Group of adults sitting in a circle with one young woman leading the discussion

How to Recognize The Leader in a Group

Melissa Marcello

Years ago I conducted consumer research for a living. Frequently I utilized focus groups to uncover and test a number of biases, preferences, and possibilities for my clients that ranged from consumer packaged-goods companies, like Promise, Energizer, and Quaker Oats, to healthcare and technology companies, and everything in between.

I remember learning during my training to be a focus group moderator that there were a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle power dynamics at play in any formal or informal group.

For example, if my job was to lead the group, and I sat down first, the person who entered the room and sit across from me would likely strive to be recognized as the leader in a group by their peers. They would attempt to dominate the conversation and sway the opinions of the group's members. It was like clockwork that this would occur in a focus group. 

But, leadership is not domination, and frequently the person who is held in the highest regard by other members of the group–the de facto leader–is not the person who speaks the most. Rather, you can recognize the leaders in the group by paying attention to the following verbal and nonverbal cues.

Notice the body language of the group members. 

Typically, most people in the group will position their bodies (e.g., lean in the direction of/cross their legs) toward the person they believe has most influence, and is the leader of the group. 

Determine who group members cede the floor most to, and are appear to be in most agreement with. 

Who is it that most people in the group are interested in listening to, and also demonstrate nodding and other encouraging behaviors toward? Interestingly, these are often the people who wait for others to share their perspectives first, which brings us to the third point. 

Pay attention to who is listening most intently, and then follows up with a summary of what has been said. 

Frequently, the leader is keenly interested in the opinions of others, and then will summarize for the group what has been shared thus far with or without their own take on the situation.

Lastly, determine who is wrapping up the group meeting and creating clarity about next steps. 

When a group meeting comes to a close, the leader is typically helping to close the meeting and helping individuals within the group to understand what the next steps for the group and its members. The individual doing this clarifying work may be the actual leader on the company's org chart, or a respected colleague who serves in this capacity.

Regardless of the actual title, leaders are found across the organization, with or without direct reports, and in a variety of roles. 

Are you someone who others look to for clarity in group meetings at your organization? Are you interested in honing your leadership skills and going further in your career? Take a look at Champlain's Master of Science in Leadership

About the Author

Melissa Marcello

Former Associate Vice President

Melissa Marcello was the Associate Vice President of Champlain College Online, where she oversaw marketing and admissions, truED, Champlain's workforce development program, and other administrative processes. She is passionate about adult learning, having returned to school herself as an adult to finish a bachelor's at USF, master's at Purdue, and start two years of a PhD program at the UW Madison that she may one day complete.

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