Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 4, Lesson 5
Not Doing What the Group or Its Members Can Do
Giving Work to the Group
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Note: Whenever "group" or "team" is used, it can mean "group", "team", or "family".
One of the most important rules for professional group leadership is: “Do not do anything that the group or any of its members can do.” Therefore the premier skill of a successful group leader is to give work to the group. Then the group can handle the problem or situation or task itself. Or the group can delegate it overtly or covertly to one or more group members.
If the leader does significant things that the group or its members can do, he or she fosters dependency upon leadership that will inhibit group development. The group and its members will unconsciously perceive that the leader thinks they are incapable. Then they will begin to believe that they are not able to lead, decide, answer questions, show concern and all of the other tasks required of a strong small group and its members. This will create dependency that will keep much from getting done compared with what might have gotten done if the group had developed confidence by doing all it was capable of accomplishing.
The obedient group leader wants to develop the group to be all it can be in Christ Jesus. And, since the development of group members is directly related to the functioning of the group, group members also benefit more when the leader leads rather than does. Ephesians 4:11-13 needs to be close to the leader's heart and brings a desire to “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up....” It becomes that leader’s desire that the group become strong and capable, even of leading itself. It culminates in the joy that the group leader is helping Jesus build his church.
A truly skillful group leader is merely helping something much larger than himself or herself emerge; something akin to a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, a beautiful quilt coming from patches of cloth, or a skillful, well-executed, ninety-yard drive by a professional football team. The faithful group leader is more than happy to not be in the limelight and to let the group have center stage and be the main thing that brings God glory.
It is a grave mistake for the group leader to dominate the action. It is like the basketball coach running out onto the court to take most of the shots for the players who are more capable as a team of sinking the bucket. Whenever a group is limited by the capabilities of its group leader, it is immeasurably held back.
For example, the group leader never encourages a group member if any group member or the group as a whole can do the encouraging, with or without his or her urging or instruction. Likewise, a group leader never helps a group member express himself, for he knows if he does, the group will never learn to reach out to its members, drawing them out and helping them successfully communicate.
Almost anything the group leader can do, he or she can teach the group and its members to do. Once learned, the leader can eventually back away from doing those things taught. In fact, this must be the group leader’s goal. As the group and its members learn how to do the work of the group, the group begins to experience synergy, that complex phenomenon where the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts. When group members become interdependent and interactive, helping each member to do his or her part to the maximum (each member’s performance being helped by the others to grow, and each being spurred on by one another), then powerful synergy develops.
Let’s discuss an example. Let’s assume that the group has been meeting for a few months and members are not only comfortable with one another but have broken the “significance barrier”. They are opening up to one another for help in personal areas of their lives.
Then, all of a sudden, one of the members catches his wife having an affair with another man. In the ensuing confrontation, she has moved out to live with the other man, leaving her children to be raised by her husband. The husband shows up at the group without his wife (who has attended all this time) and tells of his marital disaster.
In too many small groups this problem would be shifted on to the group leader who would then hand it over to church leadership. While there might be a discipline role for the leadership of the church, the small group will have more power and more resources to deal with the actual problem and pursue righteousness and reconciliation. If church leadership or the small group leader tries to do those things which the group can do better, then the power of the church has been compromised in a time of crisis.
Therefore, a skillful small group leader would analyze the group (not what the situation is) while the abandoned husband is explaining his tragic situation. The group, and most likely the group leader as well, will be in somewhat of a state of emotional shock. The group leader will realize this and allow time for the reality to sink in. Then he or she would wait to see what the group and its members will do next. Taking any action at all will blind the leader to the abilities and inabilities of the group and its members.
If there is an agenda for the evening, the intelligent small group leader would not even think of pursuing it. He would know that God has assigned a much more critical agenda for this meeting, and possibly many to come.
The small group leader will be thinking about what might have to be done. Specifically, he would silently be considering what the group needs to get done that evening. He would identify that the group needs to care for the deserted husband. The husband has been emotionally wounded beyond measure. He also has the immense responsibility for caring for his children and seeing them through the crisis as well. The group leader will also know that a tentative plan of action regarding marital reconciliation will hopefully need to be set in motion at some time. He will know that the group must depend upon God for wisdom and success.
The small group leader would sit back and see if the group ministered to the deserted husband adequately. Let’s assume that the group merely gives the deserted husband scriptural advice, possibly quoting Romans 8:28. The group leader will quietly analyze why the group only quoted Scripture. He knows that if it ends there, the deserted man will feel put off by the group when, in fact, the group merely does not know what to do.
When a long silence indicates the group is really confused about what to do, the group leader will hear the call to action. Not knowing the hidden capabilities of the group, the leader will say the least possible. For example, in order to find out if the group knows that what it has done is inadequate, the group leader might ask, “Are you finished helping Joe?” If they reply in the affirmative, the group leader might follow with, “Do you think that is all Joe needs, or are you not sure what to do?”
These questions will bring out the best in the group and its members. If the group is already dependent upon church leadership from previous experience, the questions will communicate that the group leader thinks them capable and that he or she will not rescue them from their responsibility to help the abandoned husband.
Seeing that they must deal with the situation, the group and its members will lean on God and seek the Holy Spirit’s help. After this lesson, they may never again take such a passive approach to helping someone. If that is all the farther it got, the meeting would be well worth it.
Almost certainly the group will come up with something helpful to do. If the group will not, the leader will ask why and help them overcome their resistance. If the group cannot, the leader will provide some instruction. But it might even be better if the group leader did not know what to do, for then the group would also have to find out on its own what to do. The group would have to determine who to talk with to find out what might be done. This would eventually yield a lot of confidence, together with a sense of Christian involvement and leadership.
In the least, the group leader would know that the group needs to hurt with the brother who has been deserted, for this is a command of Scripture. Therefore, the group leader might ask the group if it knows how to hurt with one another. Usually, a number of people in the group will have some idea about this, knowing how good it feels when someone else joins them in their pain. Very soon expressions of sorrow and grief will appear on faces, followed by hugs and offers of physical help such as temporary child care.
The group will want to find out if Joe will be too alone during the ensuing week as he struggles through shock and strong feelings. If so, the group will see that group members stay in constant touch with Joe and not let him struggle alone.
Eventually the group will wonder if there is anything they can do to reunite the husband and wife. If not, the group leader can say to the group, “What are you going to do to get Joe’s wife back with Joe and the family?” If the group had not been meeting for a while and had not previously dealt with personal issues of members, this statement might frighten them. But a group that has been dealing at a personal level, as should be the goal of all small groups in the church, should rise to the occasion.
Joe’s wife, Alice, has, up until now, been attending the group. She is not there that night for obvious reasons. Somebody has been close to her and maybe a couple of the people in the group will decide to visit her and find out what the problem is. By the end of the evening, the group will have devised a beginning plan to figure out what is going on and what can be done. By the group leader not doing the planning or giving the order, people will be self-motivating and self-starting. They will feel powerful and helpful. In the end, they will feel extremely capable.
When the group takes on an assignment like this, it has immeasurable power to apply to the situation. Just think of the possibilities. For example, those close to Alice can be with her often, pray with her, and help her to come to a more obedient position. Unless Joe has been seriously abusive, they can help her to see other courses of action. Maybe Alice is hopelessly in love with this other gentleman. That will take a lot of praying and hurting with Alice as she gives up that relationship, grieves the loss and goes on in life with her husband and family. And, since the group knows the couple and has witnessed their behavior with one another, the group as a whole will want to meet with the church of the man who took Alice under his wing, seeking intervention on the other side of the problem as well. I could comment for pages about what this process might entail, but my intent is to show the immense power and capability of a group if it does not become dependent on the group leader. Again, the secret is that the group leader does nothing that the group and its members can do.
This also illustrates the essential skill of giving work to the group when it does not know what to do or is not taking responsibility for its own work. It is important that the group leader hesitate to say anything at least long enough to verify that the group is actually confused about the appropriate course of action. Then, the group leader can say something like, “It seems you will have to encourage Joe before he will be able to talk to his wife. And he will likely need your help also to say only that which is loving and helpful.”
When a leader says to his or her group, “How do you want to deal with this?”, or “What do you think the Lord will have you do now?”, he or she is giving the work of the group to the group. The main skill is to determine what work to give. Often the work to give the group is that of thinking independently and assertively. Simple questions such as, “What is going on now?” are highly functional to get the group moving on the next thing to do to achieve the group’s purpose. Such questions help the leader to keep from doing any of the group’s thinking, which would make them lazy and dependent.
Much of the time the work the group needs to do is defined by those tasks a healthy and successful group must do. The group’s previously set goals and action steps will also often be the pool from which the next group action is taken.
This is all complicated by the fact that at any one point in time, there is probably more than one thing that the group can work on. Sometimes it will matter which is done first, often it will not.
When giving work to the group, the challenge is to do as little as you can so that the group does as much as it can. For example, let’s imagine that the group has gotten off of its purpose for a considerable time, say fifteen minutes. You notice that instead of studying the Bible to identify and help one another become more like Jesus Christ, the group has been sidetracked by a juicy piece of gossip. As group leader, you want the group to realize it is off track. The group decided its purpose, and truly wants to work on that purpose. For whatever reason, it has gotten off track. If you say, “You’ve gotten off track”, the group will get back on track, but on your contribution, not theirs. This increases the likelihood that in the future they will depend on you to do their thinking for them. If, on the other hand, you say, “What is happening right now?”, the group will have to think and catch itself off-track. In the future, the group will be more prone to take this responsibility rather than depend upon you. The resultant increase in group output toward the goals and purpose will be surprising.
One way to think about helping but giving as much of the work as possible is to think in percentages. In the above example of a group off track, staying silent is giving the group 100% of the work. Saying, "What is going on now?" takes 10% of the work away because the group should ask itself that question continually. Asking, "Are you working on the group's purpose right now?" takes away 20% of the work. So it is really best to ask vague questions first, progressing to telling them what they should be doing little by little. The group might think the leader is playing a game with them, so he or she might need to explain this principle we have been discussing.
So, in closing, you can probably see that much of the hard work of a small group leader goes on inside his or her own head. Much thinking and analyzing is necessary, but then it ultimately ends up in strategically helping the group when it gets bogged down or sidetracked. This help comes in giving work to the group, while at the same time doing as little of the group’s thinking as necessary (not taking its work away).
Next, learn more about directing your help to the group rather than individuals.
Copyright 2013 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA