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Leadership Series:
Looking at Leadership

by the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service

Some of the most important people in America are those called volunteer leaders. They are the persons mainly responsible for many of the activities that keep America a great nation. Volunteers devote countless hours to a vast number of programs and projects that help improve the country's social, cultural, and natural environments. The contributions of volunteers toward maintaining democracy and improving community life cannot be adequately measured.

Many volunteers, however, realize they could be more effective leaders if they could take part in training sessions and if they had more guidelines on being leaders. This publication has information and guidelines that might prove useful to volunteers as they fulfill their commitments.

Who is a Leader?

A leader is someone who influences the attitudes, opinions, or actions of others. If a leader intends to influence others, that influence is deliberate or planned. If others are influenced just because of who or what the leader is, that influence is unintentional or unplanned. Everyone influences others, whether positively or negatively, at some point; therefore, every person is a leader at some point.

Effective leaders set good examples for people, originate ideas and actions, delegate responsibilities, listen, attend to group satisfaction, praise, learn, and act natural. Leaders need to know how to work with people, and they need to know some of the personality types found in groups.

Types of Leaders

Formal leaders--those who are elected or appointed to positions of authority and influence in organizations such as civic clubs, community clubs, churches, and hunting clubs. Another good example is the PTA, an organization active in almost every school system in the country.

Informal leaders--those who influence others, not because they (informal leaders) have specified positions but because they have certain characteristics such as wealth, knowledge, ability, social standing, or certain personality traits.

Characteristics of Leaders

Effective leaders, formal or informal, have certain characteristics that include the following:
  • Respected by others
  • Cooperative with others
  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Patience and persistence
  • Push and drive
  • Congeniality
  • Maturity and stability

What Does a Leader Do?

Sets an Example

Every group has its own values, beliefs, customs--a "way of life." The leader upholds that "way of life" by setting an example; that is, the leader reflects the beliefs and values of her/his group.


Effective leaders do not try to do everything for the organization. Leaders recognize the qualities of leadership abilities in others, and effective leaders are willing to provide them with opportunities to exercise those abilities.

Applies Leadership

A leader is one who originates ideas or activities, applying their strengths to being positively effective. A good leader encourages suggestions, opinions, and ideas from other members of the organization.

Attends to Group Satisfaction

Effective leaders know people will not take part in the group if they receive no satisfaction from participation. Leaders, therefore, try to help the organization's members plan programs and projects that provide satisfying experiences.


Effective leaders do not assume they know all there is to know! Leaders are aware of the complexities of working with people, and they spend quality time learning about people and situations.


Effective leaders recognize the value of giving credit where credit is earned. Good leaders are conscious of giving a personal "thank-you" to those who deserve it.


Leaders make their decisions based on the knowledge and understanding of the needs and wants of the organization. Leaders listen to the group to help gauge the group's feelings and moods.

Acts Natural

Effective leaders know that a good way to destroy the confidence of their followers is to put on an act, "to be someone they are not!" The leader has learned to be natural.

What a Leader Should Know

A leader does what she/he knows how to do. For example: If a leader does not know how to follow parliamentary rules of order in formal meetings, it is obvious that leader cannot properly conduct the meeting...cannot properly lead the group.

How To Conduct a Meeting

Knowing how to conduct a meeting is for formal leaders, but informal leaders are more effective if they know the rules of order in conducting a meeting.

What is involved in a meeting? To conduct successful meeting, the leader needs to consider three phases--before, during, and after the meeting.

The leader needs to have two goals when conducting a meeting. First, you want to get something done. This might be reaching a group decision about a project or problem or conducting a forum or panel discussion. A second goal is to have the meeting provide some satisfaction of doing things as a group.

Getting things done is a task performance function of groups. Getting satisfaction from working together is a group maintenance function.

Before the meeting

Give proper notice in advance--Postcards, telephone messages, radio PSA's, newspaper features, and newsletters are means of informing your group.

Create the proper setting--Before the meeting, set up chairs and tables (not 50 chairs for 20 people, or vice versa), turn on lights, set a comfortable heat/cool temperature, and take care of other arrangements that will help members be comfortable.

Equipment for the speaker--Before the meeting, set up and test any equipment such as microphone, slide/film projector, or computer for overheads. Make certain a screen is available and that the podium is at an acceptable height for the speaker. Provide the speaker with information about the group, for example, the size and type of audience to expect or audience age level.

During the Meeting

  • Be at the meeting place early to help welcome guests.
  • Start the meeting on time and end on time.
  • Clearly state the purpose/objective of the meeting.
  • "Loosen up" the group with an amusing story or anecdote.
  • Have precise and relevant information when you introduce the speaker.

After the Meeting

Include the following in your evaluation of the meeting:
  • How did it go?
  • How could I have made the meeting better?
  • How can I improve the next meeting?
  • Did I send a personal "thank-you" to the speaker and to those who helped organize the meeting?
  • Did the organization's secretary or reporter send a wrap-up article to the local news media?


Start and end the meeting as scheduled. Effective leaders prepare and follow agendas. Revise your agenda to suit the program.

A suggested agenda could include the following:

  • Call to order
  • Additional opening exercises
  • Roll call
  • Introduction of guest(s)
  • Reading of minutes of previous meetings
  • Committee reports
  • Old business
  • New business
  • Program
  • Adjournment
  • Social time

Parliamentary Procedures

To conduct the business of an organization, it is best to follow parliamentary rules of order.
  1. The rules are to keep the meeting team-minded.
  2. Rules provide for consideration of one item at a time, avoiding confusion.
  3. The rules assure majority rules as they protect the rights of the minority.

What should leaders know about parliamentary rules? First, leaders need to know the types of parliamentary motions, including the main motion, which introduces a new item of business. The subsidiary motion is related to the main motion, and the privileged motion is a motion to get immediate action in an emergency, to take a recess, or to adjourn.

Secondly, leaders need to know the steps necessary to completing a motion. These steps include the following:

  1. Member stands to address the chair.
  2. Chair recognizes the member.
  3. Member states the motion.
  4. Motion must be seconded.
  5. Chair restates the motion.
  6. Chair calls for discussion.
  7. Chair puts the motion to a vote.
  8. Chair announces the result of the vote by stating, "The motion is carried" or "The motion is lost."

Understanding People

Leaders must have followers; otherwise they are not leaders. Having followers means a leader associates with people, and the more a leader knows about the needs, motives, and ambitions of people, the better she/he can serve as a leader.

If you are a formal leader, you know people will participate in group activities only as long as they experience some satisfaction from group participation. People quit if they do not have pleasant, positive experiences being a group member. The type of satisfaction referred to here is satisfaction that helps people meet some of their needs, which include recognition, security, a sense of belonging, and new experiences.


People need to be recognized as persons. One of the most destructive things that can happen to a human is to be ignored by others. Everyone needs recognition, and effective leaders do what they can to see to it followers are favorably recognized.

A good technique for leaders is to learn what they can about their followers. When the leader meets her/his followers outside the group setting, he or she can ask about personal things such as the new baby, new car or house, promotions at work, a child's school progress...this is a way to help group members fill the need of recognition.


All people have a need for security, physical and emotional. Effective leaders instill confidence in their followers and act in such a way that they trust them...that the group member feels secure in the role of the follower.

To Belong

A need to belong is related to the need for recognition. The need to belong means members want to feel accepted by their peers in their group. If our associates ignore us, we get the feeling we are not wanted. Effective leaders, therefore, do what they can to make their followers feel they really belong to the group. The leader delegates responsibility to the members. Leaders ask for opinions and advice, and they will spend time with members.

New Experiences

A tendency for people to "get in a rut" is an age-old situation. Doing the same thing over and over can become boresome, and they begin to feel a need to change the pattern.

Effective leaders will try new things periodically. What a leader does depends on the situation and the group members. In other words, there should be a pattern in their actions as leaders, but they should not stick rigidly to the pattern.

If leaders can help their followers fulfill some of these needs, through group participation, they help motivate them to action.

Group Roles

Leaders know that people are different. Since people are different, there are different types of group roles. The effective leader needs to know something about group roles, which include the following:

Positive Roles

Encourager--a warm, friendly person who likes cooperation and is good in the group maintenance function.

Orienter--helps guide the group toward its goals, asks questions; for example, "Where are we going? How do we reach our goals? Who should perform this task?"

Facilitator--helps the group tie up loose ends; keeps channels of communication open; provides facts and other information.

Negative Roles

Quarreler--likes to argue; cannot find much that is good.

Talker--monopolizes discussions.

Nontalker--shy and timid; makes little, if any, contributions.

Blocker--opposes change; tries to block actions.

Know-it-all--has all the answers, but many of them are wrong.

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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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