Facilitative Leadership, 2011

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

FL 20112011.  A new year for us here at IISC to continue to move on the vision of ensuring that everyone engaged in social change work has some knowledge of and facility with Facilitative Leadership.  Another year to restate and reframe the need for these critical skills to bring alive our goals of a more just and sustainable world.  So why Facilitative Leadership?  Here is my take . . .

As we move into this new year, we continue to be faced with an amazing array of complex issues that challenge our traditional problem-solving approaches.  This includes, without being overly dramatic, questions about the survival of the human race in the face of climate change, persistent poverty, and public health threats.  With rates of change ever on the increase, more diverse players coming to the table, and our relationship to certainty becoming ever more estranged, more of us may now understand what systems thinkers have been preaching for years about the core role of leadership.

All systems have the drive to both survive and thrive, and they are most able to do so if they are able to find some fit with and sustainably prospect their environment.  Effective leadership in human systems, whether we are talking groups or organizations or communities, therefore comes down to creating the conditions for systems to cope with threats and leverage opportunities for development or evolution.  In times of stress, traditional leadership tends to suck up responsibility, away from the system, and thereby cheats the system of critical adaptive capacity.  It takes greater effort (foresight, resolve, self-awareness, humility, etc.) for leadership to admit that it doesn’t know, resist fight or flight tendencies, and enlist the more vast intelligence of the system to respond.  Enter Facilitative Leadership.

Facilitative Leadership is grounded in this notion of “condition creation,” specifically the conditions that enable groups of people to self-empower or self-organize to realize shared goals.  This includes creating conditions in which agents can offer their unique systemic perspectives and talents, speak up when they observe threats or opportunities, take initiative, make appropriate decisions, work with others, and share overall responsibility for the health (survival, evolution, purpose realization) of the system.

The ability of a person or collective to cultivate these conditions is grounded in a mind and heart-set (“relational skillfulness,” as my IISC colleague Melinda Weekes says) that understands collective intelligence, balances considerations of internal group dynamics with the larger systemic picture, maintains a spirit of receptivity and nimbleness, and embraces/wrestles with both love (“allowing the other to be a legitimate other,” as Humberto Maturana once put it; also see my colleague Gibran Rivera’s reflections) and the multiple dimensions of power (see the writings of my colleagues Linda Guinee and Cynthia Parker on this).

While many approaches to leadership leave off at this perhaps abstract notion of what it takes, Facilitative Leadership moves forward with powerful practices and practical skills to prepare the soil for and nurture the growth of adaptive and collaborative systemic capacity.  These practices include:

  • Inspiring shared visions to guide collective work.
  • Gauging success across multiple dimensions by calling attention to the quality of results, processes, and relationships.
  • Seeking maximum stakeholder/systemic engagement in decision-making that is appropriate to given situations.
  • Facilitating foundational agreement building among diverse perspectives.
  • Designing processes and experiences that bring out the best in people and that embody and guide them towards desired futures.
  • Enhancing systemic performance by engaging in individual coaching, grounded in attentive listening as well as thoughtful advocacy.
  • Recognizing, celebrating, and building upon successes and strengths, small and large.

(For a portrait of these in action, see this profile of a facilitate leader.)  Facilitative Leadership is complementary to and enhanced by other leadership approaches and practitioners with whom we at IISC partner, including Adaptive Leadership, Whole Thinking, the Art of Hosting, and Systems Thinking.  A potent combination if you ask me, and very much open to ongoing improvement, which I look forward to exploring through the lens of regenerative capacity building in future posts.  And if you haven’t had the experience, think about joining up for one of our upcoming public offerings.  We also make house calls.

No Comments

  • Dear Curtis:

    I resonate with what you have framed so concisely and spiritedly.

    I am grateful for the linking of Facilitative Leadership to both ‘love’ and ‘multiple dimensions of power’ and look forward to hearing and learning more.



  • Curtis says:

    And thank you, Michael, for your spirit in recent conversation. These are times that call for a coming together, and I’d like to think there is more we can model across the IA/IISC lines!


  • Thomas Stanley says:

    I hope you’ve read the book Power and Love by Adam Kahane. He does a great job of showing the importance and necessity of both in great causes.

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Yes indeed, Thomas. We know Kahane’s work well. And he certainly took his cue from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the theologian Paul Tillich. Much good stuff out there about holding these forces in our work.

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