Leadership and facilitation

Six leadership typesJeppe Lajer asked me: “What do you think a leader or facilitator can do to raise his/her capacity to love working with groups while being conscious of his/her inadequacies?“. The answer is: “I don’t know”. But of course, i do think.

Leadership and facilitator draw from the same source. “li” or “lea“, is from the Sanskrit “yui“, meaning connection. Ship means to create, to make, as does “facere“. So both mean “making connections”. The main difference, is the location and attitude. Facilitation means making connections between people within a group, while leadership means make connection between inside and outside. Both have to work with the paradoxical tensions from the paradoxes of Belonging: Identity, individuality, Involvement and Boundaries (please note that the latter word implies bond or connection again). See Paradoxes of Group Life by Smith and Berg.

A facilitator works at the border, inside the group, looking towards the group. She or he is usually invited to support a group in solving a problem, reaching a desired goal or clarify a situation. The attitude is to support, to look inside, towards the center of the group. A facilitator tends to use images, metaphors, representations, role play, methods to evoke new meaning. A facilitator can use the different leadership styles (see image) as tools for making connections. From feelings (green) to ideas (yellow), for instance, this is “brain storming”. From structured priorities (blue) to actions, this is called “action planning”. Overall, he or she will use the energy from inside, from within the group (green) to establish results. Facilitators make themselves dependent of the group.

A leader also works at the border of the group – sometimes in a session, I take over the leadership position -, also at the edge of the group, but more-often looking to the outside. That’s why a leader also represents a group. He or she can be seen as “the group”, giving rise to problems of dependency. A facilitator will never represent a group to the outside world. A leader usually uses structure, time, money (blue) to develop and implement a vision (yellow). A leader will find it hard “to come down” and sit with the group. He or she will not be recognized as an equal, which complicates leadership. For instance, the information received cannot be trusted.

Tension between leader and facilitator
It will be evident, that there exists tensions between leaders and facilitators. Engaging a facilitator feels somehow tricky. Here we have the tensions from the Paradoxes of Engaging. Can the leader trust the facilitator and vice versa? A facilitator must trust the leader in, for instance, the freedom of participation. How much distance between the leader and the facilitator? Too close, and they’ll be seen as conspiring. Too far apart and there is no real exchange of information. The leader must be open, willing to share, to disclose to the facilitator what he or she fears or loves most. The other way around: a facilitator cannot say everything he or she hears while working with the group. And sometimes, the group will share insights no leader wants to hear. How to communicate this? Finally, a leader feels regressed when he seems to need an outside facilitator. Like in the following metaphor.

I would label the tension as playing between king and magician*) (archetypes, not real cabbages and kings). Both are male archetypes, taking in strong positions and enabling change. Magician, wise (wo)man, teaches and supports young king. He charms the group with his tricks and fire works. Once established as king, king may feel threatened by the powers of sage, his engagement with the common people, the ease of his traveling up and down. And even have him banned. King will find it hard to employ sage. Sage will stay independent. And also, it gives the impression of king needing help, being weak or even vulnerable. That’s why a facilitator may become fool, jester, joker.

Implication for facilitators
How to deal with this? What to do? As we’re dealing with the paradoxes of Engaging, the most important part is the intake. When we’re meeting a client for the first time, we can only make mistakes. So, Go Slow, keep room to maneuver. Remember, you’re a pilot on a ship.

  1. Always start with sharing a personal problem or situation. For instance: “I’m afraid of becoming bald (or gray, or having dandruff,… )”. Or “i feel both exited and impressed by …”. Or even: “I do not know where to sit”. This is an instance of “disclosure”
  2. Always talk with the client about the resistance towards the facilitator (or consultant, or project manager). This can be done directly, “how do you feel hiring a facilitator?” or indirectly: “how does the group feel about hiring a facilitator?”.
  3. Try to sit next to the client, his right hand side. Mirror his or her behavior, maintaining eye-level contact. Don’t look up and don’t be looked upon.
  4. If present: use the white board to summarize point or support the conversation. Invite the client to stand up too. This will also speed up the conversatio.
  5. Go Slow: test your assumptions. When the client asks you to support his views, create space. Don’t agree and don’t disagree. Say something like: “Based on what you’ve told me, I can see where you’re going”, or “I can follow your reasoning” and add: “.. lets wait and see how it develops” or “I cannot conclude this right now, I’ll make a note..”.
  6. Be acutely aware of the first few sentences of the client. Write them down immediately, word by word. The client needs to disclose what is bothering him or her. It cannot be done directly, because, well of the differences, the trust-issue etc. It will always be stated symbolically. (the interesting thing is, the theme will re-emerge later in the conversation. So it is not a very big deal, when you’ve missed it.)
  7. Summarize in the words of the client. Just repeat what is being said. Do not try to make an interpretation.
  8. When you do not understand something, just ask. Start with a TLA, Three Letter Abbreviation. If there are too many, just ask one in three things.
  9. Regression is the hardest part. Stay away from Parent – Child communication, like criticizing, or being instructed. Do not ask “why (do you think)?-questions” and re-frame “why?”-questions from the client before looking for an answer. Share your feelings, without attributing them to the behaviour of the other.

Kung-fu Panda
So, like Po, lead your life: becoming what you destined to become. And again, this is not a destination, this is a becoming. When you do your work, love working with groups, groups will support you in becoming conscious of your inadequacies. They’ll aways do that, by the way, but when you don’t recognize your own shadow, they’ll tend to use you to block their own development. (see “how do I recognize a CPF?” http://www.faciliteren-als-2e-beroep.nl/2015/01/how-to-recognize-a-cpf/)

*) This is – I think – why Will McWhinney uses this metaphor in his Reality Inquiry (Creating Paths of Change, p 18 – 27).

About Jan Lelie

Met diversiteit kom je verder, wanneer je elkaar beter begrijpt.  Jan Lelie kan helpen. Ik faciliteer besluitvorming met behulp van mijn mind@work methode. Sommigen noemen het agile, anderen lean of serious play. Het zit er allemaal in. Daarnaast geef ik workshops en master classes aan professionals die zelf beter willen faciliteren.
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