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Leadership, Power and Influence in the Group

Hollander (1985) defines a leader as the person who exercises the most influence over the group. In a small and unstructured group such as the groups we worked in, there is often a need for leaders to emerge. The trait approach to leadership suggests that leaders have particular personality traits that make them a leader. Stodgill (1974) looked at leadership in various contexts such as the military, nursery schools and political parties. It was concluded that leaders tended to be slightly more intelligent, sociable, achievement oriented, experienced, older and taller than non-leaders. (cited in Gross and McIlveen 1999)

Another factor that can explain the emergence of a leader is the situation in which the group finds itself. According to Bales (1950) the functional demands of the situation determine what kind of leader emerges – the person who is most likely to emerge as a leader is the one who is most equipped to help the group fulfil its objectives in a particular context (Gross & McIlveeen 1999). Sherif et al (1961) showed this in their Robbers Cave field experiment where the leader amongst a group of boys was replaced with a physically stronger boy when the competition from another group of

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boys increased.

In our group, it seems that several leaders emerged for different aspects of the group work and this concedes with the situationist approach. In the initial stages, it seemed that the person who had the most confidence, took control of the group. However, later on when the task demanded knowledge of statistical tests for example, a different group member took the lead and the rest of the group followed and learned from them. Bales & Slater (1955) cited in Gross & McIlveen (1999) studied a group of students who were discussing solutions for a number of labour management conflicts.

At the end of the sessions, each group member was required to state who they believed to have come up with the best idea, most effectively guided the group discussion, and how much they liked each person in the group. Bales and Slater (1955) found that the most liked person was also the person who was voted as having the best ideas and who guided the group to the best conclusions. However, the most liked person did not remain the most effective leader. Instead, two leaders emerged, one being the task specialist and the other being the socio-emotional specialist.

The task specialist made useful suggestions, provided information and expressed opinions, while the socio-emotional specialist encouraged others, relieved group tension and helped other group members express themselves. Although there was no feedback from our group after we had finished working, it is clear that the ideas of Bales & Slater (1955) can be applied to our group. One group member acted as the socio-emotional specialist in some ways in that he would crack jokes to break the ice and try to raise the morale of the group.

However it is here that it contradicts Bales & Slater’s ideas. Instead of being the most liked member, it seemed that he was in fact the least liked member, and other group members saw this as not being serious or concentrating on the task. A task specialist did emerge however, and this indeed was because her knowledge seemed greater and she provided us with insightful information regarding the task. Another factor that influenced power and influence in the group was body language.

The way a person sits, gestures and interacts with the group can all have an effect on whether the person can influence the rest of the group. For example, a person who stands slightly away from the group so that they seem separated from the group, can achieve a sense of leadership, as they have stepped out of the group so that when talking, the whole group will look towards them as they would a lecturer or speaker. A difference in height can also affect the power exerted over the group by one person. For example, our group discussion of initial ideas took place in a lecture theatre with rows of seats.

In this situation, one group member sat upon the desk, facing the rest of the group, and also considerably higher up. The effect of this positioning not only allowed for better interaction, as the group changed their positions to ensure they were all facing inwards, but also meant that the group showed a tendency to listen more to her as a result of her position. As there are so many factors that can determine a leader, it seems feasible to assume that anyone can lead the group at some point, owing to individual qualities that not everyone possesses.

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