What characteristics spring to mind when you think of the word 'leader'? Perhaps character traits such as decisive and visionary or skills such as great communicator and negotiator or something else.
One word that isn't likely to arise is that of a facilitator. Yet, so much of leadership – outstanding leadership – requires good facilitation.
A great facilitator knows how to draw out the ideas and thoughts of others and balance competing and diverse perspectives. They pay attention to what is going on around them. They notice what's said and unsaid, what's glossed over or ignored. They can ensure that everyone involved feels heard and valued during discussions.
They are adept at creating the space for those around them to share their ideas and perspectives and focus on unifying rather than dividing.
Leadership isn’t a solo venture
When leaders apply facilitation skills to their leadership, they recognise that leadership isn't a solo venture. They know they can't progress and succeed alone.
Consequently, they focus on ensuring clarity for each team member on their role and contribution. They draw people into the conversation to involve the right people at the right time.
Make others feel heard
In team meetings and discussions, the leader ensures that people feel heard, recognising the positive impact this has on team engagement.
When a person feels heard, they feel like they matter to you. They feel that their point of view has been considered and you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Being heard doesn't mean you need to agree with the other person's perspective. It means you are fully present when the person is talking to you. You focus on them and ignore distractions.
You demonstrate interest by asking questions and clarifying before sharing your ideas or providing a solution. You listen empathetically and with compassion because you seek to understand what they need in a non-judgemental manner.
Related: 6 Approaches to Make Employee Listening A Priority
Embrace the wisdom in the room
Facilitators know they don't have all the answers. They accept that the wisdom is in the room. So, their role isn’t about directing the conversation and telling people what the answer must be.
Instead, they embrace their role in guiding conversations and helping surface the answers, thoughts, and perspectives of others.
As Sam Kaner wrote in the Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making: "The facilitator's job is to support everyone to do their best thinking. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding, and cultivates shared responsibility".
The same applies to leaders.
Leaders who facilitate conversations spend time creating a psychologically safe space to share. They ensure everyone feels comfortable contributing ideas and challenging existing constructs and dominant paradigms.
They also actively facilitate diverse perspectives. They welcome collaboration and discussion across teams, business units, and geographic boundaries, knowing that it will help secure better organisational outcomes.
More on Speak-up Culture: How to Encourage More (and Better) Ideas
Challenge yourself and consider:
- Do you facilitate conversations or chair meetings?
- Are you surfacing ideas or shutting down conversations?
- Are you open to different perspectives or holding fixed views?
- Do you find ways to uncover the wisdom that is in the room?
- Are you creating safe spaces to share and learn?
Like all leadership skills, facilitation is a skill that is teachable, learnable and observable. So, how would you rate your facilitation skills? If your answer to that is 'not sure', 'low' or 'could be better', then you know where you need to direct your learning.
As Author Max De Pree wrote,
Leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do.
This article was first published on michellegibbings.com
This article is also available in Chinese.
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