How to Lead a Group Without Losing Control

She sounded just a little out of breath, as if she’d run up a short flight of stairs.

I’m having trouble with my group. We’re on break right now and they’re heading out to lunch…but I hope you can help! I’ve got to figure this out and I don’t even know where to start!

My friend, a talented and amazing business coach herself, was smack dab in the middle of her first coaching retreat. For two full days, she was teaching a room full of eager entrepreneurs, sharing her best ideas for success and guiding them through her process.

That also meant she had a room full of personalities – and some of them were a bit of a handful. It didn’t take long to understand what was wrong.

As with every group of humans that has ever existed, strong personalities dominated the discussion. Others could hardly get a word in edgewise, but seemed quite content to sit back and coast. A few, she could tell, were getting irritated.

And my friend, a smart, compassionate woman who totally read the energy of the room, was having trouble. It was getting harder to manage the time and direct the conversation. She felt like she was losing control.

I totally got it.

I’ve led hundreds of retreats, classes, workshops, groups, events and adventures over the years, and I’ve had that experience more times than I can count.

(Remind me someday to tell you about the near-mutiny in that college class I taught.)

Fortunately, understanding the dynamics and managing group process is a skill that anyone can learn – with time and practice.

And for entrepreneurs who want to add events of any kind to their platform, it’s a skill worth developing.

So I offered a little leadership First Aid, and from what I heard, the rest of the day went much better. Kudos to my friend for learning on the fly!

If you want to lead a group of any kind, whether it’s with five people or 500, these tips will help you stay in control.

1. Set clear expectations.

Tell them at the start that your job is to make sure they cover the material they came to learn. Tell them that it is also your job to see that they get their questions answered and their needs met.

Then tell them that you will interrupt them from time to time in order to accomplish those goals.

Here in the (U.S.) South, manners are everything, and we hate to be rude. Giving them a head’s up will help ease the sting – and you’ll gain respect too. :))

2. Act like a mom.

It is your job to keep them on schedule. It is your job, if needed, to prevent any one from dominating the day. It is your job to encourage those who need a little extra to speak up. It is your job to lead, so that they can safely, easily and effortlessly follow.

Moms do that all the time, and you can too.

3. Connect with confidence.

Remember that you know what you know. With so many vocal participants, my friend was starting to doubt her own material. “They came to you for a reason,” I reminded her, “if they had it all figured out they wouldn’t be there.”

And besides, do any of us ever have it all figured out?

4. Stay in your body.

One of the most powerful things you can do with a group that feels loose, is to bring yourself back to center. Consciously slow down your breathing, lower your voice, and speak more deliberately. Notice the floor underneath your feet or the chair at your back. Let your shoulders purposefully drop just a little. In whatever way you can, allow your body to relax – even as you’re speaking to the room.

Bonus Tip: Go off script and guide them back to their bodies too.

5. Have help in the room.

Rarely do I lead groups without help in the room. That might be someone to co-teach the content. It might be an assistant who helps set up lunch. Having help on hand lets you concentrate on your job, while they help with problems and monitor the group. I can’t tell you what a difference this can make.

There’s a lot more to it, of course, but following these tips will get you started.

Photo Credit: Donnie Ray Jones on Flickr



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