Volume 27, June 2003: Facilitative Leadership

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2003 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Your job is to facilitate and illuminate what is happening. Interfere as little as possible. Interference, however brilliant, creates a dependency on the leader.” — John Heider

“As children, we are a series of question marks. As adults, we grow up and our language is filled with periods.” — Unknown

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as the rightly timed pause.” — Mark Twain

“Facilitation is the provision of opportunities, resources, encouragement, and support for the group to achieve its aim, and to do this through enabling the group to take control and responsibility for the way it proceeds.” — Trevor Bentley


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Being concerned with helping people help themselves.
  • Pushing decision-making to the lowest level possible.
  • Sharing core values, principles, and group agreements as a basis for action.
  • Protecting ideas of all and valuing differences.
  • Guiding not controlling, enabling not doing for.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

The most powerful tool you bring to work is “yourself.” You use your experience and insight to help others find their way. This may mean holding back when your urge is to “do it for them” – i.e., to take over their problem or give them advice on how you would handle it. The key here is effective “questions.”

  • What is happening now?
  • What is working well?
  • What would a successful outcome be?
  • What have you tried before and with what results?
  • Can you see ways that you may be contributing to the problem?
  • What do we need to solve this problem?
  • What criteria will you use to make a decision?
  • How might I assist you?

This is the basic formula for coaching.

Frequently Asked Questions

“How to learn from mistakes and not kill the messenger.”
Try a debrief – ask what happened, what did we learn, and what will we do differently next time? The Army calls it AAR (After Action Review).
“When a team or an individual is floundering, what do I do?”
Ask a clarifying question. “What are you trying to accomplish?” Then think through with them, “What method, tool or process will help us achieve that aim?”
“How do I pull my management team together?”
Like any other team, they will profit from CPR – a culture of Commitment to the work, clear Purpose, and focus on Relationships. Ask them about ideal team experiences of the past, and use these models to craft a “team agreement” (new term for ground rules). Always push communication in the direction of “open,” and provide the environment to speak truthfully (albeit kindly) without harm.
“This touchy-feely soft stuff is not my style. Are you telling me that there is no place for taking charge?”
Absolutely not. There is a continuum of intervention, ranging from gentle facilitative through coaching through being persuasive to being highly directive. In ambiguous situations, I generally start at the gentle end of the intervention continuum and move up as needed. Here's the range:
  • Non-intervention
  • Silence
  • Nonverbal
  • Question to Clarify
  • Descriptive Feedback
  • Evaluative Feedback
  • Question to Move
  • Debrief
  • Reframe
  • Teach/Train
  • Share Your Idea
  • Make Suggestions
  • Guide
  • Mediate
  • Direct*
  • Seek Third Party Intervention

In situations where people and relationships are in danger of being harmed, I jump immediately to the Directive mode.*


For a long time, Key Associates used the Facilitation course as the model for learning how to lead: Facilitation Exercises.

Now, with the help of leaders, we have created a five-day course, divisible into modules, just for Leadership skills: The New Leadership: Spirit & Integrity.

Our government sees the value of facilitative leadership and has an institute within the US Office of Personnel Management: Leadership Development and Training.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Facilitation tools, featuring Guided Dialogue: Facilitative Leadership Training Institute.


  • ASTD. How to Facilitate, Alexandria, VA: ASTD June, 1994.
  • Bentley, Trevor. Facilitation: Providing Opportunities for Learning. London: McGraw-Hill, 1994.
  • Bolton, R. People Skills. New York: Touchstone, 1979.
  • Cohen, Herb. You Can Negotiate Anything. New York: Citadel Press, 1980.
  • Crum, Thomas F. The Magic of Conflict. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987.
  • >Doyle, M. and Straus, D. How to Make Meetings Work. New York: Jove Books, 1976.
  • Fisher, Roger, and Ury, William. Getting to Yes. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.
  • Hart, Lois B. Thoughtless Facilitation: An Instructor’s Manual for Facilitation Training. Amherst, MA: Human Resource Development Press, 1991.
  • Heider, John. The Tao of Leadership. Aldershot: Wildwood House, 1986.
  • Mayer, Richard J. Conflict Management: The Courage to Confront. Columbus: Battelle Press, 1989.
  • Neuhauser, Peg C. Tribal Warfare in Organizations. New York: Harper & Row Press, 1988.
  • Parker, Glenn M. Cross-Functional Teams: Working with Allies, Enemies, and Other Strangers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1984.
  • Pfiefer and Jones' Annuals for Developing Human Resources (all years have good exercises for teams and facilitators).
  • Phillips, R.C. Th e Art of Managing Differences: Part I: Levels of Conflict. Presentation to the Michigan Construction User Council, October 20, 1987.
  • Reddy, W. Brendan. Intervention Skills. San Diego: Pfeiffer, 1994.
  • Rees, Fran. How to Lead Work Teams. San Diego: Pfeiffer, 1991.
  • Ross, M.B. Coping with Conflict: The 1982 Annual for Facilitators, Trainers, and Consultants. University Associates, 1982, pp. 135-139.
  • Ryan, Kathleen D., and Oestreich, Daniel K. Driving Fear Out of the Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1991.
  • Schein, E.H. Process Consultation: Its Role in Organizational Development (Vol. 1, 2 nd ed.) Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1988.
  • Scholtes, Peter. The Team Handbook. Madison, WI: Joiner Associates, Inc., 1988.
  • Schwarz, Roger M. The Skilled Facilitator: Practical Wisdom for Developing Effective Groups. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.
  • Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline. New York: D
  • Senge, Peter M. The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations. Sloan Management Review, Fall 1990, 7-23.
  • Van Gundy, Arthur. Idea Power. New York. AMACOM, 1992.
  • Varney, G. Building Productive Teams. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989, pp 40-41, 68-77.
  • Walton, Richard E. Managing Conflict: Interpersonal Dialogue and Third Party Roles. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1987.
  • Weaver, Richard G. & Farrell, John D. Managers as Facilitators. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1997.


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