February 7, 2008
‘Diverse group’ forms new leadership class
By SUE WATSON
A diverse group of men and women will get the ride of their lives in the next five months. Leadership Marshall 2008 will provide the ride.
This year’s class of 16 includes five men and 11 women drawn from many walks of life.
Most are professionals working with local governments in various capacities or as educators, or they specialize in smaller markets.
The 2008 class differs somewhat from previous classes in that the majority of the members are not natives of Marshall County, according to Sarah Sawyer, executive director of the Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce. She helps facilitate the course along with Janet Jolley, with the Marshall County Extension Service, and Susan Jordan, with the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce.
“This is a very diverse group - a little smaller class,” Jolley said. “What is different this year is the curriculum has been tweaked a lot. We’ve added time management, networking and healthy lifestyles and we’ve taken out a couple of courses.”
More than anything, the members have to commit six or seven days of their time to the project.
“That to me is to be commended,” Sawyer said. “They are learning but they are also giving (sharing their experiences and ideas). I noticed right off they are a very confident group and very respectful of each other.”
One topic of discussion presented Friday by Martha Jackson-Banks, with Mississippi State Extension Service, presents a good example of what is put on the table at Leadership Marshall.
Leadership means effective communication and expanding awareness of how groups work.
The backgrounds and experiences of each person in the group affects everyone in the group, Banks said.
“Attitude can affect others and can change communities,” she said.
As group efforts involve sharing of ideas and points of view, conflict must be managed, even if it is minute, before it escalates. Once conflict escalates is hard to resolve, she said.
Also, nothing gets done and that causes people to drop out, lose their motivation and drive, and apathy sets in, Banks said.
On the other hand, moving forward through conflict is a big motivator.
Another factor that is a must to make groups work is that the (human) environment must be comfortable. When it is, people perform better and are more open with each other, she said.
“If you respect people, you will be amazed at what people will tell you and how they will assist you,” she said.
In a comfortable environment, people discover talents they didn’t know they had.
“It’s amazing what people can get done in a community of diverse backgrounds,” she said.
There are four distinct stages - forming, storming, norming and performing - a group moves through in achieving its goals, Banks said.
The forming stage is the orientation of the members to the group dynamics.
“As you get to know people, you open up and express more,” Banks said.
The storming stage is the conflict stage where members seek to find their role in the group - how they will participate - and seek to reach understanding in situations.
Some old personal issues pop up during this stage - issues with authority.
“One person should not dominate a group,” Banks said. “It’s OK to disagree, but not alright to harbor feelings and start squawking. So, in the storming stage you are working out your issues.”
Disbanding of the group often occurs at this stage because members cannot get past their differences or understand the issues.
In the norming stage, group members begin to understand the group’s goals and each person’s role.
Consensus is involved at this stage and the group develops mutual trust and members begin to understand each other’s backgrounds and experiences.
Members come to realize there is history behind some things, she said.
The fourth stage is the performing stage where members recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Roles are delegated, tasks assigned. Some offer their skills and talents and members with money often become philanthropic toward the goals of the group.
Not all groups go to the performance stage, Banks said. Members run into conflict and the group must go back and deal with the issues at a prior stage before the group can move forward.
During the group process, members learn much about themselves and others. They learn that everyone does not communicate in the same way.
And it is at this stage that members must learn that listening is important.
“As we listen, we learn about their passion for things,” Banks said. “Listening motivates a person to become actively involved.”
Studies show that when people communicate they listen only about 25 percent of the time, Banks said.
“Good listening is one of the top skills needed in business,” she said. “Sales improve by 30 to 40 percent just by listening.”
Communication is 55 percent nonverbal, she said. Voice quality accounts for 38 percent of what is communicated. Words play a meager 7 percent of what is communicated.
“Look at the communication ratio - the split in the tongue, the tattooed teardrop in the face, the shaved head with I Love You,” said Banks. “All communicate something.”
Listening is a choice, Banks said.
“You can hear all day and not listen. You can choose to listen or be thinking about other stuff.
“The most basic of all human needs is to understand and to be understood,” she said. “The best way to understand others is to listen to them.”
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