Taking Steps toward Leadership–group dynamics

I belong to several groups, some social, some professional, and one that defies description.  It is a weird book club.  Now in an ordinary book club, the members read a book and then discuss it.  In THIS club, we discuss books and then we write one.  Let me introduce you to ABC–Alternative Book Club.  We started out as a group that wanted to become professional SPEAKERS, not WRITERS.  We all came from very different backgrounds, and had it not been for an organization we all belong to, we would never have met.  It is the dynamic of this special group I’m going to discuss.

One of our members said, “In forming a ‘brotherhood’, the group needs shared experiences, shared emotions and a shared goal.”  Another said the reason for Disney’s success in his stories is that to have a character that garners love and respect, he must have a foe equal to or greater than himself that he must overcome.  Generally, this foe is the shadow of the main character, the thing the hero needs to complete himself.  What was it that gave this group, ABC, the ability to rise above and be inspired enough to stick together long enough to finish a book?

As a group, before we formed the book club, we each had a goal in mind: to become professional speakers.  We sat down together and came up with projects to be presented at our Toastmaster meetings to that end.  We did the business side with marketing, contracts, finding our target market and developing our “product.”  We did the technological side with learning different presentation tools, composing a ‘one-sheet’ that would act as our flyer for getting our names out into the world, learning also how to use technology to improve our methods of communicating with small and large groups.  We learned how to present the same material in five different ways.  Then we looked for a venue to use our new skills.

We volunteered our services as a group to the leadership of our district Toastmasters to help train officers in the clubs in four of the six venues.  The district officers (director, club quality director, and club growth director) taught presidents, vice presidents of education and vice presidents of membership.  Our members taught secretaries, treasurers, vice presidents of public relations, and sergeants at arms.  The reason we volunteered was that in watching these presentations over the years, we noticed the lack of imagination and the care required to really help these officers improve the qualities in their clubs.  We would provide continuity and excellence in presentation to keep these officers engaged and active in their clubs.  We got great feedback from the participants.

Once again, it wasn’t the training sessions that indicated our success, but what we had to become to do successful training sessions.  We had to become more resourceful because sometimes we didn’t have adequate technology for presenting the slides in some cases.  We had to become more flexible when we had no idea how many students we’d have to teach.  We became more assertive when the qualities of the venues and the preparations were uneven and sometimes below standard.  In becoming more assertive, we discovered our “foe.”  We had become an entity!

We were a group of people that was seeking recognition for service and finding a unique identity as a group.  Our foe was the shadow of that…requiring anonymity and conformity with the larger group. As a specialty club…one that sought to help bridge the gap from average speaker to professional speaker, we felt we had to get recognition and separate ourselves from the main group to recruit new members and to provide a purpose for our group.  Our foes not only denied recognition, but started denying us any chance to further our exposure by helping the district.  This produced a common emotional response.  We were hurt, we were confused, we were frustrated.  We were also subversive.

In a rash move, we decided to come up with a contract to ensure that in future officer training courses we would have ample notice of the number of people in our groups, we’d have the required technology to present the material and that we’d get some recognition for our efforts.  The contract was presented with strike-throughs and was several pages long.  In short, it did not look professional.  We could have done a better job of presentation with this, but in the heat of the moment, we all agreed it needed to be done.  It was not well received.

We, however, had fulfilled all the needs of a brotherhood.  We had shared goals, shared experiences, and now we had shared emotions.  We had also identified an opponent worthy of our attention–anonymity and conformity!  We had one official meeting a month and then planning meetings every other week.  The planning meetings became more important than the official meetings to us!  After a particularly bad event, we all agreed that the situations we saw could have been handled with more grace…and the light bulbs started popping above our heads.  It was interesting that though we all agreed that more grace was needed, each person contributed a completely different perspective on what he or she thought could have been handled with more grace.  It almost seemed as if we’d gone to 9 different events!  At that point, we decided to collaborate on a book.  The one thing that all the accredited speakers and professional speakers said was: to have a speaking career, you have to write a book.  This was our shot!  So we started writing.

Now the dynamic had been sparked into being, and it grew into an inferno!  Our common experiences became deeper and more intense as we read each others’ chapters and helped write and refine our messages.  Our common goal had a deadline and milestones to be met instead of something as vague as “becoming professional speakers.”  Set backs such as one member’s computer dying only spurred us on to conquer these little annoyances.  We had translators to read that member’s manuscript (it looked like hieroglyphics!) and clarify and type out that member’s chapter so others could read and edit it.  We learned to format, to edit, to market, to audit, to promote, and to publish.  Each challenge brought about another common experience.  Our common emotions were buoyed by each successful step.  And it seemed there was nothing our common foe could do to stop us!  We got published!  We got book signings!  We got endorsements!

The dynamic even held up through a few bad reviews and lack of sales.  Instead of being discouraged, we began anew looking for ways to improve our NEXT book!  In fact, we had made plans for 3 more books!  We are in the midst of writing our second book and the dynamic shows no sign of slowing.

Is this a one time one group thing?  No one seems to know.  Is it the mixture of people and experiences?  It wouldn’t be the same group without this mixture.  Is it the amount of leadership and experience in the group?  It could be the maturity by which we perceive things, but the experience in the group is also widely varied.  Is it the intense desire to succeed at these projects?  The projects are not the end products.  Once again, it’s what we have to become to achieve these ends.  Is anyone capable of this type of inspiration?  Or is it the circumstances and the environment we find ourselves in?  We’ve decided we need empirical evidence.  We are looking to create other book clubs like this one and watch what happens.  It should prove to be an interesting experiment!

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