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Facilitative Leadership, how to jump start your professional career

Facilitative Leadership

Do you have what it takes to present ideas and drive engagement from this team?

Facilitative Leadership

Facilitative Leadership is a career game changer and a class I believe every company should make available. If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend you take a Facilitative Leadership Class. Jump on it. Don’t look back, don’t look around, don’t ask questions. Just sign up. If there is one class you can help you take your career to the next level, it is Facilitative Leadership. I have wanted to blog about this topic for a very long time and the real-life example below inspired me to take notes.

Real-Life Example

As a member of the executive leadership team, I attend a weekly meeting where the head of each department and the CEO of the company update each other on what is happening in our respective departments.  The meeting lasts an hour and we also strategize about current initiatives.

Like most meetings, our meetings are no different and we:

  • Start a few minutes late
  • Get off track and stay off track
  • Don’t always have time for everyone to provide their update
  • End the meeting late

Thankfully, we do not have the problems that many meetings experience:

  • One person dominates the meeting
  • One person is not engaged at all
  • Participants are distracted by their email
  • At this level, everyone knows how to present their ideas

We recently hired an executive assistant and one her duties is to attend this meeting and take notes. She is also responsible in part, to facilitate the meeting. Our current hire is fresh out of college and very smart. She is also inexperienced when it comes to the corporate world and taming a table of Type A execs.

Frankly, it isn’t fair to ask her to facilitate. After seeing her struggle a bit, I sat down with her in front of a whiteboard. We mapped out some basic principles and practices of Facilitative Leadership.

This stuff works!

It must have worked. I am currently on vacation and she just called. She was excited to let me know that she was able to control the meeting. She kept topics on track, ended on time and everyone was able to say what they wanted to say.  

I have always known the power of Facilitative Leadership, but the fact that a recent graduate with less than 4 months of work experience could control a group of execs made me realize that more folks need to take this class. Management training may get you to the next level, but demonstrate Facilitative Leadership and you WILL be on the shortlist for those coveted manager positions. 

My personal experience

10 years ago, as a trainer with a Fortune 300, I facilitated this 2.5-day class 4 times a year. The result of being involved with that class was two-fold:

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I felt really appreciated by co-workers when I walked through the halls of the company. No class had as much impact on individual careers or department cohesiveness when attended individually or as a group. The managers and execs that had attended this class were able to take their careers to the next level because they knew how to inspire engage, present new topics and gain buy-in with folks they were working with. With simple changes in your approach, peers will see you as a next level professional. Because I had the fortune of facilitating the class, these colleagues were grateful to me because they felt that it was me who had changed their careers when in actuality it was the class they had attended.

Fold 2

Because I was facilitating this class on a regular basis, I had the opportunity to see many different ways of facilitating meetings, driving engagement, and presenting to groups. Some methods were better than others, but as much as I learned HOW to facilitate, I also saw how NOT to facilitate. This is very similar to the hiring process. Although I have seen 100’s of candidates hired, I saw 10X the number declined and know specifically why they were declined. This perspective combined with the “science” of Facilitative Leadership enables me to conduct meetings and deliver presentations in a very efficient and effective manner.

What is Facilitative Leadership?

There are many flavors of Facilitative Leadership. At a very high level, Facilitative Leadership is a model asserting that leaders should effectively facilitate deep collaboration. This model teaches how to lead in a way that inspires, invites participation and build commitment. This is not a methodology that should be used 100% of the time. There are times where we want to TELL people what to do and even flex the pounded fist. This is a tool that can be very effective to drive engagement, present ideas, and gain buy in.

One mantra of Facilitative Leadership is “The knowledge is in the room”. What this implies is that when the audience is engaged, the audience can drive the talking points home. If the facilitator is doing 95% of the talking then we have a one-way conversation. If the facilitator is only talking 60% or 70% of the time, then the audience is participating and much more engaged. As a facilitator, I love it when the audience is giving the examples and explaining the topics to the class vs. me.     

Signs of an ineffective meeting

  • Audience members are in the corner talking too loudly and causing a distraction
  • Folks are on their laptops working email
  • Presenter talks 100% of the time (this is a lecture, like what our parents did when we were in trouble)

In each of the above, there is little or no audience engagement. These are frustrating meetings and it is easy to lose interest. Facilitative Leadership keeps the audience interested and engaged.

A quick example of Facilitative Leadership that you ARE aware of

  • We have all seen the use of an agenda in meetings. We have a specified time to meet and we need to cover 4 or 5 topics. The agenda breaks down the time so we know when to end on a topic and when to start the next one. Used correctly, the agenda can drive decision-making. This is great in theory but ONLY works if the person running the meeting has the balls to cut a topic short, set expectations or possesses the facilitative skill set to drive the group to a decision. Most meetings make use of the agenda but without Facilitative Leadership expertise, the agenda is useless.
  • Facilitative Leadership provides guard rails. With our exec admin I asked her to set expectations by giving the leaders the following heads up:

To honor everyone’s time, we asked everyone to limit their updates to 5 minutes. This was essentially the agenda that allowed everyone to take a turn and get the group out on time.  It also gave the least experienced person in the room the permission to cut someone off.

A few examples of Facilitative Leadership that you may NOT be aware of

Shutting down a loud talker

If two people are causing a distraction by holding their own side conversation, one way to get them to slow their roll is just start walking around the room. Start presenting in close physical proximity to the distraction and the culprits will shut down.  The beauty of this is you don’t have to look at them or say anything. This is why good presenters use the entire room. Presentations are more dynamic when we use the entire room. Next time you see a performer on stage, see if they stand in one place or use the entire stage/room. Facilitative Leadership explains the nuance of using the entire room.  

Test the equipment

We have all been seen presentations start late because the presenters were fiddling with the projector and audio for 15 minutes putting everything behind schedule.

Connect with the audience

To build personal connections before the presentation starts, introduce yourself and talk with the audience members one-on-one as they enter the room. We can use this connection during the presentation to increase participation. Facilitative Leadership gives us examples of how to maximize these introductions in a very short amount of time and then how to leverage these connections during the actual presentation to increase engagement. 

If I introduce myself prior to the presentation with folks who I feel a great vibe with, I can engage with that person during the preso. “I just met John Doe this morning and he had brought up a great point XYZ”.  With this simple gesture, we just validated John Doe in front of everyone and because of this, he is more likely to answer questions out loud when I engage with the group. Build relationships with 6 – 10 folks prior to the presentation and you can build momentum with your engagement.

I recently went to a dinner show where the performers came out and engaged with the audience prior to the show. One of the performers came up to our table and started talking with us. You guessed it, during the show, the spotlight shined on me, I was pulled on stage and suddenly being serenaded to and became part of the performance. I am sure the engagement with our table prior to the show was a “test”. You can bet that myself, our table and all the tables in our immediate vicinity were “engaged”.    

Additional Facilitative Leadership topics

  • PowerPoint Presentations.  How to format PowerPoint slides, what colors and fonts to use and not use. Did you know there are specific colors you should NOT use when creating PowerPoint presentations? (answer is Red)
  • Driving group consensus and making a decision (there is a time for consensus and a time when consensus should NOT be used)
  • How to drive everyone to come back from break’s on time
  • Techniques to keep the audience from falling asleep
  • How to quickly generate ideas from the audience to solve problems
  • Prioritizing generated ideas so that the group is in agreement on what to work on

It’s not just work but your personal life

The above techniques don’t just drive engagement in informal meetings. These techniques can be put to use in your everyday life. A few examples include impromptu meetings, brainstorm sessions and one-on-one conversations with your manager and your significant other. Your colleagues won’t realize that they are being “guided/manipulated”.  With a few subtle changes in how we present ideas and articulate our thoughts, we can be seen as thought leaders.

If you ever get the chance to take this class, I highly recommend it. If you end up having to pay for it on your own don’t fret.  This will be money well spent and will pay for itself exponentially.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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