The Perception of Leadership on Group Relations

by Augusto Cuginotti

Back in April I had the chance to attend the most known conference on group relations – it was a 2-week residential training hosted by the Tavistock Institute and this week they released the brochure for the Leicester Brochure 2013 [pdf].
The text below is a section of my report of the experience.

Leading and Following at the Conference

My perception of leadership and followership at the conference had to do with people or groups of people who decided to take risks, either by making a declaration, a choice or performing a physical action.

Taking risks may link to the idea of leading through example: acting and inspiring action in others.

I witnessed examples of tentative leadership that worked and some that didn’t and I won’t be able to highlight the characteristics of the people or situation that made a leadership move ‘work’, but it was clear that some people had more authority than others and some risks were perceived as more powerful than others as well.

The two situations I was involved that could be linked to leadership in groups are below:

  1. During one of the open plenaries where an intense discussion was happening, I took the lead in leaving the room with a statement of support of other people’s work and an eagerness to start working.

    This move seems to have spoken to the group as people who joined me in a smaller group started calling it ‘my’ group and declared they followed me because I seemed to be know what I was doing. The latter, as any ‘leader’ knows, wasn’t — and isn’t always — the case.

  2. Almost by the end of the whole conference, I left one of the sessions with other people to go back to a previous unfinished task and invite the conference staff to co-design the closing plenary on the day before last.

    When I was presenting my idea as an opportunity of co-design and participation for my current group, the response was a strong opposition and critique that was beyond expected.

    Later we reflected together and apparently there was a feeling of abandonement rather than a member of the group engaging in a task that could benefit the whole member’s community.

    It took me some time to recover from the shock of being told off with such negative energy. My luck was that this reaction was exactly the same a colleague got when presenting to her group. Having someone else to share my outside-ness was key to support us in keep going.

    Our intervention was later appreciated as an initiative to include conferene members in the overall design of the sessions.

Leadership from the Field

So here are the ‘leadership from the field’ tips :)

  • Listen to what is happening to you and to others and take action at the time that appears appropriate. If the listening is accurate and the time is precise, it is your action that will inspire the action of others.
  • Expect opposition and critique of your actions as much as adoration and respect. Being too focused in either is a mistake. Focus on the critique (that will always be there) and you stop listening to what is important; focus on the adoration and it becomes about you something that does not belong to you.
  • There will be times of doubt. For those times you have to find the people, space, ritual, etc that will bring remembrance. Those are colleagues, friends, partners, God, etc. Listen to them.