This article discusses the strengths and weaknesses of facilitative leadership—is a special type of leadership style for building consensus in meetings.
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Acting Like a Facilitative Leader
If you fail to honor your people,
They will fail to honor you;
It is said of a good leader that
When the work is done, the aim fulfilled,
The people will say, “We did this ourselves.”
Lao Tzu, , 604-531 B. C., Founder of Taoism, Tao Te Ching
Effective faciliative leadership is based on three major assumptions.
Assumption 1: Facilitator Neutrality
One of the major differences between an autocratic leader and a facilatative leader is how each is perceived. Autocratic leaders typically take a position for which they are strong advocates. Facilitative leaders appear neutral and may really be neutral.
Assumption 2: The Leader Acts in the Best Interest of the Group
In many respects the faciliative leadership looks a great deal like a servant leader—they put the primary needs of the group ahead of their own selfish needs. A classic example is short-term profits over long term growth. The dominant view in capitalism is to stroke short-term results and to hell with the long-term. Such a view benefits the c-level executives and impatient investors at the expense of employees and patient investors.
For an exception to this rule, see the 60 Minutes video titled Antinori: Keeping it All in the Family
During facilitation, it’s hard to act in the best interest of the group as a whole. It’s hard to know what best interest means.
Let’s say that a corporation has set up a strategy council to determine fundamental business strategy. Since the CEO is to busy shepherding merger, the CIO is asked to chair the sessions. For that person to be successful as a facilitator, she would have to set aside her advocacy role for the use of information technology.
Assumption 3: It’s Important to Build Consensus
To understand faciliative leadership, one has to understand the nature of consensus. The Diocese of Greenburg defines it as, “A method of making decisions through which a group strives to reach substantial, though not necessarily unanimous, agreement on matters of overall direction and policy which can be supported by all.”
Some might say it means one needs 100% agreement, others might say it means everyone agrees somewhat. Someone else might say, “You have consensus when they can live with it.” A cynic might say, “Consensus is when someone is not actively sabotaging the efforts of the group.”
Whatever definition is chosen, consensus is important since groups members experiencing it support and are more committed to implementing the the solution.
Consensus in The Real World
There are some very powerful groups that must function by consensus. For example, policy developed by members of the G8, the European Union, and ASEAN are all based on consensus. If something is agreed to in summit, individual states must voluntary carry it out.
Using The Facilitative Style During Meetings
Meeting facilitation is most appropriate when one has to deal with complex problems. It’s strength is it’s ability to meld the best ideas from different people. Use it when one needs the strong support and active cooperation. It’s a natural style for project managers, board chairman, entrepreneurs, and team leaders. Unfortunately, if over used, it can create problems as well.
Problems With Facilitation of Meetings
Those who over use facilitative leadership can experience a number of problems.
Inappropriate Use Presents an Appearance of Weakness
High power distance cultures such as those in Asia tend to prefer leaders with an autocratic style. In some environments, people prefer to be told what to do, not asked what they should do. It’s important to remember, faciliative leadership does not mean a complete absence of autocratic leadership,
It Requires High End Communication Skills
Functioning as afacilatative leader requires more skill than acting as an autocratic one. Telling people what to do is easy, asking them what to do and getting them to all agree is hard.
It takes Time To Reach a Consensus
Making the decision yourself is always faster—obtaining consensus is slow and often difficult. In fact, some might argue that if consensus is unlikely, it’s better just to make the decision yourself.
Comparison Between Autocratic Leadership and Group Facilitation
In many respects they are very different, but each possesses strengths that when used appropriately, can complement each other.
|Verbal Patterns||More Questions||More Statements|
|Power Orientation||Social. It’s more about the group and what’s good for them.||Selfish. It’s mostly about me although sometimes it’s about my in-group|
|Symbolism||The round table with the leader somewhere in the middle||The long table with the leader always at the head of it|
|Dominance Level||Appears less dominant since the style is more subtle||More Dominant, more Assertive|
|Advocacy||Perceived Neutrality||Rarely neutral on anything|