Leaders need to be good facilitators? Huh? (Part 1)

I’ve been talking about 21st century leadership for the past six months. We’ve covered a number of topics. If you missed them, or if you want to review what we’ve discussed, you can read them here. Today, I’d like to dive into one aspect that we haven’t explored too deeply: leaders as facilitators.

As I’ve mentioned before, 21st century leadership needs to create an environment where people can contribute to the fullest, their own perspectives and understanding, without the fear of rejection and humiliation. However, it’s not enough to just create it, we also need to maintain it. We need to facilitate an environment where people and teams grow, where they work together and laugh together, where they build trust and bring great value to customers:

Co-creating, facilitating, experimenting and leading the culture are the competencies required of 21st century leaders. Let’s dive into facilitating a bit more.

“Knowledge workers are people who know more about what they are doing than their boss does.” — Peter Drucker

21st century leaders are not the masters of their crafts who dole out their knowledge to eager apprentices aspiring to gain wisdom. You may wonder how you can help your team members achieve their goals when you, as a leader, are not an expert on the topic. You need to transition from boss to facilitator. Let’s look at the five crucial elements of leaders as facilitators.

1. Check your ego at the door.

“Our mission is to make a positive difference, not to prove how smart we are.” — Peter Drucker.

Leading knowledge workers require that the leader get rid of ego and focus on achievement. The first step in responding to a challenge occurs when team members will admit a challenge exists. The first step in addressing the challenge occurs when leaders will admit they don’t have all the answers and facilitate finding solutions.

2. Be wary of making suggestions

What do you think would happen after someone brings up an issue and the boss responds by saying: “Have you tried that?”

There would have been a strong tendency for that person (and everybody else in the room) to say, “Great idea,” and then turn their attention to implementation. That is problematic. First, there would be limited (if any) personal ownership moving forward from anyone on the team (“This was the boss’ idea”). Second, it may well have been a less-than-optimal suggestion by a boss who is not the subject matter expert.

Instead, after hearing the issue and providing recognition for the honesty, the leader clarifies that s/he would not be the source of a solution. It may seem odd, but this, more than anything, was a call to collaborative action.

We’ll look at the other three crucial elements next week. In the meantime, have you been a “leader as facilitator” or are you a “leader as boss”? If you have any experience being a “leader as facilitator”, I would love to hear about it. Share with me in the comment below.

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