A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Group Leadership

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 What makes a leader?
Community partnerships don’t just happen. Their organization and success depends in large part on the leaders who emerge from the group. In a stewardship group, an effective leader is a person who sees his or her role as a guide or pilot, steering the group toward its destination, but not directing what that destination should be. Effective leaders are interested in the concerns of the group, but are also sensitive to the needs of the individuals who make up the group. In addition, effective leaders of community partnerships for land and water stewardship often have the following characteristics:
  • They are aware of current social, economic and political situations, both in the community and in the larger world, and are eager to learn.
  • They have good communication skills and can create interaction among the group members.
  • They have the ability to integrate a variety of perspectives and promote consensus.
  • They are able to share both responsibility and credit with others in the group.
  • They are open to new ideas and recognize that good ideas can come from a variety of sources.
  • They are well respected in the community for their knowledge, honesty and fairness, and are patient, creative and flexible.
Leaders and initiators
In some communities, the person who gets a stewardship group started, may be the same person who keeps it going. But the people who make effective initiators are not always the same people who are effective leaders. Although initiators of community partnerships are usually passionate about the stewardship issues, leaders need more than this quality. True leaders are able to keep their own strong interests and views in perspective, so they can listen to other members of the group and find the best way to achieve the group's overall goals.

Leadership roles
The most obvious role of a community partnership leader is to coordinate activities and keep the partnership moving forward. The leader guides and motivates the members to achieve the purposes set for the partnership. A leader also handles or delegates administrative tasks, such as calling and conducting meetings, and clarifies the roles and tasks of the partnership’s other members. In stewardship groups, leaders are also expected to take on their fair share of the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

Thus, to successfully coordinate the partnership’s activities, a leader must be able to:
  • Help partners determine, clarify and commit to the group’s purposes. Good leaders inspire appropriate actions and keep the partnership’s approach relevant and meaningful. They should not try to move the group in a particular direction.
  • Understand and balance the needs and interests of the individuals in the group and the partnership as a whole. A good leader inspires the group’s members to transcend their self-interest for the good of the partnership.
  • Create a positive atmosphere. Enthusiastic leadership inspires confidence and is contagious. It helps people feel comfortable in the partnership and keeps them optimistic about what can be accomplished. An effective leader uses constructive feedback to build the commitment and confidence that makes the group successful.
  • Recognize and build on the different strengths and skills of individual members and ensure people are available who have the skills that are needed to accomplish the group’s purposes.
  • Create opportunities for others by delegating responsibility and authority. Getting others to share the work not only helps things get done more readily, it increases ownership of the group’s objectives among its members.
  • Motivate people to accept and welcome change by enlarging their vision of the future and providing insight into the current situation.
  • Accept feedback without attempting to explain, defend or deny criticism from other members. Leaders listen without interrupting, ask questions for clarification and acknowledge the feedback, particularly those items that they find are immediately valid. Good leaders take time to think about the import of comments they may not at first agree with and always thank the group for its feedback.
Leading discussions
One of the key responsibilities of a group’s leaders is to chair discussions and keep the dialogue moving. A leader must be skilled at asking questions, eliciting facts and opinions, giving feedback, summarizing the points that have been made, and guiding the group toward consensus when it’s time to make decisions.
Some of the ways good leaders can improve their stewardship group’s discussion sessions include:

Asking questions - Leaders should ask for clarification or ask people to repeat a statement in a different way if they feel comments are not clear to the group at large. Leaders can also help direct and encourage the discussion by asking open-ended questions rather than questions that require only a yes or no answer. Some good questions to ask include:
  • "Could you give us an example?
  • "Has anyone had a similar experience?
  • "How does the group feel about this?
  • "Could you suggest a reference that would give more information and detail on this subject?
Listening - Good leaders must not only listen carefully, they need to show they are listening. They should focus on the person speaking, avoiding distractions. Good listeners use body language to signal their attention and interest, for example, by nodding their heads. Good listeners are patient and let a speaker complete arguments without interrupting, even if they think they know what the speaker is about to say. Leaders should always respond to statements in some way, as silence can decrease performance and confidence.

Summarizing - At the end of each discussion, the group’s leaders should give a brief summary of the points that have been made, paying particular attention to decisions made and items requiring action. In long discussions, a brief summary might be appropriate at the end of each segment.

Keeping people on track - Leaders have the responsibility to keep people from wandering too far from the topic under discussion. A short statement repeating the intent of the discussion and asking a question that will bring the speaker back to the main subject is a good way of ending irrelevant talk. A positive comment on what’s been said and a reminder of time constraints can effectively end comments that go on too long.

Ending discussions - Good leaders recognize when there is little more to be gained from further discussion. They should call for a decision or have the group move on to another topic.

Encouraging brainstorming - Brainstorming is an effective way for groups to generate new ideas, but such sessions need to be managed well to be productive. Brainstorming sessions are time to share even the most unrealistic ideas, as they can be evaluated later on for their usefulness. Good leaders must set the stage for the brainstorming session by defining the purpose of the exercise and creating a relaxed, non-threatening atmosphere. Leaders may record these ideas themselves, using a flip chart or blackboard, or they may have someone else do the recording for the group.

Giving constructive feedback - Leaders should take time to compliment speakers for particularly good ideas. Good leaders must also be able to give both positive and negative feedback on the group’s discussions. Feedback should be clear, non-judgmental and objective. Leaders should be specific and should not exaggerate their comments. They should make it clear they are speaking for themselves when they make a comment, and should give reasons for their comments.

Other Documents in the Series

  Building Community Partnerships: A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Community Partnerships
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Group Leadership - Current Document
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Organizing a Stewardship Group - Two Examples
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Getting Started
A Guide for Creating Effective Land and Water Stewardship: Building Community Support
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Roger Bryan.
This document is maintained by Laura Thygesen.
This information published to the web on March 4, 2002.
Last Reviewed/Revised on April 30, 2013.