Chapter 9 - Understanding Group Needs and Characteristics

This competency enables a learner to:

It is essential that we first understand ourselves and our own needs and characteristics. Only then can we know and understand other people's. This understanding hopefully come naturally as we mature, creeping over us like ivy winding about a tree. By directly exploring and encouraging discovery of these personality traits, we can accelerate the maturing of a leader, adding fertilizer to the ivy and tree.

About Understanding Group Needs and Characteristics

Knowledge of individual needs and characteristics is important for every member of a group. As any group forms, an informal assessment of members' characteristics and needs always takes place. This competency brings the process out of the closet and uses it to everyone's advantage. Members volunteer their own needs and characteristics in an open, trusting environment via specific learning activities and exercises. Everyone is accepted and their individual differences are valued, for the differences contribute to an environment calculated to encourage growth. To understand others, we must first understand ourselves. This understanding can come naturally as we grow, and at White Stag we believe in giving indivdiuals direct encouragement to discover and improve on their skills and abilities. Everyone carries with them a little bit of history. At White Stag, none of that matters. Everyone has the same advantage and opportunities to be the best person they can be. There are no pre-conceptions or limitations on what you can accomplish.

The competency Understanding Group Needs and Characteristics has five major parts:

Understanding Motives

We should differentiate between needs and wants. A need can be strictly interpreted as those elements essential for human survival: shelter, food, warmth, and love. A want is merely a desire, something that we believe will make us happier or our circumstances easier.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow conceived of our needs and wants as a pyramid, the top of the pyramid representing our ability to realize our own potential or our capacity to help others (or altruistic behavior), as illustrated in Figure 9-1. He called this self-actualization.

Maslow's heirarchy of needs

As a leader, we must be able to evaluate an individual's relative position within this hierarchy of needs. For example, if a learner's personal life is insecure, their motive for attending camp may be very different from another person who's personal life is relatively stable. The insecure person may simply be escaping a bad environment or seeking affirmation of their self-worth, while the other individual is seeking to exercise skill they already know they possess and greater skill as a leader. Furthermore, according to Maslow, fulfilled needs are no longer motivators.

We must not however arrogantly assume based on a few external facts or characteristics that we understand a person's true motives. We should use our intuition and discernment, but it is our obligation within the context of the program to build some trust and help the person reveal their needs and motives. They may not yet even understand what their own needs and motives are, so as a leader you must be sensitive to this.

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Copyright © 1981— , Brian Phelps. All rights reserved. Short portions may be excerpted for review and quotes. For copyright purposes, only introductory portions of this book are available online. Order the newest edition today.