The 8 Core Practices of Facilitative Leaders

Over the last ten to fifteen years, a fundamental shift has been occurring in the role of leaders in the workplace. In the past, many leaders viewed themselves as responsible for setting the overall direction, defining the strategy and then directing the people and resources to implement that strategy.  Yet we live in a different age now. Employees are no longer willing to be just a pair of hands and feet directed by others. They are seeking to participate in the decision-making, and not just be impacted by it. They want to know where their organization is going, and they want to influence the paths taken to get there.

This shift in the workplace is requiring a new set of leadership skills.  Leaders must be able to facilitate rather than dictate.  They must understand how to inspire people and build buy-in not just command and control.  They must know how to involve people in decision-making and how to manage group interaction.

At Leadership Strategies, the “Facilitative Leader” is the name we use to describe a leader well equipped to successfully inspire, engage and guide in this new workplace.

How do they do it? From our work with leaders across the globe, we have identified eight key practices of a facilitative leader. These practices guide how a leader can “TAFA,” that is, how a leader can “Take a Facilitative Approach” to making decisions, solving problems, developing people and achieving results. The eight TAFA practices follow. For ease of memory, we start each TAFA practice with a verb to depict how a facilitative leader “SUCCEEDS.” In our course, The Facilitative Leader, we provide leaders and managers with tools and strategies for implementing these practices.

  1. Start with the why, engage with the how.

All too frequently leaders start with what they want people to do rather than focus on the why. Facilitative leaders identify and communicate the why with everything they do. And more times than not, the why can be defined as purpose.A facilitative leader understands that to inspire people to higher levels of performance requires, among other things, a clear purpose.

  • You are thinking about starting up a new division…Why? What’s the purpose?
  • You are considering increasing investments in a product line…What’s the purpose?
  • You want to bring a task force together to address customer satisfaction issues…What’s the purpose?
  • You are thinking about holding a meeting…What’s the purpose?

And once you identify your purpose, it is important to communicate that purpose right from the beginning. Simon Sinek documented what he calls, “The Golden Circle.”

“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

Simon Sinek
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

People are often inspired when they are connected and aligned with purpose. Unfortunately, most leaders communicate from the outside in, they start with what they want done. However, facilitative leaders understand the importance of communicating from the inside out. They start with the why and engage their team in determining how. This allows their team to buy in from the beginning and stay committed to the end.

2. Understand and empower; don’t command and control.

Often leaders don’t involve those impacted by decisions because they believe they need to control all aspects of what is done to achieve the desired result. However, facilitative leaders take the time to understand  their people and individually empower them to perform at their best. Facilitative leaders know that they must give their people the authority, resources, support, and coaching that will enable them to develop and implement solutions that bring the “why” into reality.

3.  Communicate in their language, not yours.

Facilitative leaders  have  highly tuned  communication  skills. They use  questions  and not statements to guide discussions and help people reach their own conclusions. They understand the basic communication styles and know how to recognize and adapt to each. Facilitative leaders know that whether talking to their superiors or their subordinates, they can communicate much more effectively by adapting to the communication language of the other person.

4. Connect first; correct second.

Some leaders are expert at pointing out mistakes their people make.  They seem to enjoy demonstrating their superiority by identifying errors and then showing their people what they have done wrong.

Leaders who take a facilitative approach understand the importance of connecting with people first and helping them discover their own errors.  They recognize the power of being the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.” They strive to leave every interaction with the person feeling lifted up rather than beaten down.

5. Equip for success; monitor for results.

So many teams are essentially destined to fail from the start because they are not properly equipped for success. Facilitative leaders understand that teams require eight essentials and provide teams the essentials they need to accomplish their work. At the same time, many plans fall short of their desired ends due to lack of monitoring for results. For example, how often do strategic plans get written and then put on a shelf? Facilitative leaders understand the need to monitor for results every step of the way.

6. Engage conflict; encourage disagreement.

When faced with a challenging situation, leaders who lack the tools to effectively manage conflict tend to respond with either a “fight” or a “flight” strategy. Leaders who take the flight approach avoid addressing issues in hopes that the issues will go away on their own. Leaders employing the fight strategy tend to attempt to overpower the situation by enforcing their will without considering or inviting alternatives from others.

Facilitative leaders view conflict as a symptom that perhaps better solutions are available; they view dysfunction as a sign that something important is not being addressed.  They understand the three reasons people disagree and have strategies for addressing each one. They believe that through disagreement even more effective solutions can emerge.

7. Drive strategic thinking throughout the organization.

One of the traditional leadership roles is to set a strategic vision for an organization and establish priorities for execution. Facilitative leaders aren’t satisfied with reserving strategic thinking for the highest levels in an organization. They understand  the benefit of having strategic thinking skills throughout  the organizational hierarchy. They provide a strategic thinking process and promote a strategic thinking organization by modeling it in all that they do.

8. Start, execute, and close every meeting masterfully.
For leaders, meetings often serve as the primary vehicle for influencing action in their organizations. Whether these take the form of status meetings, working meetings, strategy retreats, 1-on-1 coaching sessions, or even “drive-by” updates when someone catches the leader in the hallway, meetings serve as the currency for leadership influence. Unfortunately, many meetings are a waste of time. Some are completely unnecessary; others are unfocused, unproductive,  and  ineffective.

Bad meetings waste time, consume  resources, and  wear down people’s energy and passion. Still worse, bad meetings often result in poor decisions: decisions which are inadequately thought  through,  void of innovation, and missing the necessary buy-in for success. Facilitative leaders understand the important role of meetings in sparking innovation  and  gaining buy-in. They use masterful meeting techniques to maximize interaction and results.

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The TAFA practices outline what it means to take a facilitative approach inside an organization. As more and more leaders adopt facilitation as a way of leadership, we expect to see greater business results driven by higher levels of buy-in and commitment throughout the organization.

You can learn more about powerful leadership approaches through our courses, The Facilitative Leader and The Effective Facilitator. Or, purchase a copy of The 8 Core Practices of a Facilitative Leader.