| Agricultural extension |
|Organizing cooperative activity|
Group leaders are not always the titular leaders one encounters in a community. Often leaders vary depending on the task or the nature of a group. Ideally leadership in group activities emerges as the process of planning and working together progresses. On the other hand, the extension worker should not take the training of leaders for granted.
During the early stages of organizing cooperative activity as problems and interests are being assessed, the extensionist should also look for people whom others follow. Opinion-leaders, skilled craftspeople or technicians, orators and charismatic characters can be identified. At this point it is useful to let leadership fluctuate and change naturally in order to minimize rivalry and to allow the most appropriate leader to arise.
In certain kinds of cooperative activities, specific qualities of leadership should be sought out. For example, when the activity is a field day to arouse interest in new practices among neighboring farmers, a charismatic, eloquent and respected farmer might best lead. On the other hand, if the activity is a tough physical task like digging out a fish pond or constructing an earthen dam, a forceful and hard-working leader might be best. The point is to become aware of potential leaders and to earmark them for specific leadership tasks as work begins.
Leadership in small rural communities must maintain a strong tie to tradition and local custom. Where women are typically in charge of a certain kind of activity for example, suggesting a man would be foolish. Similarly, leadership of cooperative activity works best when it parallels the lines of leadership in the local community. This minimizes rivalry and where possible avoids the issue of politics. Leaders, for this reason, should be chosen ultimately by group participants.
The process of training a potential leader in the skills of organizing is the same process as that of training a counterpart outlined in Chapter Three, "Working With Counterparts". The same three elements pertain: transferring responsibility, helping the person acquire skills, and defining clear and consistent roles. Skill and responsiblity are transferred by means of the same deliberate process as well:
• demonstrate and explain a task
• do it with the leader's help
• ask the leader to do it with the extensionist's help
• ask the leader to demonstrate it to the extensionist
• ask the leader to do it in a real situation
Group situations tend to exert considerable pressure on leaders learning new skills. That is why they often feel dependent on the organizer, feeling "I can't make any mistakes, not on this scale. " But as was illustrated in the previous section it is essential that, having prepared a leader adequately, the organizer learns to say "NO". For, as the organizer in that illustration says, "When will you ever learn to make decisions?"
Giving and receiving useful feedback is an essential skill when training leaders. They must feel free to come to the organizer both for help and helpful criticism, and to give the organizer feedback, too.
By training leaders to take over the roles of organizer and guide of cooperative activities, extension workers promote a lasting form of "competent autonomy" among farm communities. When groups of farmers can organize and carry out cooperative activities successfully, they have gone a long way towards discovering their own resources for growth and change.
On arriving in the village, the extension agent was introduced to local farmers at the monthly co-op meeting. President, vice-president, treasurer and other officers, as well as neighborhood leaders all greeted him. The agent found the co-op to be highly organized, and he wondered what he could help to accomplish. He found, after several months of observation and inquiry, that the co-op had been approached several times by a regional businessman to be the supplier of vegetables and grain to the market. Due to past experiences which failed, and to the limited market analysis skills of the co-op's leaders, the co-op had never considered the matter seriously, even though the extension worker was reasonable sure the co-op could profit enormously. The limit of the co-op leaders' skills and experience really seemed to restrict the group's ability to grow. The extensionist drew on his college economics background. He solicited the help of an amenable co-op officer, who had also studied economics. Together they calculated the cost/benefit of selling crops to the town market. They then sold a small amount, realizing a modest profit. The co-op officer talked informally to other officers and finally made a presentation to the entire co-op, explaining very simply what the market venture cost, and what the profit was. The co-op officers and members took the idea of working with the town market into serious consideration.
DESIRABLE LEADER CHARACTERISTICS: A SAMPLE LIST (TOT Manual)
Self-awareness, including a sense of the impact of his or her own behavior on others.
Ability to receive feedback from the environment.
Ability to encourage the taking of risks without humiliating participants.
Ability to deal with own feelings and the feelings of others.
Undertanding and ability to manage group process.
An ability to make appropriate interventions, especially feedback, even when it is perceived as painful.
Ability to make clear presentations.
Ability to establish objectives and to move a group towards them.
Group facilitation, including the ability to let the group work on its own.
Cultural sensitivity to the many different ways of viewing things.
Ability to understand group process and the stages of group life.
Flexibility and adaptability in regard to the group's needs.
Planning and organizing presentations, the how and when of interventions.
Good delivery skills; stand-up skills.
Respect for needs of adult learners and ability to put adult learning theory into practice.
Holds all group members in "unconditional positive regard."
Has patience and paces self in accordance with the group's developmental phase.
Has communication skills.
Can deal with volatile material.
Can evaluate the training event.
Able to model behaviors that are taught.
Can allow criticism of self.
POOR LEADER CHARACTERISTICS: A SAMPLE LIST (TOT Manual)
Uses warnings and threats to get group moving.
Is the center of the process; does not allow group to work on its own.
Subtly or overtly insists on particular behaviors from group members.
Has little awareness of his or her impact on others.
Is not able to receive feedback.
Humiliates participants into taking risks.
Is unable to respond to process.
Avoids giving feedback when it is painful.
Poor delivery skills.
Gives unclear or disorganized presentations.
Lack of sensitivity to cultures or viewpoints different from his or her own.
Rigid and unadapting with regard to group's needs.
Unable to plan and organize events.
Violates needs of adult learners.
Does not expect to have respect or positive regard for all participants.
Poor communication skills.
Impatient and poor at pacing himself or herself.
Spends no time or is unable to evaluate a training event.
Is intolerant of any criticism directed at him or her.
In the extreme leader-oriented (autocratic) style, the leader determines the problems and makes the final decision. He/she is often concerned that the group function efficiently and accomplish the tasks set before it. The process of the group, or how the members work together, is of little interest to the autocrate. This leader focuses almost exclusively on content.
In the extreme group-oriented (laissez-faire) approach, the group is allowed to determine the problems and to make the decisions. This leader keeps a very low profile and is content to let the group set its own course. To the laissez-faire leader, the end result is much less mportant than the question of how the group gets there.
In between the two extremes are any number of combinations of group and leader orientation. Most often, the style of a group leader is somewhere in the middle--such a leader might determine the area on which the group should focus and then will help the group work through the issue.
Although everyone has a style of leading with which he/she is most comfortable, conditions often exist that create pressures to adopt a more leader-centered or group-centered approach. Factors that generally favor greater leader involvement are the following:
• The urgency of the problem: When a decision must be reached quickly, the leader may need to make the decision. Decisions made by the leader are usually reached more quickly than are decisions made by the group.
• Lack of group skills: When a group has not developed a system for processing issues or is unclear about its goals, the leader is likely to assume a larger role.
• Expectations of the leader: In many groups, members have unrealistic expectations of what the leader can do for them. Sometimes the group will pressure the leader (as the "expert") to make decisions for them.
• Leader discomfort: The novice leader, especially, may feel uncomfortable when he/she perceives that nothing is happening in the group. A common response to this is to try to initiate some activity by taking charge.
Parallel conditions exist that promote greater involvement by the group.
• No time pressure: If a group has no time limits, the leader can afford to sit and wait until the tension level of the group rises and the group initiates its own activity.
• Group skills: When a group is established and the members trust each other and are comfortable in their roles, the leader often can stay in the background and let the group lead itself. But even this mature group may require direction from the leader if it becomes counterproductive.
• Group potency: When the group has developed a cohesiveness, the members often will not rely on the leader, but will look for leadership from within the group.
• Leader comfort: The leader who has been through uncomfortable situations before is likely to be less threatened when they recur. He/she may choose to sit back and allow tensions to build to the point where the group must examine the problem.
The question of appropriate leadership styles arises in every group. Of course, many factors are specific to each group (for example, the composition of the group) and these affect the style of leadership. But many groups also progress through stages where different functions may be required of the leader. For instance, in the early stages of a group, the leader may have to be more directive, setting norms and goals and helping the members get acquainted. The leader must be careful, though, not to establish a precedent where the members rely on him/her to resolve group issues. Then at a later stage, the leader may want to become more nondirective and let the group resolve its problems through procedures established since the group's inception.
No leadership style can be considered foolproof. A directive leader probably will be confronted with aggressive and blocking behavior and challenges to his/her authority. The nondirective leader will encounter demands for more structure by group members. The effective group leader must be aware of the different leadership strategies appropriate to the stage of group growth and to the problems the group is facing. Finally, he/she must realize that, even with appropriate leadership, tensions are bound to arise occasionally. Although these tensions can make the leader uncomfortable, they often are helpful in promoting group growth.