Group Leader Characteristics: Diversity Competence

Introduction

For successful leadership, a group therapy leader has to take into account the characteristics of the members of their groups. The modern-day society can be described as very diverse (Kidd, 2016), and this diversity gets reflected in therapy groups and their members (Corey, 2016). The sessions recorded by Microtraining Associates (2002) follow a group that consists of individuals with very diverse backgrounds. In addition, their sessions involved considering their diversity rather directly. As a result, the group’s leader Lynn Banez has had a chance to demonstrate her diversity competence, and the present paper will analyze her performance concerning this leadership characteristic. Based on the information from the materials by Microtraining Associates (2002), it can be concluded that Lynn exhibits the knowledge and skills indicative of diversity competence.

Diversity Competence: General Knowledge and Key Skills

Diversity competence can be described as a relatively complex characteristic that consists of several elements. The first of them is the awareness of diversity and knowledge of related topics, especially those related to social justice (Chang-Caffaro & Caffaro, 2018; Chin, Desormeaux, & Sawyer, 2016; Midgett, Hausheer, & Doumas, 2016). For example, in the discussion of the dynamics of race, issues like the discrimination against and stereotyping of racial and ethnic minorities could be important to be familiar with (Flores & Matkin, 2014; Kidd, 2016). Lynn shows this type of knowledge throughout the sessions, for example, during the first one when she summarizes and paraphrases Julius’ words and discusses racial dynamics.

Similarly, in the second session, Lynn introduces the issue of participating in racism with Jean, and a large portion of that discussion is dedicated to oppression. It is also noteworthy that it is Lynn who introduces the topic of other types of diversity, including religion and sexual orientation. By their admission, the members of the group were uncertain about mentioning them since they appeared too personal. In general, Lynn appears to be familiar with social justice topics, which becomes apparent when she frames and directs the conversation about diversity in the group.

An example of Lynn being aware of non-social justice topics that are still related to diversity is her discussion of the specifics of Spanish speakers as compared to English speakers. Lynn describes the former as having a more impassioned speech, and Soraya, who can be viewed as a representative of the group, agrees with the idea. This example suggests that Lynn is familiar with some of the specific characteristics of the diverse population that can lend members to her group.

It is also noteworthy that diversity can have several impacts on the work of a diverse therapy group, and Lynn demonstrates an understanding of this factor as well. In particular, during the three-word exercise, she points out that some of the people in the group speak several languages and that this fact could potentially result in language barriers. Thus, Lynn directly acknowledges that depending on their characteristics, the members of her group might have particular needs and require additional assistance.

Moreover, diversity competence presupposes the existence of certain skills. One of them is self-reflection which results in recognizing one’s identity, beliefs, and biases (Chang-Caffaro & Caffaro, 2018; Midgett et al., 2016). Lynn does not focus much on herself; in fact, she mentions wanting the group to be about its members during the second session. Therefore, it is difficult to claim that she demonstrates the ability to self-reflection directly. Still, the activities that she promotes suggest that she is familiar with the notion at the very least. The self-description tasks, including the one with three words, could be used as examples. Through these exercises, Lynn passes the tool of self-reflection to other participants, demonstrating that she is aware of it. Therefore, Lynn exhibits knowledge of the self-reflection skill, which is crucial for diversity competence.

The Challenges of Developing Diversity Competence

Diversity competence is a leadership characteristic that requires a certain amount of effort to develop. The literature on the topic suggests that this type of competence is learned through training and acquisition of diversity-related knowledge, as well as self-reflection (Corey, 2016; Midgett et al., 2016). Given the vastness of human diversity, this learning is likely to remain in progress throughout one’s practice, and in the process, it is not impossible to encounter challenges and make mistakes as a result of insufficient knowledge.

As it was mentioned, Lynn does not discuss herself much. Therefore, it may be difficult to find evidence of her directly using particular techniques of enhancing diversity competence. However, the fact that she is aware of them can be demonstrated through the tasks that she sets since they can consist of applying said techniques, as well as acknowledging the difficulties of developing an understanding of diversity.

Indeed, the sessions recorded by Microtraining Associates (2002) show very well that the understanding of diversity is not simple to acquire. Mistakes that can be made are illustrated by the diversity exercise of the first session and the participants’ responses to them. For example, Steve reports feeling like he was misrepresented when his identity was described as that of a White person. While this mistake was not made by Lynn herself, Lynn is the one to suggest that the participants consider the topic and discuss whether they feel like they were provided with accurate descriptions. In other words, Lynn shows the awareness of the way individual perceptions and biases may affect one’s understanding of others’ identities, which implies that she recognizes the complexity of diversity competence. The acknowledgment of one’s bias and personal perspectives is a major component of diversity competence as well (Corey, 2016), which is why this evidence of Lynn’s skills is especially important, even though it is only indirect.

Furthermore, in the same exercise, Theresa commented on reconsidering how she viewed her identity. After she had heard another person report her own words about it through the prism of their perceptions, she received some information that could be used for self-reflection. Other participants also suggested that the differences in their reports of others’ words may be interesting to consider. This example demonstrates the way cultural competence is an evolving ability that can be boosted through the investigation of others’ viewpoints. Again, while this activity is not performed by Lynn, it is initiated by Lynn, which implies that she is familiar with the ideas promoted by it.

It is difficult to claim that Lynn has made direct mistakes concerning diversity competence during the sessions. However, one note on cultural sensitivity can be made. Throughout the sessions, Lynn consistently promotes the use of the I pronoun for taking responsibility, and it should be pointed out that this approach may not always be culturally appropriate. In particular, different cultures may view we-pronouns as more suitable in the contexts that the group worked with (Microtraining Associates, 2002). However, Lynn is careful with her suggestions, and she asks the participants if they are comfortable using particular pronouns rather than instructing them to do so. Since the members do not appear distressed by the suggestion, it can be assumed that Lynn managed to avoid pushing a person into performing an action that is not viewed as appropriate in their culture. In summary, Lynn seems to handle the situation fairly well, and her leadership skills (in this case, interpersonal ones) helped her to avoid a potentially problematic situation.

Conclusion

In summary, throughout the sessions presented by Microtraining Associates (2002), Lynn Banez exhibits significant diversity competence. On the one hand, she directly demonstrates her knowledge of diversity and social justice issues, as well as their impact on her work. On the other hand, while she does not discuss herself much, she also shows an awareness of self-reflection skills indirectly through the activities that she initiates. Self-reflection is especially noteworthy since apart from being an important component of diversity competence, it is also a method of promoting it. Similarly, the understanding of the existence of bias and the impact of one’s personal beliefs is something that constitutes diversity competence, but only indirect evidence of Lynn’s skills in this regard is available. Still, the abilities of the group leader are commendable, and even when she may have approached an area in which she could demonstrate cultural insensitivity, she appears to have prevented significant problems through the use of other leadership skills. Thus, the described sessions can be used to illustrate different components of diversity competence, its complexity, and the challenges in developing it.

References

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