Facilitative leadership is the polar opposite of the centralised command-control transactional leadership style that is typical of so many organisations – [especially here in the UK].
Facilitative leadership and informal networks
This is a leadership style that recognises the disconnects that occur as:
(1) Management are detached from direct feedback from the frontline and the human consequences of their decisions.
(2) Up to 75% of an organisation's natural leaders and
informal networks sit outside of the formal management structure
In change management, facilitative leadership is a crucial skill that needs to be applied and especially to the informal networks, given that the shadow or informal organisation largely determines the scope and pace of change.
“There is no such thing as a singular success”
Facilitative leadership also recognises that no one has a monopoly of talent, ideas or solutions and that organisational success is a group effort.
As an old business friend of mine use to put it: “There is no such thing as a singular success”!
From my own experience, I have found time and time again that the answers to the most challenging business issues, project and programme failures and performance problems always - without exception lies with the front line staff - those directly involved in "doing it".
Also, the creative solutions and innovations are to be found there as well.
All it takes, in my experience is the time, courtesy and empathic listening to the people at the "coal face" to find out what the issues are and also to discover what the solutions are and what motivates them.
What is facilitative leadership?
Facilitative leadership requires communication skills, social skills and a collaborative approach.
The concept of this approach has evolved over time, and has emerged from the more familiar term "transformational leadership" which is all about inspiring employees to look beyond self-interest and focus on wider organisational goals.
It is now often viewed as a broad strategy that has been described as:
"the behaviors that enhance the collective ability... to adapt, solve problems, and improve performance." (Conley & Goldman 1994)
Key to this is the emphasis on "collective ability" and the facilitative leader's role is to ensure the wider involvement of people at all levels - especially in the informal networks.
Whilst the command-control hierarchy remains intact - and it needs to for the exercising of legal authority to ratify decisions - in contrast to centralised command-control transactional leadership, the power here is based on synergy and mutuality and is multi-directional.
Key strategies that are employed include:
Resolving resource issues
Conflict management and resolution
These involve processes that thrive on informal negotiation and communication.
The importance of trust
These strategies and processes rely on an intrinsic belief system based on trust:
"...a letting go of control and an increasing belief that others can and will function independently and successfully within a common framework of expectations and accountability." (Conley & Goldman 1994)
The equal importance of 4 perspectives
Facilitative leadership also require a broader perspective than traditional command-control leadership. Bolman and Terry (1991) identified a framework of 4 perspectives:
(1) The factual perspective - focusing on the formal and legal demands of the system, such as goals, policies, and constraints.
(2) The emotional perspective which considers the human needs of those involved and impacted.
(3) The cultural perspective that addresses the values, rites, and rituals that forms the invisible "glue" of the organisation.
(4) The political perspective that addresses the way that people pursue their own agendas and interests.
Bolman (et al) observe that few leaders utilise more than two of these perspectives - which is hardly a surprise!
But facilitative leadership recognises the equal importance of all 4 perspectives and requires the use of all perspectives, flexibly and adaptively, as the needs of the situation dictate.
This is demonstrated in the characteristics of facilitative leadership:
# Facilitative leaders exercise advanced communication skills
These 3 techniques can help ensure that your people are involved in the change management process and that they are assured of your interest:
Confirming- confirm your understanding
When you confirm, you verify that you understand what the other person said. This usually involves restating what you've heard and asking for verification. For example:
“Let's see if I understand this correctly.... Is that right?"
"Are you saying that...?"
"If I understand…is that the case?"
"So you actually depend on.... Is that correct?"
"So, to summarise, correct?"
Acknowledging- show that you value what the other person has said. For example:
"I see, that's a good point.... Let me ask you then...."
"Interesting. That makes me wonder....."
"Your comment prompts another thought...."
Bridging- make links between points you have both made. When you bridge, you make a connection between one or more points that the other person and you have made. For example:
"Earlier you said that.... Does that affect the way you feel about the situation you just described?"
"You mentioned something earlier I'd like to ask about."
The purpose of all this is to build a shared perception.
# Facilitative leaders create the environment where people want to participate
In my experience, all too often people do not feel any sense of ownership or responsibility for an outcome. This is a reflection and consequence of the style of leadership and management that they have experienced under your leadership.
From a leader and manager’s perspective this is can be extremely frustrating, so why many times I have heard CEOs and directors moaning: "But why don’t they just do it?" And this is seen (and experienced) as an abdication of responsibility to the leader or manager.
Another question I often here is: "How can I get them to share ownership of decisions and the outcomes – how do I get them to follow through on their commitments?"
There are 2 aspects to resolving this:
(1) Harnessing the emotional energy of the group
Your leadership style needs to be transformative and inspirational
– it is up to you to exercise emotional intelligence, build connection with your people and to harness the emotional energy of the group – so that feel the possibilities of belonging and cooperating together as a group for the greater good of the group.
(2) Personalise and "emotionalise" the energy for change
People need to know cognitively why the change is so important (vision, strategy, business case etc) but they also need to feel emotionally what it will mean to them personally. They need to feel the personal impact of the change.
The more they feel it the more they will prioritise it - because it matters to them personally.
In my view, this is yet another key theme and it takes thought and skill to translate the broader change messages into highly targeted and personalised impacts.
Once these areas have been addressed, it is natural for the facilitative leaders to ask rather than tell groups what they need to be doing, and to ask them what help they need to move forward rather than attempting to control their activities.
# Facilitative leaders encourage people to “speak the unspeakable”
Facilitative leaders encourage people to identify and discuss important issues they may be unaware of or unwilling to address - I call this “speaking the unspeakable”.
These are often issues that are felt to be “too sensitive”, “politically difficult” or just plain fraught to be easily and openly expressed.
Yet it is very often these difficult issues that are key to unblocking log-jams.
As change leader you achieve this by providing the tools, language and process to make this possible.
You will have a defined a cultural framework for the organisation that identifies the desired-culture (the dominant culture that will exist when the vision for the change is successfully realised) – i.e. "how we will look in the future" .
As you involve your people in this and other processes, you are subtly changing the culture in the desired direction by your continuous involvement of your people in these processes. The new culture slowly emerges.