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Leadership Series - Congratulations,
You are Elected: Part 1

by the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service

Welcome to your new leadership role; you are not alone. Every year thousands of people are thrust into leadership positions, most of them with little experience and a minimum of training. The majority of these volunteers do a good job, but only a few do as well as they can.

This publication is designed to provide tools and insights that will help you carry out your leadership responsibilities more successfully. It will help you develop skills as an organizational leader. Whether you are the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, committee chair, or other organizational leader, you will benefit from following some of these ideas and suggestions.

Leaders: Born or Developed?

Most people have heard the old adage, "There's a born leader." Is it true? Are some persons born leaders? Is there a select group of people who possess the "right" traits to make them good leaders?

Before the 1930's, it was believed that a limited number of people possessed the traits and abilities necessary for leadership roles. Given that belief, researchers studied leaders to identify those traits and abilities. Over 100 different traits were identified.

Researchers believe the traits needed to lead a particular group vary according to:

  • attitudes and needs of the members;
  • characteristics of the organization; and
  • the social climate at the time.

Today, facts show that leaders are not born, but are developed. Also, the situation in which the leader is functioning impacts on the success of the leader and the leader's style. Leadership is not the property of an individual -- it is a relationship. The human interaction between the leader and the followers affects the outcome of the meeting. You can possess or acquire the skills needed to make the relationship work. Each person is unique, with a particular style that enriches a group.

Know Your Organization

As an officer, you will represent your organization at various functions. It is important to have a working knowledge of your organization's history, goals, and objectives. You should learn about the traditions and accomplishments of your group and its members. Study how your organization relates to state and national organizations.

At the beginning of your term, it would be wise to read the following:

  • constitution and/or bylaws;
  • standing rules and/or manuals;
  • minutes of last year's meetings; and
  • plan of work.

In addition to reading about your organization, it would be beneficial to visit with other members concerning issues or problems facing the organization. Listen carefully; you can learn a great deal.

Meeting "Musts"

As an elected officer, you will have the opportunity to preside at meetings and to lead discussions. It is important those meetings are efficient and well-organized. To waste someone's time is a grievous offense. Follow these five tips to help make your meetings good ones:

  1. Start on time. Never reward latecomers; if you do, you will train everyone to arrive late.
  2. Have an agenda. It does not have to be typed and copied for all group members, but you do need one. Without an agenda, your group will not set priorities, will not accomplish its goals, or the group will work overtime.
  3. Speak up. There is nothing worse than not being able to hear the presiding officer. If you are in charge, act like it!
  4. Promote participation. Make sure everyone has a chance to voice an opinion. You need everyone's ideas.
  5. Keep it moving. If the discussion bogs down, appoint a subcommittee and have them bring back a recommendation to the group.

Making Decisions

Groups feel successful if decisions are made and carried out. How the decision is made sometimes is as important as the decision itself.

Because a great deal of energy goes into any decision, make it carefully and systematically. Do not rush the process just to reach a conclusion. You may later discover your group does (or does not) really support the decision.

Voting is an efficient method to get a group to reach a conclusion -- to make a choice. However, voting can divide a group into winners and losers -- and no one likes to be a loser. Have you noticed how many motions are unanimously accepted? Have you voted with the majority to avoid standing alone? People are more likely to support a decision with which they agree.

Consensus decision making tends to promote group support because all or most of the group agrees to accept it; that way everyone wins. To reach consensus means that the group agrees each member can support the decision for the benefit of the group.

Seven Steps to Success

To promote group decision making that leads to group support, try the following system with your group:

Step 1. What is the issue or problem? Describe it.
We have a deficit budget this year.

Step 2. Collect all pertinent information about the problem. Separate facts from opinion.
Get a list of all expenditures to see where the money went.
Study the budget to see where it could be cut.
Find out what other organizations do to raise money.
Determine if your dues are higher or lower than other similar organizations.

Step 3. Make a list of all possible solutions or courses of action.
Raise dues.
Have a money-making project.
Cut expenses.

Step 4. Evaluate and rank the solutions or courses of action by their acceptability.

Step 5. Make a decision by consensus, if possible.

Step 6. Implement the decision.

Step 7. Evaluate the results.
HINT: It is sometimes helpful to use a big piece of newsprint or poster board to list possible solutions in Step 3 and ranking in Step 4.

Order of Business

Your group will deal with a variety of activities, issues, and concerns throughout the year. The amount of time you devote to group business and the order in which you deal with them indicate your priorities. Try the following method at a group meeting to learn how your group slices the "priority pie."

Priority Pie

What is the objective of this group? Record the number of minutes devoted to each of the following at a typical group meeting:

  • Socializing
  • Education
  • Organizational Business (i.e., minutes, treasurer's report)
  • Project Reports
  • Other (specify)

Divide this priority pie according to the total time devoted to various activities. Analyze your group by evaluating how time is spent in relationship to your objectives. Your group should ask itself questions similar to the following -- then decide whether or not the group's focus and/or time should change.

  • What piece of the priority pie is largest?
  • Is the group investing its meeting time the way it should?
  • Are changes needed?
  • How could changes be made?

Agenda Setting

Your group agenda should be structured so the most important items are given prominence. A group whose goal is educational might want its agenda to look similar to this example:

  1. Opening and welcome
  2. Additional agenda items
  3. Roll call
  4. Educational program presentation
  5. Unfinished business
  6. New business
  7. Closing

Organizations are for People

Sometimes, in a zealousness to do a good job as a leader, you can get so wrapped up in what you are doing you forget that how the members feel is critically important. As leader, you are to serve the membership. Serve the membership as you would like to be served. You will benefit from the experience. In essence: Never overlook the humanness of your membership. It is organizational suicide to do so!

Let's take some specific duties of each office, with the understanding the officers and chairs will use this as a guide for growing into ideal leaders.

In the listing of duties, you will find helpful aids. Listed are some duties experienced leaders have found to be needed and some suggestions on how you might do the job.

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About the Author:

This document has been produced by the Extension Service of Mississippi State University in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is reprinted with permission.

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