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Transform Your Organization with Facilitative Leadership

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

“I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and who dares to develop that potential.” – Brine Brown, Research Professor, and CEO of The Daring Way

So, a committee leads facilitative leadership … not!

It is not about getting everyone together and asking, “what do you and you think?” Everything cannot be decided via committee! Especially if your work involves things like law enforcement or the military. The front lines are not the place to take a ‘straw poll.’ Even as I say this, and even in those operations, there are times when a leader can and should get people together to talk about how to improve the process; by genuinely asking for input from all levels. That is what facilitative leadership is about.

For this process to work, the leader must create an atmosphere where people not only feel comfortable contributing ideas and suggestions but where the leader acts on that input.

Acting on input does not mean doing everything the group tells you to do. It does mean making it clear to the group that their information is valued by defining how that input will be used. Often, a leader will give the impression that if the team members supply honest input, they will be given their ‘marching orders.’ Therefore, the leader must clarify how that input will be used for asking for information. For instance, let the group know if you are:

1 - Ask for ideas, and you (the leader) will make the final decision

2 - Asking for ideas, you (the leader) will discuss options with the group again before making the final decision.

3 - Requesting input so the final decision will be made together as a team

4 - Requiring information, the team will make the final decision after reviewing it with you.

5 - Giving information to the team, and the team will tell you what the final decision is.

These are just examples of how to explain your intentions when involving direct reports in the decision-making process. The added advantage of this clarity is that it is another critical step in building respect, trust, and rapport.

This model is the strategic outgrowth of the changing role of leadership.

Hopefully, this does not mean last week for you back in the day. The leader stood in the middle and directed the team with one-way communication. Essentially that leader would say, “jump,” and the followers would need to know how high.

As this leader progresses, they allow for two-way communication, but the leader is still in the middle directing the group’s activities.

Continuing this progression, the leader steps out of the middle – and becomes a part of the team. This also allows for better communication – between team members. The leader is still responsible but does not ‘push’ their people; they tend to ‘pull’ to get people to follow them – not to push and micro-manage them.

As the leader progresses, they can step away from the day-to-day aspects of the area. This affords even more communication between the members of the team. Again, you cannot do this until you have helped the team members interact with each other on a ‘level playing field.’ Therefore, you should be familiar with the elements in this book that can help you build those essential skills for your subordinates – so you can be free to work on the more strategic aspects of your job instead of the tactical ones.

The skill needed for this process is critical because the typical leader’s area of span and control is not retracting; it is expanding! So, you will have to ‘run’ multiple departments, which cannot be done effectively if you are ‘stuck’ in the middle of one trying to direct everything.

Now, keep in mind that when you step away, do not disengage! Because you ‘cannot expect what you don’t inspect.’ So, as you have allowed your team’s skills to be sufficient for you to ‘step away,’ you must be accessible and continue to coach and hold everyone accountable.

Facilitative leaders also have courage. This starts when we are incredibly young.

A six-year-old and a four-year-old are upstairs in their bedroom. “I think it’s about time we started cussing” the four-year-old nods his head in approval. The six-year-old continues. “When we go downstairs for breakfast, I’m going to say “hello,” and you say “ass,” ok!” The four-year-old agrees with enthusiasm. Their mother walks into the kitchen and asks the six-year-old what he wants for breakfast. “Aw hell, mom, I’ll have some cheerios.” Whack! He flies out of his chair, tumbles across the kitchen floor, gets up, and runs upstairs crying, with his mother in hot pursuit, slapping his rear with every step. The mom locks him in his room and shouts, “you can just stay there till I let you out!” She then comes back downstairs, looks at the four-year-old, and asks sternly, “And what do you want for breakfast, young man?” I do not know,” he blubbers, “but you can bet your ass it won’t be Cheerios.” -origin unknown

Courage is exemplified by a leader that cannot fold under pressure. Take this situation; you have been coaching a direct report on leading an important project. ‘Fast forward: the project does not reach its target. Your boss calls you in and asks, “what the h_ _ _ happened?” Most people in that situation would start to explain how they have been coaching a member of their team blah. Blah, blah … wrong answer! A facilitative leader would have the courage to say something like, “I am responsible, and I will make sure that doesn’t happen again…” now, that takes courage. You do not ‘turn the person into the boss. You are ultimately responsible for your group’s output, so act like it!

Now, you have conversations with that direct report about what happened. Some miscues during the ‘coaching’ process need to be revisited. Remember, during these ‘discussions,’ it was a two-way street. It is the employee’s responsibility to conduct the goals, and it is your responsibility to be sure your people are on track.

Another essential ability a facilitative leader has is their ability to ‘take counsel.’ They could listen to multiple points of view, including those who typically disagree with them. This is a powerful trait because you tend to have complete input, thus making better decisions. To do this, a leader must be able to capture the critical kernels of information. They must be able to keep bridges between people and create an atmosphere where people share information– mainly because they have earned respect, even from people who usually do not see things the same way.

When one has mastered these skills, they are recognized as a facilitative leader.

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