Facilitative leadership is not about leading by committee or getting everyone together and asking, “What do you and you think?” Committee can decide not everything. The front lines are not the place to take a straw poll. Even so, there are times when a leader can, and should, get people together to talk about how to improve operations and ask for input. That is facilitative leadership.
For this process to work, leaders must create a culture where people not only feel comfortable contributing ideas and suggestions, but where leaders act on those inputs.
Facilitative Leadership Theory
Acting on input does not mean doing everything the group tells you to do. It means making it clear to the group that their input is valued by defining how that input will be used. Many times a leader gives the impression that if the team members give honest input, they will be punished. This is why the leader must clarify how the input will be used before asking for input.
For instance, let the group know if you are:
- Just asking for ideas and you, the leader, will make the final decision,
- Asking for ideas and you, the leader, will discuss options with the group before making the final decision,
- Requesting input so the final decision will be made together as a team,
- Requiring input, and the team will make the final decision after reviewing it with you, and,
- Giving input to the team and the team will tell you what the final decision is.
Facilitative Leadership Style
These are examples of how to explain your intentions when involving direct reports in decision-making. Clarity builds respect, trust, and rapport.
The role of the leader is changing. Once, the leader stood in the middle of everything and directed the team with one-way communication. The leader would say, “Jump,” and followers would only ask, “How high?” As leaders progress, they allow for two- way communication, but they are still in the middle directing the activities. Then, as leaders continue to progress, they step out of the middle and become a part of the team. The leaders are still responsible, but they do not push their people—they tend to pull, to get people to follow them—not to push and micro-manage them.
As leaders progress even more, they can step away from the day-to-day management. This affords even more communication among the members of the team. Again, you cannot do this until you help the team members interact with each other on a level playing field. You can then be free to work on the strategic elements of your job.
These skills are becoming more critical because the leader’s span at control is expanding!
Now, when you step away, you do not disengage! You cannot expect what you do not inspect. So you must be accessible, continue to coach, and have the courage to hold people accountable and not fold under pressure. Suppose, for example, that you have been coaching a direct report on an important project. The project does not reach its target. Your boss calls you in and asks, “What happened?” You might explain how you have been coaching a member of your team who let you down; but you need the courage to also say, “I am responsible, and I will make sure that it doesn’t happen again.” You are ultimately responsible for your group’s performance!
Now, you will want to talk with that direct report about what happened. Clearly, you need to revisit the miscues. It is the employee’s responsibility to achieve the goals, but you need to ensure your people are on-track.
Characteristics of Facilitative Leaders
Facilitative leaders listen to multiple points of view, including those they do not agree with. This enables them to make better decisions. Facilitative leaders capture the key kernels of information, build bridges between people, and create an atmosphere where people share information.
When you master these skills, you become a facilitative leader. The need for greater collaboration comes at a time when the diversity of perspectives, talents, and cultures present in the workplace is increasing. Achieving better results by tapping into this mix is a goal that can be accomplished through effective application of facilitative leadership fundamentals.