Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 4, Lesson 3
Focusing Attention on the Group
Not Focusing on Individuals
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
Here we will deal with two essential skills for leading the group as a group rather than merely leading individuals in a group setting. Leading the group as a group requires keeping the focus of your attention on the group as a whole. Unfortunately, the natural tendency is to have attention focused on whichever individual is speaking. Therefore, a corresponding skill to develop is that of not focusing your attention on individual members except within the context of the whole group.
For example, Sally is having trouble getting along with her mother-in-law and asks the group for prayer support. The group leader with an individual focus might think, “Sally has done a good job in asking for prayer. It is good that she has had the courage to do so.” However, the leader trained to lead groups might think that and much more. She might further think, “Will the group just simply pray superficially for her, or will it remember that Sally has had trouble getting along with a lot of people? Does the group know enough about this problem to pray intelligently? Does the group need to talk this issue over with Sally? Does the Lord want the group to help Sally grow in the ways of Christlikeness that will be necessary for any real resolution of this problem with her mother-in-law, since the problem will be around for years. Will Sally be open to the group’s inquiries? How might the group handle her resistance? Will the group remember that Jill has the closest relationship with Sally and might be able to reassure Sally that the group means no harm? How will Sally’s husband Bob handle this discussion with his wife about his mother? How can the group help him sit back and let the group handle the situation and “take the heat”? Will the group be able to help Joe not be so blunt in his comments, as he usually is, and keep him from scaring Sally away from self-examination? How might the group do that? Which of all these things that need to be done does the group not already know how to do and might need my help as group leader?”
Focus on the group as a whole means that attention is comprehensive and includes at least (a) the group, (b) all of the interactions of group members, (c) the group’s agenda, (d) the group’s concerns, and (e) the effect of the environment on the group, among other things. The individual who is speaking is observed in the context of (a) those group members who are present and absent, (b) what task the group is working on, (c) what task the group should be working on (if different), (d) what the individual is asking from the group, (d-1) whether or not that fits in with the group’s purpose or the group task at hand, or (d-2) whether it needs to be dealt with before the group can progress on its work toward the appropriate goal or task at hand, etc.
So you can see that to adequately lead a group, the focus must be on the group in its entirety: THE GROUP AS AN ORGANISM with all of its members along with their strengths, weaknesses and agendas, and THE GROUP IN ITS ORGANIZATIONAL NATURE of purposes, goals and tasks. Therefore, it is essential to develop the skill of NOT FOCUSING ON INDIVIDUALS, no matter how interesting or urgent, even if two people are arguing somewhat out of control.
In such a situation as an escalating argument, the skillful small group leader’s primary thoughts are whether or not the group is going to know how to handle the situation and whether it will do so. A very minor consideration is the nature of the argument and the words being spoken by the individuals, which is the responsibility of the group, not the group leader.
In assessing the group during the argument, the successful group leader pays attention to what the group and all of its members are doing during the argument. Are they frightened? Are they too passive to be of any real help? Are they comfortable in thinking about what to do? What are the patterns of interaction that might successfully deal with this challenge?
In the successful group the group leader focuses on the group and the group focuses on the individual members. If the leader focuses on the individual, the group will not develop to its potential and individual members will be shortchanged.
With this situation of an escalating argument, the group needs to learn how to handle such events to become a strong, successful group. And the group needs to learn how to effectively bring all members into the process of dealing with conflict. Passive members need to be helped by the group to get involved, not only for the sake of this group, but in all the other areas of their lives where they avoid getting involved.
It takes a major paradigm shift to begin thinking “group” rather than “individuals”. Rather than think of the group meeting as individuals getting help in learning the Bible and living the Christian life, a successful small group leader sees the group meeting as an opportunity for the group to come to fantastic understandings of Scripture through the synergism of interdependent, highly interactive Bible study. Synergism is the cooperative action of different parts that produces results far greater than the sum of the individual, independent actions. For example, sharing what a Bible verse means to you in a Bible study is an independent action that yields little, if any, synergistic results. However, a well-led group asked by the leader, “Does the group want to make certain that everyone understands the truth of what Joan just said?” will then yield a host of behaviors that will produce a hundred-fold. [Eph 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”]
If this sounds like mere semantics, it is not. The leader’s focus and fascination must be on how well the group does its work, not how well individuals do. There is a separate thrill for those called to lead groups. That thrill is seeing a group successfully help its members and deal with its own tasks, accomplishing far more than a collection of individuals led as individuals can ever achieve.
It is easier to understand what I am saying if I apply it to a more familiar and very valued group – the family. A parent would much rather see the family’s children working together, helping one another, and being tight-knit than to merely have a group of independent children who don’t do much together or watch out for one another. Helpful relationships in the family would bring forth even greater individual accomplishment because of the mutual support within the family. When my three daughters were early teens, one of them was not doing well in school at all. Because I wanted to develop a strong, interdependent family, I called a family meeting rather than help the one doing poorly. (My family had the stated purpose of helping one another be all that we could be for the Lord.) I explained that the family had a problem, the one daughter was doing poorly in school. Then I asked how the family could help. Because I was focusing on building the family rather than merely the individual, today my grown daughters freely go to one another for help.
Our society has trained us to be oriented toward the individual. Since there are so many more times in life when we listen to individuals, it is natural to focus on individuals in the groups we lead. At those times we lose sight of what the group is doing. Therefore, catching ourselves focusing on the individual is another essential skill to be developed. If we can catch ourselves, we can re-direct our attention quite easily to the group and ask ourselves about how the group is responding to what the individual is saying, what course of action might be necessary, etc.
In sports as also in war we see this focus on the group rather than the individual much more clearly. Coaches would win no games if they did not build the team, but only focused on individual players. And those teams that work well together, do so because the team members take responsibility for their team as well as help one another. Likewise, an Army Sargent focuses on the whole patrol or everyone’s life will be endangered.
If your focus is on the group, you will analyze the group’s performance and let the group analyze the individual group member’s performance. Also, you will talk to the group almost all of the time.
If the leader focuses on the group, it will learn its tasks quickly and soon takes care of almost all of the work. The sum of the brains and abilities of all the group members working synergistically, each member stimulating the other group members and the group as a whole, will quickly build a capable group that strives to reach its potential.
So you might work very hard during the first few meetings leading a new group, but soon the group will be doing most of the work of leading itself, and you can take it easier. At the first there will be a lot to think about and analyze, but soon the group will learn not only to take care of its members but to also focus attention on itself – the group. You will still focus on the group, but it will be primarily for taking the group to heights of performance not ever dreamed of previously.
Next, learn more about analyzing the group's process.
Copyright 2013 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA