Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lecture 8: Groups & Leadership (Some overview thoughts)

Lecture 8: Groups and Leadership (Materials)

I've always found groups and leadership fascinating. Perhaps its because of the delicious complexity and fascinating possibilities (for better or worse) when people cooperate with and work for one another. Many groups flop and flounder; some excel. What makes the difference?

A group can be a temporary, fleeting phenomenon. When you are in lift with other people even for less than a minute, for that period of time there is a sense of being a group and that impacts on behaviour.

The mere presence of single other person is sufficient for many interesting effects to occur. Zajonc and colleagues studied cockroaches in the 1960's and amazingly found that when faced with easy mazes, the creatures would run faster (and reach the destination which contained reward) when four fellow roaches were present. However, when faced with difficult mazes, the roaches were more successful (in terms of reaching the destination) when on their own. This illustrates social drive theory which proposes that we become aroused in the presence of others which will help performance if the task is easy and well-practiced, but will interfere with performance is the task is harder and the person is less skilled/practiced.

In some situations, groups are more efficient and productive. This is related to the 'wisdom of crowds' phenomenon whereby 'two heads are better than one'. But groups are also subject to problems such as the costs/hassles involved with communicating and coordinating, social loafing, groupthink (overly focusing on normative views) and group polarisation.

Social dilemma research has attempted to examine cooperation versus competition in an effort to work out what factors enhance cooperation. Getting to know and communicating with others generally helps. And one is also influence by the cooperative or competitive orientation adopted by others.

Leadership refers to the phenomenon that some people within a group wield disproportionately more influence over group members than others. We call these people leaders. Leadership theory has evolved from seeing leaders as endowed by birthright (e.g., race, royalty, class) to being stable, personality traits, to being behaviours which can be learned, to being a functional of leadership style plus specific situational demands, to evolving beyond a transactional or exchange economic model of leadership to a more transformational, humanistic approach of empowering individuals. In fact, there are situations, such as when group members have expertise and tasks are well defined, where it would seem where being without a leader could be more beneficial.

1 comment:

Sam Faulks said...

Hi James,

I've put a few thoughts up about my blog on leadership and whether or not it is something with which you are born with, as you have said, this was the view in the old days - to quote Mel Gibson in Braveheart "Its your god given right". And also whether or not leadership can be taught - this is a view that I would assume most people in this day and age would agree with.

If you get a chance any thoughts or ideas would be appreciated.