relation to a specific task to be performed.

Example: On the first day of a canoeing trip the participants have a low maturity. Most have never done it before. They don’t know the strokes, the terminology, or how to canoe with a partner. Also the group is new to the area and each other. On the fourth day of the trip, the group probably has a high degree of maturity in canoeing. They have learned how to successfully maneuver the canoe and how to work together with a partner. They may be able to handle easy whitewater that you would not have taken them down the first day.

SLT defines four general styles of leadership based on the degree of Task Behavior and the degree of Relationship Behavior (see the diagram below).

#High Task/Low Relationship Behavior – is referred to as “telling” because this style is characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines the roles of participant(s) and tells them what, how, when, and where to do various tasks.

#High Task/High Relationship Behavior – is referred to as “selling” because with this style most of the direction is still provided by the leader. S/he also attempts through two-way communication and emotional support to get the participant(s) to buy into decisions that have to be made.

#High Relationship/Low Task Behavior – is called “participating” because with this style the leader and the participant(s) now share in decision making through two-way communication and much facilitating behavior from the leader since the participant(s) have the ability and knowledge to do the task.

#Low Relationship/Low Task Behavior – is labeled “delegating” because the style involves letting participant(s) “run their own show.” The leader delegates since the participant(s) are high in maturity, being both willing and able to take responsibility for directing their own behavior.

SLT connects the style of leadership with the maturity level of the group. That is, to determine the most effective style of leadership, first determine the maturity level of the group in relation to the specific task. Then draw a line from the maturity level axis to the bell-shaped curve in the drawing. The intersection of the line and the bell curve indicates the most effective leadership style for that situation. As the group matures, the most effective style of leadership changes along the bell curve.

Example: On the first day of a trip the participants have a low maturity when it comes to setting up camp. The most effective leadership style is High Task/Low Relationship (Telling) since participants need to be taught how and where to set things up. On the fourth day of the trip, the group probably has a high degree of maturity in relation to setting up camp. In this case the most effective leadership style is Low Task/Low Relationship (Delegating) since the participants can handle it on their own.

The important point to remember regarding SLT is that there is no one “best” way to be a leader. Rather, from one situation to the next there is a most effective style. As situations change, the tasks change and so do the maturity levels of the individual or group in relation to the task. Thus, throughout the trip you will be changing your style in order to provide the most effective leadership. This also does not mean that using another style off of the bell curve is “wrong” but it probably will be less effective or appropriate.

Example: On the fourth day of the trip, the participants know what to do about setting up camp and are good at doing it themselves. If the leader(s) use a High Task/Low Relationship style the participants are likely to wonder why they are being “told” what to do and may get frustrated or angry with the leader(s).

As the group matures they take on more responsibility for running the group both in terms of tasks and relationships. The Distributed Functions Model comes in here because the participants have begun to take on many of the leadership roles originally provided by the leaders. As much as possible it is a goal to move to a Delegating style (as long as the participants are ready for it) since this helps to facilitate growth through the Cycle of Change.

Use of different leadership styles may vary with

*    Age of group
*    Motivation of participants
*    Trip situations/activities
*    Safety issues
For example: When teaching an important skill you would be more task oriented. Also in any emergency situation you need to take quick charge of things via the task oriented style. Remember to use your “leader’s radar” to assess not only the state of maturity of the group but also the maturity of each individual. You may need to use one style with the entire group and different styles with individuals within the group.

Modifying Levels of Maturity

*Developmental Approach – Maturity can be increased by the leaders using a little less task behavior (direction) allowing the participant(s) to take on more responsibility. If this responsibility is well handled, the leader should encourage the participant(s) with an slight increase in relationship behavior (encouragement). Keep in mind that the movement towards changing leadership styles must be gradual. As the participant(s) reach moderate levels of maturity the leaders can begin to reduce both task behavior and relationship behavior. The reduction in relationship behavior means that the participant(s) have reached a point where they are confident enough and sharing enough among themselves that the leaders do not need to provide so much.

*Regressive Approach – It is possible that as the situation changes the groups maturity can decrease. If this occurs the leader(s) must modify their style in the opposite direction on the bell curve by increasing task and relationship behavior.

Example: On the fourth day of the trip it is pouring rain. When the group gets into camp everyone just stands around somewhat mopey. Even though they know what to do, the weather has gotten to them and their maturity level has decreased. The leaders need to become more directive in terms of task behavior to get camp set up and to increase relationship behavior to help lift people’s spirits.

[Category: Leadership Skills|Leadership]


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