Facilitative Leadership in the Age of Connectivity

May 26, 2009 2 Comments

We deliver a powerful (by all accounts) leadership development program at IISC called Facilitative Leadership. It is our flagship training program because it directly speaks to the mindset, heartset and skillset needed to lead in the Age of Connectivity. Facilitative Leadership starts, ironically, with the notion that we must radically change our perception and thinking about leaders and leadership, itself. Originally based in a Newtonian, mechanistic understanding of how the world works, our ideas about leadership have evolved over the last fifty years. We’ve gone from a heroic, command and control approach to a more participative, collaborative approach that involved teams, less hierarchy, and a much higher level of engagement and input, to now — a time when our understanding of the world is informed by quantum physics and complexity theory…a world described by Tom Freidman as flat, where all of knowledge, not to mention finances, has been connected and democratized. We are defining and understanding leadership at a time when our systems breakdowns and global crisis demands that we create a future that is so radically different from the past

Several thought leaders with whom we are familiar have themselves been struggling with this concept: Peter Senge in his new book The Necessary Revolution introduces us to the idea of the animateur, the French word for people who seek to create systemic change. He says that an animateur is someone who brings to life a new way of thinking, seeing or interacting that creates focus and energy.” And, in Peter Block’s new book, Community – The Structure of Belonging, he renames leaders as “social architects” defined by their ability to set intention, convene, value relatedness and present choices. The animateur and the social architect seem to be getting us closer to the kind of leadership we need for these times.

As we embrace leadership as being first and foremost about shared responsibility, as a leveraging and unleashing of much needed collective intelligence and commitment; we see in fact that the central task of leadership today is to create the conditions for others to flourish and to thrive, to step into their own power. We see that the roles that leaders play in these times are more aptly described as catalysts, champions, connectors. We see that these leaders are strategic, collaborative, and flexible and they are most often rooted in real authenticity, service and love.

We are daunted in our sector by the demographic reality of baby boomer leaders exiting in the next five to ten years, leaving a massive leadership gap. Or, now, because of their disappearing 403(b)’s, postponing retirement and causing another set problems. I am wondering if this conversation – while important and real – may also be taking us off course or at least maybe taking up too much of our time.

My belief, particularly in these most troubled times, is that we are being called to boldly invest in and develop networked, boundary-crossing social architects….multi-cultural, multi-generational social architects. We need to build their capacity in collaboration, design, facilitation, network building and the uses of new social media in service of real change. It is our collective capacity that will lead us into a future that is so very different from the past.


  • Linda says:

    I had an interesting conversation recently with a young colleague in Washington, DC, asking about the impact on the NGO sector of all the seasoned leaders in progressive nonprofits going into the Obama government. Her reaction was that FINALLY there is room for movement, that the seasoned leaders have been preventing anyone else from having any place to move for a long time. An interesting, new perspective I hadn’t thought of. Could the same be true of the baby boomer leaders? Creating space for others to step into their own leadership? An interesting thought….

  • Gibran says:

    Linda – when I am among my generational peers it is abundantly clear that the generational shift has not been as smooth as it could be, specially when both generations care deeply about change…

    Marianne – I’m loving how you are naming the ways in which Facilitative Leadership can be understood in our times. I’m totally vibing with your thinking. One thing that jumped out at me is this idea of creating the space for others to thrive, which I find to be absolutely true, even as I find it essential that the leader see herself from “inside” the shift they are animating, and not as people privileged to tinker from outside.

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