The Code of the Conference Leader

read ( words)

Are your meetings generally a waste of time? Do you have trouble getting commitment on the decisions made? The following information is based on "Conference Leadership", an atypical Marine Corps publication that is no longer available to the public (as it has been incorporated into a sensitive and restricted document.)The publication details a method of achieving results from groups and meetings that was far ahead of its time, originally published in 1947. Veins of "stewardship," "dialogue" and "servant leadership" can be seen throughout, though not by those names.

This article details eleven affirmations that create powerful facilitators and make up the "Code of the Conference Leader" as found in "Conference Leadership."

The first affirmation is that "I frankly recognize my own limitations and do my utmost to improve my qualifications." As conference leader you should not feel like you need know the answer to everything, nor portray yourself to the group as any kind of oracle. However, understanding and having confidence in the processes of effectively leading and managing the group is extremely important. You should strive to get and act upon feedback that will make you a leader and facilitator that the group respects.

The second affirmation in the code is that "I keep confidences under every circumstance." The best way to keep confidential information and discussions to yourself is not to have them in the first place. Explain to the group (and first to the client if appropriate) that you prefer not to have private conversions. You shouldn't take sides and the group should have all the information that you have. A detailed discussion of this principle can be found in the excellent facilitation book "The Skilled Facilitator" by Roger Schwarz.

The third and fourth affirmations are "I always consider other people's point of view" and "I will be open-minded about the other's job, view-point and experience." It is very important to recognize and appreciate the fact that your group are adults with varied histories and experiences through which they will filter the entire group experience. Adults learn most by association and we've all heard that "Where you stand is where you sit." Regardless of whether or not you personally agree with all of the points of views and agendas present, you must not ignore this dynamic.

The fifth affirmation is "I believe in the duties of conference leader." The job of the conference leader is not an intuitive one for most people. Most people want to be responsible for something, or not, and are not used to being on a real team. Real teams are more like soccer teams versus wrestling "teams" where a real collective effort is required versus a combination of individual efforts. An effective conference is where everyone is helping to pick up one big rock versus everyone breaking it up and picking up their own little piece. Additionally, as leader, you need to lead by example in the front but also be in the background. You're a facilitator, not a savior?

The sixth affirmation is that "I give credit where credit is due" which is mainly to the members of your group. Throughout the conference, it is most useful to simply respect and acknowledge contributions from members without agreeing, disagreeing or otherwise judging them. For example, just say "thanks" not "right." Let the group evaluate comments. You cannot afford to be perceived as being in one camp or the other and sacrifice your position as an impartial leader and facilitator.

The sixth affirmation is "I remember constantly, that the people in the conference groups are worthy of every consideration and respect, and deal with them as fellow men and women." Similar in intent to some of the previous affirmations, it is very important to truly respect the people in your group. Only through their efforts and commitment to follow through will anything be accomplished. If you don't honestly respect them, then it will be hard to believe that THEY have the answers they need and with your help, will discover them themselves.

The seventh affirmation is "I stimulate and develop thinking and expression." Your group needs to discover and experience its own answers AND share and express them. Google both "critical thinking" and "emotional intelligence" to understand the breadth and depth of this deceptively simple statement.

The eighth affirmation is "I listen more than talk." Remember, your job is not to "instruct" or to "lecture." You can lead and facilitate best by understanding what's going on with your group. You do this mainly by watching and listening. Even if you could lead them somewhere they didn't want to go by force of your personality and style, this only creates an unhealthy dependency. As soon as you leave, they'll be lost. Some interesting facts about listening can be found at

The ninth affirmation is "I avoid prejudice." This is one of the hardest ones. We all "pre-judge" a lot of stuff in our lives to save valuable time and not re-invent the wheel every time we need to make a decision. I pre-judge most of the my food and do not normally order red-wine. I do not particularly care for lima beans nor pig-brains (though since I've never tried the latter, how would I really know?) Pre-judging people often is a useful practice too. When I see someone I view as a threat, I may decide to lock my car doors or choose not to walk down an alley. Unfortunately we pre-judge people more than is useful, especially if our job is to help them help themselves. Do not let that first impression become concrete. Stay open to the fact that you do not know them, their history nor their motivations and you will learn far, far more that you can use to help them think and express their own solutions.

The tenth affirmation is "I minimize my own personal experience and achievement." This overlaps appropriately with several other affirmations. The focus of any meeting or conference should be on the members and not the leader. The best conference leader is in the background or else the group may become dependent on him or her. While your personal experience and achievement may be important in justifying your role as leader, once it is determined to be your responsibility, further advertisement of your own credentials should not be necessary. The group should not be concerned with your credentials since you will not be providing the "answers" but rather themselves (and there may be some work to do to get the group to believe in themselves.) Do not portray yourself as a knight in shining white armor to lead the way, but rather a seasoned stable hand who will work beside them and help shovel the manure to discover their own solutions.

The last affirmation is "I remember that the success or failure of the entire training program rests with its leader." This does not contradict the previous affirmation. Left to their own devices, the group will likely continue to get what its been getting. You need to help them raise their thinking (if not even thier "being") to a higher level at which time they can carry on by themselves. But they will need your help or nothing will change.

These affirmations have been modified slightly from the original publication in which they were more statements and principles than affirmations however I have found that they are even more powerful if actively used as affirmations - statements consistently made to yourself about how you are and what you believe right now. Not how you will be "in the future" (i.e. "I will...") or else the creative tension is gone and you let yourself off the hook since all you have to believe is that eventually, some time in the future you will change. Instead, decide and change right now! Be the leader you can be and get the results you and your team needs and deserves right now.

Stephen Pellegrino is a former Marine officer, operations analyst and consultant. A "plank holder" in the Marine Corps Business Enterprise office, he championed various cost and performance management initiatives for the Marine Corps, including leading the largest activity based costing implementation in the world. He is currently most interested in helping people committed to helping themselves get past the hype of the latest fad and get real results from real people. He can be contacted at

Rate this article
Current Rating 0 stars (0 ratings)
Click the star above that marks your rating