Saturday, April 25, 2009

Group leadership - what I have learned

For the past six months I have been the chair (president) of my BNI group (chapter). As my term of office draws to a close, I have been reflecting on what I have learned from the experience.

This was my first leadership position. It represents another step in my progress from being shy and introverted to having confidence and becoming a capable public speaker. The role involved chairing the weekly meetings, making sure all the other leadership team members were doing their jobs, meetings with other group leaders and generally being a role model for the members.

Since BNI is a voluntary organization, members are supposed to function properly out of enlightened self-interest and the awareness that their behaviour creates an impression on other members. The group's leader is not strictly a "manager" or "boss", and cannot give orders. The leader has to encourage and inspire the desired behaviour in group members, explaining the logic behind the various rules (which were created by group members over the years based on experience) and the advantages of behaving as expected.

I learned that some people are more willing than others to change and develop. A few are so inflexible that they refuse even when they can see that changing would be to their advantage. This sort of attitude makes things difficult for the group members and represents a negative role model, reinforcing people's sense that things are fated, unchangeable and beyond their control.

My group members told me that they appreciated my politeness and patience, which seemed to them to be part of my English upbringing. It is hard for me to say how much of my character results from being brought up part English and how much would have been like that even if I'd lived in Israel from birth... Whatever the case, my attitude is that being patient and considerate brings better results than a more assertive or even aggressive approach. The group said that they could learn a lot from my politeness, and I'm looking forward to seeing if this actually happens in any way.

Another thing I learned is that the group has its own dynamic. The whole is larger than the sum of its parts, and the group is greater than the sum of the individual personalities that compose it. Therefore, I decided early on not to take too much credit for the group's successes or too much blame for its less successful aspects. Things happen regardless of the leader's qualities or behaviour. I know what I did well, but there are things that would have happened anyway, no matter what the leader did.

Leaders bring their own personalities and approaches to the role, and to me this represents one of life's greatest gifts - the diversity of individuals. No matter what the context, I am always fascinated by the differences between people. Yes, this can lead to conflict and misunderstandings, but it is fundamental to what makes us human. No matter what the function, each individual finds a way of doing things differently, and this makes life interesting.

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