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Facilitation as a Leadership Skill

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

By Paul Cummings, CPF, PCC

It used to be that leaders and managers could rely on the old ‘command and control’ methods of getting things done.  Back in the day, and standing atop a clear hierarchy, the boss was Lord (and less frequently Lady) of all he or she observed.  These were simple, predictable and in some ways, relatively comfortable times. It used to be that the boss could shine, taking all the glory for success (deflecting failure where possible) and where people had confidence in a job-for-life.  In today’s world of work, much has changed and those days are a distant memory.  The command and control approach to leading and managing is now as outdated as the weekly wage packet.  So what’s so different now?

  • Workforce enlightenment – today, the average worker is far more educated, both formally and informally.  Workers know their rights and how to exercise them.  More of them also know how to use their talents and exercise power and influence.
  • The information age – with the advent of the Internet, information is everywhere.  This shifts power from the boss across and throughout the whole organisation and beyond, empowering many.
  • We are globally connected – by way of social media; stories, events and campaigns can inspire and incite people (workers, customers, service users) meaning organisations no longer exist in their own discrete and predictable bubble.
  • Higher degrees of complexity – in a time of increased specialism, it’s no longer possible for the boss to be expert in everything.  Instead, today’s leader or manager must get comfortable at having people around them who are more expert in some other particular field/discipline.

The leader or manager who can facilitate individuals and teams through the challenges of these four contemporary realities has a better chance of succeeding.  Instead of commanding and controlling, it’s time to facilitate the workforce.

Facilitation is an often-misunderstood term. In the context of leading or managing, it’s about employing processes and ways of being that makes it easier for leaders to get more done through others. Facilitation is about running effective meetings, keeping people focused and arriving at decisions that lead to appropriate and timely actions. Facilitation is about setting behavioural expectations and holding people to account when expectations fail to be honoured. Facilitation is about making it easier for people to bring the best of themselves to the task in hand. It’s about welcoming resistance and conflict with genuine curiosity instead of seeing them as a nuisance to be overcome. It’s about having proven skills, knowledge and techniques that allow leaders and managers to confidently negotiate the challenges that inevitably occur when bringing teams together.

The key advantages to adopting a facilitative approach to leading and managing are:

  • Participation – with so much expertise and insight available in an organisation, its madness not to access it.  Maximising participation is essential – this means having the right people involved in the right meetings and making sure these meetings are conducted so that everyone, regardless of status, has a voice.
  • Collective thinking – reliance on just one person to steer an organisation means only one mind on the job.  Unfortunately, all of us are blinkered in some way or another.  Facilitating collective forms of thinking may seem complex, time-consuming and risky but using facilitation skills effectively can ensure any number of participants can effectively contribute their collective brainpower to the issue being addressed so that a deeper, more informed conclusion could be reached.
  • Ownership – when you create participation and facilitate collective thinking, you engender ownership for both problems and solutions – this is the magic of facilitation! People who are involved in decision-making processes early on can help shape thinking and prevent unnecessary resistance at the latter stage of implementation.
  • Processes that work – The success of facilitation as an approach in organisations is that it provides leaders and managers with proven processes that work.  Facilitating makes it easier to reach decisions that stick, explore ideas, share information, action plan, problem solve and foster learning.

If you know command and control has had its day and seek to promote participation, collective thinking and ownership for your organisations vision and mission, get yourself skilled in facilitation – after all it’s your job to make it easier for the people you lead to be as amazing as they can be!


Paul Cummings, MA, CPF, PCC, works with dedication and fun to facilitate organizations and people to think and act with greater confidence. He is a GISC Certified Coach and will be teaching Facilitation Skills at GISC in May 2016.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with facilitation as a leadership skill.  Please respond with your comments below.


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