Facilitator Journal | Issue #0500, August 9, 2011
This week's article, Is
Charismatic Leadership Good for Groups?,
was inspired by a dialogue with my friend, Lynn Goldhammer,
Commander and Quality
Performance Consultant in
the Coast Guard. Our discussion
got me questioning the value of strong, forceful, and
charismatic leadership in the world of facilitation
and training. It occurs to me as a facilitator, that
at some times and in some places, this trait might get
overused. This article explores when strong leadership
may and may
not be useful. We
look forward to your comments!
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Is Charismatic Leadership Good for Groups?
A critical look at the impact of charisma on group process.
Group Process Skill
Clearly we're all drawn to charismatic leaders. Whether we're talking about political leaders like JFK, public speakers like Zig Ziglar, or trainers like Anthony Robbins, how does the charisma or strength of a group leader impact a group, pro or con?
We've become increasingly conditioned to being entertained, via television dramas, commercials, movies, and talk shows. The messages are getting shorter, more provocative, and persistent, in attempts to get our attention in the rising sea of information. A dead pan speaker, no matter how relevant and important the content of his message, is unlikely to be heard.
I've seen coaches and trainers who actually specialize in the "entertainment factor" to create more success in their workshops and events. After all, we're competing with Hollywood at every turn with hundreds of cable and satellite TV stations, flashy audio and video enabled Internet, etc.
Further, we've been conditioned to sit and listen to the "teacher," "leader," "speaker," up in front of the room and view her as the expert, authority, guru, etc. If this is true, I can't help but wonder, from the perspective of a facilitator, about the impact a charismatic group leader has on the empowerment of her group.
Will her charisma rub off on her group and connect them to their power? Or will her charisma inspire them to just sit, enthralled and entertained for the moment, having little impact on the work "they," and they alone, came together to do?
This article was inspired by the following comment I received from Lynn Goldhammer, a fellow facilitator:
"I'm wondering if [I can learn to] be a less obtrusive facilitator when I'm supposed to be facilitating... I just realize that people need to talk and have discussions, and that isn't happening in this high tech world. So, I go in and start conversations, but am always up in front directing them. Hmmmm. I'm wondering if that is always best? If maybe some situations will benefit from me sitting down, and facilitating from within the group even when I'm not part of the group or contributing my thoughts. Does that make sense? Less controlling of the flow, while still keeping folks rounded up and moving... (a cowgirl versus a dog (leash) walker?)"
This comment got me thinking about the potential downsides of what we often consider to be strong or charismatic leadership on the health of group process. I did a little research on the Internet and found nothing regarding the downside, problems, or harm that might come as a result of strong, charismatic, even "forceful" leadership. It seems that according to most people, this is a commodity we can't get enough of.
I've heard Charisma defined as a potent combination of inspiration and enthusiasm. To inspire means to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on others, and enthusiasm is a strong excitement of feeling. There's no question that inspiration and enthusiasm serve the collective good of groups at one time or another. And perhaps that's the key. Just as there's a time and a place to "use" charismatic, strong, or forceful leadership, there may very well be times when it could also hinder your group's purpose.
Tips for the Charismatic Facilitator:
- If you've been able to help get a group to openly dialogue around an issue they've committed to work with, then you've done your job as group leader and it's time to get the heck out of the way, at least for the moment. And it might well be that your charisma sparked the passion that got them started. Great job! Now turn it off and sit down!
- Though I prefer to be a bit of an introvert, I like to think that I can be a bit charismatic at times. (Though I'm ready to admit this could be a complete fantasy of mine.) Whatever the case, I actually don't mind being in the background and know I'm being a successful facilitator when I've worked myself out of a job, at least momentarily, and my group's cruising on its own.
- For those facilitators who are charismatic and great at motivating groups to participate and engage, that very strength can work against you if you don't know how or when to get out of the spotlight. I believe this is ego work for the dynamic facilitator. See your charisma as a tool and learn when and when not to use it. Once you've stimulated and inspired your group, exercising your charisma may disempower them. A facilitator who has her group's best interest in mind will give them room to develop and exercise their own charisma.
- Silence is a much underestimated skill in this arena. And yes, sitting down and facilitating from within the group, literally, can work as well.
- I'm sure there's a lot more to be said on this subject (as he turns his charisma on low), but let's hear some of your ideas. Please email them to me.
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Add Your Comments
Are you a strong and charismatic group leader? Do you know when to turn it off? How can you better use this skill to empower your groups? We'd love to hear what you come up with. Click on Add Your Comments to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic.
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