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Developing and Applying Group Leadership Skills


As an R.A., you deal not only with individuals, but also with groups of people. You must be able or organize, lead, communicate with groups. Groups include practically any combination of people: floor members, hall members, strangers after a social. It is an entirely different set of skills needed to deal with groups than is necessary to deal with individuals. The R.A. position, with it's diverse roles, institutional authority and responsibility, is quite different from being, for example, leader of volleyball team or captain of a hockey team. Therefore, keep in mind that prior leadership experience may not be as valuable a resource to you as you had hoped.

R.A. Leadership
R.A. leadership depends on four variables: (1) The R.A.'s interpersonal skills (2) The power that comes with the RAs position (3) Characteristics and attitudes of group members and how they interact with one another (4) The situations R.A.'s must handle The R.A. must decide what type of leadership to apply, given these variables.

Looking at Each Variable


The R.A.'s interpersonal skills As someone chosen for the position of R.A., you probably have well developed interpersonal skills. All the one-to-one interpersonal skill you have developed apply to leadership situations you face as an R.A. You must attend closely to nonverbal behavior, accurately reflect content and feelings, be self-disclosing and concrete, and convince groups to modify their behaviour, sometimes against their will. You cannot effectively lead a group, on a short term basis or a long term basis, without doing the above. Being interpersonally skillful is not enough. Perhaps you have seen R.A.'s who are effective in a one-to-one situations perform poorly in group leadership situations. They may become anxious because of their lack of experience. Keeping track of several persons thoughts, feeling, and reactions is more complicated than monitoring just one person. Furthermore, groups have dynamics of their own, somewhat independent of the individuals within the group. The Power that comes with the RAs Position The power the institution grants to the the R.A.s position and how you excercise t also determines your effectiveness as a leader. Positions grant leaders the opportunity and the authority to influence others. As an R.A., you must understand the many ways in which you excersise the power accompanying the R.A. position. "Power" here means the various ways you can influence a floor: (1) Referent Power: You influence others because of who you are as

2 a person. You can influence a floor by "modeling" behavior; residents then behave in certain ways by emulating and identifying with you. (2) Legitimate Power: You influence others because of the authority of your position given to you by the institution. Resident's behavior is affected by decisions you make. (3) Expert Power: You influence others because of your knowledge and experience. (4) Coercive Power: You influence others because of their fear of what you could do to them. To provide effective leadership, you must know and understand the expectations, potential, and limitations of your R.A. position, as defined by the institution. You must be able to use all four sources of power, and as importantly, you must learn when to use each source of power. Characteristics of group members and how they interact with one another A third leadership variable is the characteristics of the floor or group you must lead. Ideally, most leadership situations you find yourself in include groups of people you know, usually floor members. You must learn as much about members of any group which you may lead as is possible. In addition to the individuals, you should learn about how different floor members and groups of floor members interact with each other. In many ways, a residence hall floor is a unique group, with unique characteristics. Floors are temporary groupings of people, with a constantly changing membership. Members of a floor do not often have a lot in common: perhaps the only thing they have in common is they all seek convenient accommodation. There are about as many reasons for living on a specific floor as there are residents living there: some seek only a quiet place to sleep and study, some seek the social aspects of residence life, some seek only a place to party. There are significant ranges in terms of age, race, religion, field of study, and many other parameters. Somehow, they must coexist with one another, regardless of the above. It is your job to help them get along with each other and develop a positive living environment that helps each student accomplish educational and personal goals. How do you learn more about floor members? You must commit to this task and get it done as quickly as possible at the beginning of the year. Look at the following characteristics and attitudes: (1) Demographic variables: things such as age, faculty, urban vs. rural background, cultural background, etc. (2) Personal variables: reasons for attending university, past-times, recreational interests. (3) Residential variables: reasons for living in residence, interest in and preference for floor activities, tolerance for noise, etc. Knowing the collective characteristics of a floor will be helpful to you and give you new insights into what you are dealing with. But it is only half the story: how students on your floor interact with one another is the other half, and you must be thoroughly aware of your floor's interactive dynamics. Investigate the following: (1) What are your floor's subgroups?

3 (2) What is the floor's general tone or atmosphere? (3) What are the floor's communication pattern's? (4) What are the floor's power and influence structures? (5) What are the floor's norms and values? (6) How does the floor deal with its problems and conflicts? Situations R.A.'s Must Handle The fourth component of this leadership model is an assessment of the situation in which you must provide effective leadership. Often there is no consistency or predictability in the situations in which you must provide leadership. You should ask yourself the following questions before you make a decision about what kind of leadership is required in any given situation: (1) Do I have all the facts I need? (2) Is my perception of the situation accurate? (3) Do others confirm my perception? (4) What corrective action worked in the past? (5) Who are the people involved in the situation? (6) What is my best course of action? It is very important to know and understand the situation you are facing, as ignoring the above questions often results in making the problem worse.

Leadership Styles
Hershey and Blanchard (1977) defined four leadership styles that R.A.'s utilize on a regular basis. They believe leadership involves task behavior (the extent to which leaders are likely to organize and define the roles of members of their group), and relationship behavior (the extent to which leaders rely on previously established relationships to accomplish the objective).The two behaviors described above may or may not be blended, and result in the following leadership styles: (1) Telling: This style is characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines the roles of the followers and tells them what, how, when, and where to do various tasks in order to meet an objective. Use this leadership style when dealing with groups or individuals of very low maturity and motivation. (2) Selling: In this leadership style, the leader attempts to "sell" followers in the decisions that have been made by using the support of the group. Use this leadership style when dealing with groups or individuals of moderate maturity and low motivation. (3) Participating: The leader and followers share in the decision making (including identifying the objective) through two way communication and encouragement from the leader because followers have the ability and knowledge to do the task. Use this leadership style when dealing with groups or individuals exhibiting high maturity and high motivation. (4) Delegating: The leader lets followers "run their own show" through delegation and general supervision because followers have both the ability to do the tasks and the

4 motivation to accomplish the objective. Use this leadership style when dealing with groups or individuals of exceptional maturity and motivation. When you are faced with a decision about which leadership style to apply, you must determine the level of maturity of the group with which you are working, for the particular situation you are facing. What you know about the group's characteristics and dynamics is important when making a judgment about maturity level, but a judgment must also be made about the maturity level necessary to accomplish the specific objective. This is only one way of looking at leadership style, and it doesnt take into account some factors which may occasionally be present which could take priority. For example: if the fire bell rings, you really shouldnt spend time selling the idea of leaving the building: you must TELL them to leave if they arent already on the way out.