Introductory Remarks by the Conference Director


A Tavistock group relations conference on

Authority, Leadership, and Human Diversity

convened  at

Jackson State University

Jackson, Mississippi,  14-16  November 1996

1.  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  On behalf of all of us on the Conference staff, allow me to welcome you here.  My name is Stan De Loach.  I am the Director of this Tavistock group relations conference on Authority, Leadership, and Human Diversity, which, as far as I know, is the first conference of its kind in Jackson and in the State of Mississippi.  I convene the Conference in my role as Director.

2.  This Conference takes place under the co-sponsorship of Jackson State University through its School of Education and Department of Psychology and of the Chicago Center for the Study of Groups and Organizations.  The conception, existence, and realization of this temporary institution were facilitated by a generous grant from the St. Augustine Stewardship Fund of the Norbertine Order of Catholic priests and by the material resources, consultation, and encouragement supplied by the International Forum for Social Innovation, Paris, France.  These institutions represent both the North and the South of the United States as well as a "foreign" country.  They have designated and acknowledged me as the Conference Director.  The staff seated here today has also explicitly confirmed me in the role of Director.

3.  I have been authorized to plan and conduct the Conference, to write the brochure, to manage the finances, to oversee arrangements for the physical spaces that we will use, to select, recruit, and hire the other staff persons, and to recruit and admit members to the Conference.

I have not been and will not be working alone.  As is routinely done in any institution, I have delegated authority to other staff members to perform some of these tasks.

4.  Please allow me to introduce the other members of the Conference staff:

Rev. Richard Chiles, Ph.D. - Associate Director and Conference Administrator
Vicki Seglin, Ph.D. - Assistant Conference Administrator

The consultants working with the Large Study System are:
Janice E. Ruffin, Ph.D.  (convenor of the Large Study System team)
Ron Sharrin, Ph.D.

The consultants working with the Small Study System are:
Ms. Brenda Dean
Raymond Lewis, Jr., MSW
Debra A. Noumair, Ed.D.  (convenor of the Small Study System team)

5.  The way in which management delegates roles and responsibilities, as well as the way in which staff members carry out their roles and responsibilities, is always open for your scrutiny, inquiry, and study.  This institution exists so that you may have the opportunities for just such kinds of study.

6.  I now ask the Conference Administrator to give you some administrative information that you have not previously received.

(Administrative Information)

7.  On behalf of the staff, who, together with me, constitute the shared management of this temporary educational institution, let me introduce the Conference, its culture, and its different components to you.

The Conference-as-a-whole, like most institutions, is complex and already contains several components and subsystems.  Just to state what is obvious:

  • There are staff and there are members.  We will all be collaborating in the task of studying the exercise of authority and leadership in groups, organizations, and institutions (that is, social systems) marked by human diversity.  But as members and staff, we have different roles.
  • In terms of scheduled events, there are here-and-now sessions and there are reflective sessions.
  • There are common sessions, shared by all members (for example, the Large Study System), and there are sessions shared with only a part of the membership (for example, the Review and Application Dialogues).
  • Among the members, there are those who have attended a Tavistock group relations conference previously and there are those who have not previously been involved in this type of work.
  • There may be subsystems based on your race, geographical residence, age, gender, and level of education.  Keep in mind that these are only the component or subsystem differentiations of which I have some awareness.  You may already know of others, and still other subsystems will develop later.  We will attempt to understand them and their meanings in the context of the Conference-as-a-whole, that is, in terms of this system-as-a-whole.
It is how these diverse subsystems come together and interact, as well as the effects of their presence together, that will give, or, better said, is already giving, this institution its character or its "feel" for us.

We will address these noticeable and other, subtle characteristics of this institution in order to undertake the primary task of the Conference.

8.  The primary task, towards which we, as staff, are already working, is

"to offer opportunities to learn about Authority, Leadership, and Human Diversity by exploring, through direct experience and reflection, the group, organizational, institutional, and social system processes that occur in the Conference, viewed as a racially and culturally diverse temporary system or transitional institution, created for learning purposes."
9.  What does this task mean?  And, how will we perform it?  This Conference is designed to provide opportunities to learn from experience about Authority and Leadership in institutions marked by Human Diversity.  Few institutions today are not multicultural and multiracial.

10.  Let us consider for a moment the meaning of the concepts of Authority, Leadership, and Human Diversity.

Authority comes from a Latin word designating the fact of being an author, a founder or instigator, that is, the one responsible for a work or undertaking.  For some thinkers, it connotes the ability to grow and to create growth.  Authority is often understood simply as the right and ability to do work or to act.  The members of most institutions possess the right and ability to do work or to act; indeed, organizations' tasks would never be completed if their members did not possess and use their authority to work.  Some of this authority comes from competence, skills, knowledge, abilities, and experience.  Some of it is delegated by those higher and lower in the organizational hierarchy.

Authority is exercised in many ways, some giving the appearance of greater activity than others.  Even silence can be the result of individual or collective exercise of authority, when it denotes, for example, acceptance or willingness to go along with prevailing ways of doing things.

Note that signing up for this Conference was the first act proposed to you for the exercise of your personal authority.  There will be other opportunities to take up your authority to act during the Conference.

11. Leadership is a fashionable, though rarely defined, concept at times of presidential elections.  Leader is derived from a Germanic work for the path, the road, or the convoy.  Today, leader is generally understood to mean one who moves, directs, or conducts along a given path or in a specific direction.

12.Diversity also has Latin roots, which originally indicated divergence, contradiction, variety, difference, and later suggested changeability or inconstancy.  Difference and changeability have long been sources of anxiety for humankind.

13.  In theory, then, each person is a leader simply by taking up or exercising her or his authority to move or direct self and others along a given path or in a specific direction.

But, we carry much diversity among us, and meanings are attached to our diverse qualities.  The tone and intensity of our skin color, the accent of our language, our gender and age all affect others' perceptions of our authority and right to act.  Two people may be equally skilled, educated, and competent, but they may be perceived very differently, even within the same organization.

Our ability to exercise our authority as leaders and followers, while at the same time acknowledging our diversities and commonalities with others, is constantly influenced by who we are, how we are perceived, the meanings that we and others attribute to our diversities, and what we perceive in others.  Our identity, our authority, our competence, our leadership abilities, and our diversity are all interdependent and dependent upon the institutional, system, and organizational context.

Some of our communities' deepest, most painful issues are related to the mythologies and unexamined beliefs that we hold about our own and others' diverse qualities.  The dynamics of human diversity have an impact upon the abilities of our institutions to achieve their work objectives.

14.  We cannot always control these factors, but we can study them and increase our capacity for understanding and managing them.  This conference presents opportunities to explore the nature of the dynamics of diversity, to deepen understanding of how they influence the businesses, public services, schools, and political institutions that engage us, enrage us, and are charged by us with accomplishing tasks necessary for our well-being and survival.

Experiences here may increase your understanding of small- and large-scale social behaviors and conflicts, both personal and national or international.

In any institution, individuals must have, understand, accept, and exercise authority and leadership in order to achieve the institution's tasks.  This Conference provides a chance to examine how the dynamics of diversity may empower or impede the exercise of authority and leadership, and, by implication, the achievement or non-achievement of institutional goals.

As managers, teachers, students, leaders, and followers, you may gather some ideas here about how to work both more realistically and more imaginatively toward sound institutional leadership or about how to transform your roles and institutions to respond to increasing human diversity, without losing your visions, objectives, or dignity.

15.  But, speaking clearly, the Conference staff will not teach you these learnings.

Galileo once said that it is not possible to teach anything to others; it is only possible to help them to discover it.

What you discover here through your own experience is unique to you and may not be shared by others.  You must determine what is valid and what is not.  We do not assume that the journey of experiential discovery and learning is either quickly or easily carried out.

16.  To facilitate your learning about Authority, Leadership, and Human Diversity, we have set up this temporary institution, which you have just entered.  As you are aware, the only requirement for membership in this institution is a desire to learn.

17.  We assume that this temporary educational institution is inevitably a microcosm or metaphor for the life that we experience in larger organizations and social systems.  But, because it is newly formed and largely unknown, we will need to make continuous inquiry into its overt and covert character.

18.  This institution exists for your learning purposes.  You are therefore naturally and fully authorized to examine and inquire into every aspect of its operations.  Inquiry here is both internal and external.  In this conference, you have great freedom to turn the usually internal, private questions, preferences, fantasies, or wishes into public dialogue.

I do not overlook the sense of risk that is entailed in public inquiry and participation.  Whenever we put forth our experiences, beliefs, feelings, or our "selves," we encounter others' responses and feedback.  This kind of risk is a necessary part of learning from our own and others' experience.  Otherwise, there would be very little to study or learn here!

19.  Some dynamics here will be readily discernible, while others may be elusive, extending beyond our imagination and reflecting the unconscious.  The staff promotes a culture of inquiry into group, organizational, institutional, and systemic life through the events and the management of those events, and through the work of the consultants, whose interventions are aimed at making the overt and hidden or unconscious dynamics available for shared examination and discussion.

Everything that happens, whether planned or accidental, is available for inquiry, study, and reflection by you, the members, and by us, the staff.  We will all be working with the same basic information or data.

20.  Beyond our own individual, personal interests in these themes, there are profound and compelling reasons to explore the responsible exercise of authority and leadership in institutions peopled with diversity:

in short, transformation and survival.

The path or voyage or passage that any exercise of authority and leadership undertakes is one that begins or permits the journey from one form, state, or formation to another.  From birth to death, every system,

large and small,

individual, familial, national, or global,


through a continuous process of transformation,

adapt, sometimes quickly or forcefully, to its internal and external environments.

Since these environments change constantly, no human system can avoid the need for continual transformation.  Sometimes the transformational process is strong and unmistakable, as we have seen in the former Soviet Union, in what used to be Yugoslavia, in Chiapas, Algeria, Za´re, Ireland, Israel and Palestine, and, starting not too many years ago, in the very State in which we are now meeting each other.

The transformational process can be less obvious.  But, whether it involves tribalism, violence, and chaos, or whether it is peaceful, subtle, and orderly, institutional transformations, above any distinctions, always involve people and always affect them.

I am not speaking of personal transformation.  That is not our task here; that is the concern of therapy and other kinds of personal conversion processes.  Here, I am talking of the on-going transformations of people's roles and of their relations within a task system.  Changes and developments of those relations and roles are the preconditions and the consequences of system transformations.

The transformation of roles usually starts from and creates thoughts, reflections, and, sometimes, valuable insights, which we are accustomed to share and consider, either formally or informally.  But the transformation of roles, such as occurs when you enter into this temporary conference institution, also provokes feelings.

21.  We are far less in the habit of taking into account our feelings and emotions and of dealing directly and openly with them as valuable resources in understanding our institutions and their needs, as well as our own tasks, roles, and work relationships.

Let's face it: whatever our roles, daily life in any institution, even this one, stirs up many thoughts, reflections, and feelings.  Coffee breaks often seem to owe their existence to our need to talk about them.  They are provoked by our engagement in organizations' continual adaptive and transformational processes.

In the course of your inquiry here, you may experience a variety of intense or fleeting internal images, emotions, longings, fantasies, prejudices, attitudes, and thoughts that may initially be stressful and difficult to understand or to accept.  You may have had similar internal responses in other group and institutional settings, where, in order to achieve the objectives of your role in the institution, you felt obliged to control them, conquer them, keep them out of awareness, or lay them aside.

Unlike those settings, your learning task here involves precisely the communication and sharing of these internal experiences, so that they can serve as communications about the context and situations in which you find yourselves.  Collective reflection on their presence and symbolic or hidden meanings may render here-and-now subsystem and system processes more comprehensible.

As staff, our own experience has led us to believe that the internal images, reactions, and thoughts of the kind that you encounter in your participation here in this system are generally characteristic of all human beings as they participate in human systems and intersystem relations.

Many times they impede the development and exercise of leadership, they hinder effective institutional and team functioning, they impair task performance, and they prevent realistic perceptions and accurate assessment in intersystem transactions.

We tend to regard these feelings and emotions as positive when they reflect enthusiasm, gratitude, collaboration, approval, or pride in one's work.  But we are likely to view them as negative when they involve anger, envy, failure, abandonment, or frustration.

22.  This Conference exists to permit us to utilize our full selves, and, through taking these opportunities, to provide for our own and others' learning, so that all participants, both members and staff, have the possibility to work directly and openly with the ideas and reflections, as well as the feelings and sensations, stimulated by the whole process of engaging as members in this temporary educational system.


In order to avoid mere repetition or reproduction of our previous institutional experiences and instead to discover new functions, new possibilities and transformations, new links in our understanding of Authority, Leadership, and Human Diversity.  Thus, it is a chance to explore, perhaps to experiment, perhaps to transform thinking about roles, tasks, and boundaries.  The essential concrete kinds of boundaries, such as those of time and territory, are given.  Still to be negotiated are the less tangible boundaries, such as those between order and chaos, certainty and uncertainty, construction and destruction, reality and fantasy, oneself and the Other, faith and doubt or despair.

23.  From this relatively long introduction, you may retain consciously only some of the elements.  In summary, then, notions that are very simple, but also concise and powerful:

  • to bring to awareness and share, in order to make known and to reveal
  • to enhance and apply our understanding in order to act and to do so effectively.
24.  To state the primary Conference task again, in a slightly different way:

It is

"to offer opportunities to learn about the nature and management of hidden or unconscious group and institutional dynamics, especially those connected with human diversity, that influence task performance and our ability to exercise authority as leaders and followers in contemporary institutions"
25.  Here we are.  Gathered together, we have
a primary task,
almost two and one-half days,
some educational methods that have met the tests of time,
a suitable work territory,
a stable surrounding political environment,
a staff dedicated to providing opportunities for learning,
a large membership, diverse in such factors as work roles, political beliefs, weight, values, religion, culture, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, and nationality.
26.  We have never before been together in this way, with this rich set of resources.  No one can prescribe or predict what we shall discover or how and when we shall find it useful to apply our learning.  Without doubt, we shall be exposed to new and possibly confusing learning opportunities.

27.  As we have this experience of crossing over the boundaries that separate the Conference from its external environment,

what do you wish to explore?

Related Materials


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