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Help Sheet

Group leadership

The idea of leadership is something that your group should think about.

Groups can come undone when what started out as an equal group becomes a battleground as people want to do different things or do them in a particular way. Remember that leadership doesn't have to be about one person calling all the shots. Leadership can be worked out amongst the group and revisited regularly as things change.

Leadership is important because if nobody takes any responsibility for the what, when, why, how and where, then the group will more than likely gradually dissolve. That's OK too - some things only have a limited life span, and fill a need at a particular place in time. But if you want your group to maintain itself, and even grow, then leadership is an issue that needs to be sorted out.

As much as anything, all members have the right to know how things will get done and who will do what, even if they are not interested in taking on any 'lead' role themselves.

Who is a leader?

There will probably always be both a fascination for, and a movement against the notion of leadership.

At the most basic level, a leader is someone who has responsibility for something.

In the very early stages of a group, or initiative, somebody might have taken a 'lead role' in order to start the group and keep it going.

Everyone else may think of this person as the leader, but they may not see themselves that way. Or, they might think of themselves as the leader, but nobody else does. This is one reason why it is good for the group to have the leadership discussion - to be clear on this point.

It might be a deliberate feature of your group that nobody is a leader and everyone is equal. But even if this is the case, someone will still have to organise meetings or activities on behalf of the whole group, and someone will need to take responsibility for how group members communicate with each other.

Many consumers are uncomfortable about the notion of leadership and prefer other ways of organising themselves, or other words to use. This is understandable, because there may be serious concerns about power and powerlessness.

But leadership does not have to be about "Who has the power in our group?" It can instead mean, "How do things get done in our group?"

Here are some alternative styles you can consider for your own group:

What does a leader do?

Leadership can describe how things get done, but it can also describe qualities that people have. Leadership can mean being able to bring out the very best in other people, providing opportunities so that everyone is able to fulfill a valued and valuable role in the group.

You don't have to have one just person who fulfills the leadership role in your group. If everyone has a shared vision of what they want to do, and different skills to offer, each person's unique qualities are contributing to the leadership of the group.

However, the practical question remains: who does what?

A group that meets regularly requires that the following activities are done, so it's important to know who is doing what. The following activities might be done by one person, or by different people.

Organising a meeting

Rotating Leadership

Leadership of the group can be rotated around group members. This ensures that the work of leadership is evenly dispersed amongst all group members.

However, this needs to be done in a respectful way and people should never be thrown in the 'deep end' when they have never taken a leadership role before. This is where 'mentoring' is such an important aspect of Consumer Developed Initiatives.

If the meetings are held in members' homes, then rotating the meetings amongst members and their homes can spread the workload. It is important that these possibilities are talked about as each new member joins the group.

However, an expectation that everyone will be comfortable with people coming into their home is unrealistic. It may be an unreasonable ordeal for some people.

It is important to respect the rights of people who want to belong to the group but don't want people in their homes. This is not just about sharing the workload; it is about respecting people's differing journeys. Remember too that there are people with insecure housing and people who are homeless. All these people need to be able to join in if they want to without feeling isolated or inadequate.

The group may wish to write a description of expectations of group membership so people will know whether they are expected to take a turn at leading the group, or hosting the group in their home, and whether these expectations are of all group members or by self-selection.

Example:

Quite often changes to the group's structure or operating processes may be driven from necessity.

For example, a group leader may have been comfortable with holding all meetings in their home, and all the group members were comfortable with this.

The group leader then shifts house and can no longer accommodate the meetings.

The group decides that meetings will be held on a rotational basis amongst members who are comfortable with hosting the meetings in their homes.

An initiative of Department of Human Services, Developed & Managed by www.ourcommunity.com.au