Introduction to Facilitative Leadership

“Facilitative Leadership is a people–centered, quality and results driven process of developing and supporting a culture in the workplace that facilitates goal achievement through effective relational processes. Facilitative leadership is particularly important to effective group process, teamwork, workplace culture and change management in the workplace.” Alisdair Smith, University of British Colombia,

“Facilitative leadership is a values-based, systemic leadership philosophy founded on the core values and assumptions, principles, and methods of the Skilled Facilitator approach. The facilitative leader helps groups and individuals become more effective through building their capacity to reflect on and improve the way they work.” Roger Schwarz Associates,

Facilitative leadership is a model where there is deep collaboration within the organization. That means all people involved, including the leader, are transformed in some way by the work they are doing. It focuses on the adaptive changes people make as they work, while simultaneously developing and supporting a culture that seeks out goal achievement through the formation of effective relationships. Read more at:

Technical skills – the hard skills – are at a premium in the development business. They build the engines that drive change. But those engines cannot function without emotional intelligence skills – the soft skills that lubricate those engines, especially in complex multi-stakeholder processes where no single organization has positional authority over the rest. Taking this a step further, it is the emotional skills found in facilitative leadership that enable technical skills and technical solutions to thrive. Multi-stakeholder solutions begin and end with facilitative leadership, not with technical skills

Mutual Learning is based on five core values that are common sense, but not common practice. These values fundamentally change the way the team thinks and acts and the results they get. The values are:

  • Transparency
  • Curiosity
  • Accountability
  • Informed Choice
  • Compassion


This article defines facilitative leadership as advocated by Roger Schwarz and describes the use of this relatively new leadership approach in a public library system. It lists and defines the four core values followed in Schwarz’s approach: valid information, free and informed choice, internal commitment, and compassion. It further describes the use of left-hand column cases as developed by Chris Argyris to identify one’s own theory in use. Model one and model two theories in use as developed by Argyris are discussed. The article then briefly describes the experiences of using the Schwarz principles in a library organization.


Effective facilitation involves using processes and tools to maximize the collective intelligence of individuals in a group to determine the right course of action and to then build a template for acting on the choices they make. Facilitation, while long associated with individuals leading workshops, planning meetings, or other group processes, actually encompasses a broad mix of consulting and coaching skills that are too critical to be relegated to the domain of a select few.

David Conley and Paul Goldman (1994) define facilitative leadership as “the behaviors that enhance the collective ability of a school to adapt, solve problems, and improve performance.” The key word here is collective; the facilitative leader’s role is to foster the involvement of employees at all levels.

Several key strategies are used by facilitative leaders:

  • overcoming resource constraints;
  • building teams;
  • providing feedback;
  • coordination, and conflict management;
  • creating communication networks;
  • practicing collaborative politics; and
  • modeling the school’s vision (Conley and Goldman).


What is Facilitative Leadership:

Key Benefits of Facilitative Leadership

  • Enables self-leadership
  • Helps employees see and understand the big picture
  • Increases employee motivation and commitment via participatory decision making
  • Helps employees align tasks
  • Facilitated meetings can help create innovation and new ideas
  • Very effective in dealing with complexity

Key Challenges of Facilitative Leadership

  • Allows idea creation by employees and may seem chaotic
  • Requires group facilitation skills to deal with the chaos of group decision making
  1. Facilitative leaders value creativity, reflection, and brainstorming over planning, commanding, and directing.
  2. Facilitative leaders have a strong interest in individuals and encourage ideas from all the team members.
  3. Facilitative leaders are inquisitive about their underlying values and the reasons for their opinions and behavior.
  4. Facilitative leaders are reflective in nature, ask structured, probing questions, and encourage interaction and debate, helping individuals to see alternative points of view.
  5. Facilitative leaders have a high degree of patience as facilitation takes time and they are very flexible and readily change plans, ideas, and strategies based on the group’s suggestions.
  6. They encourage healthy conflict and opposing views. They see this as an opportunity to get issues out in the open and have them resolved.
  7. Facilitative leaders focus on what the group is learning from the process as well as the outcome of the task.
  8. Facilitative leaders provide coaching, support, encouragement, and appreciation.
  9. Facilitative leaders share the credit and praise with the team and/or individuals and in case of failures are ready to own the responsibility.

The effectiveness of a group is directly related to the efficacy of its process. If the group is high functioning, the facilitative leader uses a light hand on the process machine. If the group is low functioning (e.g., filled with conflict), the facilitative leader will be more directive in helping the group run its process. Even in a high-conflict group, however, the facilitative leader does not dictate the group’s actions; rather, he poses questions, summarizes, or uses other skills that invite members to move forward. The facilitative leader’s job is to focus on how well people work together and, by this focus, to help members of a group accomplish the goals they set for themselves.

Even leadership prescriptions that claim facilitative, democratic or participative credentials struggle to break away from the depiction of leadership as a fundamentally impositional undertaking; a feature which may put many academics and practitioners off the subject altogether. This article therefore calls for more attention to the question of how people who find themselves in leadership roles might lead in a less impositional manner. It also offers a contribution to that agenda. After highlighting some limitations of potential sources of reassurance against leadership’s impositional connotations, the article draws on Jürgen Habermas’ discussion of ideal speech, along with some commentaries on Habermas’ work, to propose an outline for a model of leadership as the facilitation of ideal speech. It also considers the practical feasibility, in contemporary organizations, of leadership that facilitates ideal speech, identifying some aspects of organizational theory and practice that may offer nourishment to such an approach.

There are 6 levels of listening, Bowen-Nielsen explains. The levels of listening are as follows

  1. Ignoring
  2. Pretending
  3. Selective
  4. Attentive
  5. Empathy
  6. Constructive


How can you improve as a facilitative leader? Start with these fundamentals:

  1. Use active listening skills, including paraphrasing, summarizing, reflecting, and questioning.
  2. Encourage and generate participative discussion in groups.
  3. Stimulate creative thinking through brainstorming/other idea-generation processes.
  4. Stimulate strategic consideration of alternatives and informed decision-making of appropriate choices.
  5. Manage contrasting perspectives that might result in conflict among members of a group.
  6. Intervene with individuals and groups without taking total control of the situation.
  7. Design meeting processes to accomplish a wide range of goals and objectives.
  8. Draw out others’ opinions in an objective and nonjudgmental manner.
  9. Support teams in various stages of group development.
  10. Help individuals and groups reflect on their experiences and capture relevant learning.
  11. Lead/design inclusive group processes that honor different learning styles.
  12. Help shape more powerful and strategic questions for exploration.


The best facilitative leaders possess the following qualities:

  1. Listening: As a good leader, you must not only talk and direct but also listen to your team’s ideas and perspectives in order to be able to summarize, analyze, paraphrase, reflect and question points and use them to move forward.
  2. Participation: A facilitative leader shouldn’t direct tasks or ideas without personal involvement in their processes — and at the same time, you shouldn’t just let your team carry out plans on their own. The key is actively participating in planning, discussing and executing ideas and tasks along with your team — get involved!
  3. Encouragement: Constructive criticism can be important, but positive reinforcement and encouragement are even more crucial. Recognize the good in your team and push them to be better by encouraging further discussion, participation and work ethic.
  4. Collaboration: It’s not only your team that must collaborate — you have to, as well! In addition to leading group discussions, manage them and work to coordinate opinions, ideas, and perspectives.
  5. Stimulation: Your team may come up with gold, but you have to help them dig! Stimulate your team members to consider various strategies, creative possibilities and informed decisions — and don’t be afraid to pitch your own ideas, as well!
  6. Conflict management: Collaboration can sometimes mean conflict — when your team is struggling with opposing perspectives that may cause unease, you should know how to smoothly manage contrasting opinions and compromise for a better solution.
  7. Innovation: Creativity is key! You shouldn’t just have a plethora of exciting ideas — you should have a healthy store of stimulating ways to help your team come up with their own. Plan innovative processes for idea-generation, creative thinking, and unique brainstorming.
  8. Support: As a facilitative leader, you’re part of an inclusive, collaborative team that embraces different perspectives and honors participation. Show your team members you always have their backs and value their opinions. It’ll make all the difference.


Start with the Transformational Leadership stop today!

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