If you have ever had to shift from an operator or specialized position to a leadership role, you know that leadership requires a very different mindset. When you are working in an operator position, your job is to work within your specialty and very specific role. Leaders have a different role. Leaders are facilitators of strategy and opportunity. Our mission is to inspire people to be innovative, productive, and engaged. Leaders are not intended to micro-manage work. When making the shift from operator to leader as facilitator, many people struggle with the concept of stepping out of the operator role where they are in control of the details and tactics of the job and shifting to leading strategies and developing relationships that benefit the organization and employees.
Leading as a facilitator means being a guardian of process. Their job is to support everyone to do their best thinking and to cultivate shared responsibility. For many groups, they know how to deal with the widgets, but they do not necessarily know how to solve problems or how to build a shared framework. Many people are afraid of conflict or discord and don’t know how to deal with push back, so leaders as facilitators take these unknowns and help their people design a framework that allows them to build confidence in their abilities to work, as well as create rules of relationship that create a culture of collaboration.
Leading as a facilitator encourages full participation in organizational growth. In an ever evolving world this is extremely important. Leaders have a responsibility to make sure that all of the stakeholders are at the table. Previously, this would have meant that only the senior leadership was included in decision making processes. However, as time has gone by, and the ability to share information and research has grown, having all stakeholders at the table requires leaders to move outside of the box. Leaders need to include conversations with customers, community members, as well as employees of all levels of the organizations. With so much information available to the world, leaders cannot be experts in everything or know everything. Therefore, they need to be able to facilitate the participation, connection, and communication of experts to adapt to changing economies and organizational needs. I have found that participants can be reticent to share their information if this is a paradigm shift for leadership. There can be fear that they are overstepping or that they may be pushed back down once they have shared their ideas and perspectives. When you are leading with a facilitators mindset, it is your responsibility to make sure that everyone feels safe to share their information through encouragement, recognition, mutual accountability, and process guardianship.
Leading as a facilitator promotes mutual understanding. Leaders have a responsibility to empower their people to do their best thinking. Your employees cannot do their best thinking if they don’t understand one another and become stuck defending their positions. Differences in perspectives can be strengths that allow for innovation and outside of the box thinking; however, if participants focus solely on their positions rather they can lose sight of what the problem actually is, or create tunnel vision that leads to a lack of cooperation and solutions. Leaders as facilitators make sure that everyone has the tools they need to have constructive conversations, listen to understand, and develop the confidence that some one understands. When employees and stakeholders get stuck, leaders step in to facilitate mutual accountability and a both and mindset. These organizations now have a clear understanding of their values and mission, and through mutual understanding, full participation, and a commitment to the values and mission create a healthy organizational culture.
Leading as a facilitator requires full engagement in personal growth. Many times when we think of a facilitator, they are an impartial third party who helps a group work through a decision making process. However, as a leader of an organization, you are not impartial. You are the one in charge when things go well and when they go badly. When things are going well, it can be easy to be a facilitative leader. You are proud to help people work through processes and facilitate change and growth. But what about when things go wrong? Many leaders are then faced with their own insecurities. It can be tempting to place the blame on others and to become extremely directive. It is in these moments that leaders fall back to being operators rather than leaders. Facilitative leaders need to be aware of their personal blindspots. What do you do when things go wrong? How do you empower your people, while dealing with your own emotions and insecurities. Remember to continue to guide process, to separate the people from the problem, and to encourage others to do the same. I encourage leaders to also find something that helps them to stay grounded. For some leaders, it can be exercising every day. I once heard a leader say that exercising every day allowed him to feel a sense of control and accomplishment, even if a project he was leading did not go well. He was able to take a step back, recognize what he has done well, as well as what his team had done well, examine what went wrong, and facilitate another prototyping process. This process requires personal strength and growth.
Leading as a facilitator requires you to shift your mindset from that of an operator to that of a facilitator. You are building a culture of innovation. You are focusing on strengths of your people, and you are building relationships that support heathy culture and professional growth. Facilitative leaders are masters at leveraging talent to make sure the best people are in the right job, and that the culture supports full participation, engagement in personal growth, and mutual understanding. As Charles Later said, “leaders don’t force people to follow, they invite people on a journey.” Facilitative leaders invite people on a journey of personal and professional development, walking along side of them the entire way to make sure the path is ready for their travels.