Updated: Jul 6
Welcome back to The Basics. Check out the poster for this section here:
Our goal today is to introduce the functions of leadership and what makes them functions, and then show how they occur in the group. This is the core of Redefine approach to leadership.
There are three functions that every group needs to succeed: learning, relationships, and vision. Put together, the functions make up the definition:
Leadership is the process of learning to build relationships to turn a shared vision into reality.
The functions exist – take place, occur, go on – in the group all the time, even without leadership. Human beings do each of these things constantly, on their own. Each person makes meaning from their work, creating a vision. Each person repeats behaviors and develops explanations for others’ behaviors. Each person experiments with new behaviors – or does not learn new behavior, as the case might be.
These three things are a necessary part of multiple people working together, and they define what is possible for the group. This is what it means when we call them functions. They are like the machinery that allows human beings to work together on a single, combined output. This is why we don't notice them: they are so obvious that we overlook their existence.
Without leadership, the functions produce individual-focused outcomes. Visions are based on personal perspectives, relationships serve individual needs, and new behaviors are learned at an individual pace and desire. For a group to produce an excellent combined output, these functions must be guided towards a single, common direction. Leadership’s role is to provide the inputs and interventions that do so.
The reason that these functions need to be guided towards productive outcomes, rather than allowed to continue without leadership, is that they define and create limits for what the group can achieve.
In a theoretical universe completely devoid of leadership, outcomes would be determined by chance combinations of individual preferences and desires.
In an equally mythical group with perfect leadership, leaders would identify where the functions do not create excellence in the collective output and intervene to redirect them towards that outcome. The members of the group would have everything each needs to perform their tasks and combine them with others’ work, and would feel positive emotions like support, accomplishment, and worth towards the group and the other members.
In the real world that we actually inhabit, people who occupy positions of “leadership” intervene at times, based on the experiences that brought them to be promoted to leadership. Members of the group at times receive what they need to complete their tasks, and at times struggle to get those things from other members. Individuals generally feel positive about the group. The group achieves moderate success.
Our goal as leaders is to be capable of acting upon the functions. We want to see the functions, understand the impact certain aspects have upon group performance, and decide where it is most important to intervene. This gives us a strategy and a desired outcome for our activities as leaders, and we can assess and adjust course as needed. When we can do this, then we can make incremental steps to improve the group’s performance.
The definition of leadership is a tool we use to describe and connect all three functions. At its most basic, the definition is a reminder to pay attention to what is relevant to our success as leaders and not be distracted by things that will not help us. It is like a mnemonic or memory aid. Because one of the largest challenges of leadership is seeing the functions, the definition is a critical reminder to pay attention when they slip our mind. I highly recommend that you write it down somewhere unobtrusive, so that you see it and think about it on a regular basis.
The big things to remember about the functions are that they occur whether or not leadership influences them because they are part of how human beings work together, and that without a positive influence from leadership, the functions limit the group’s potential.
We will get into the details of vision in the next part of this series. For now, here is the first seeing exercise. We will return to the answers to this activity at the end of the series, so write down a few notes and put them somewhere safe.
SEEING EXERCISE: The Functions in Action (part 1)
Think about a moment you felt like you had a positive impact upon the group. You may not have had a formal leadership position, but your actions affected the way that others performed their work and combined their efforts as part of the group.
What was the group able to accomplish that was different and better in this situation?
What visible, real-world actions did you perform that led to this outcome?
What impact did these actions have upon the members of the group? Include both visible responses, and your ideas or thoughts about their internal thoughts, emotions, and so on.
Why do you think your actions helped the group achieve this success, from a human perspective? What need did your actions meet in the other members that allowed them to achieve this positive outcome?
When else do you do these actions, and does it produce the same result? Are there other times when you might try these actions? Is there something that prevents you from doing them more often?
Did the group treat you any differently after this event? Did you feel or act differently afterwards?
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