King Arthur's knights, gathered at the Round Table to celebrate the Pentecost, see a vision of the Holy Grail.

Facilitative Leadership: What You Need to Know To Be a Facilitator

Facilitative leadership —playing the role of group facilitator —is one of the most effective leadership styles you can develop. Discover more about this style — what it is and why it requires real skill.

Author: Murray Johannsen. Comments are welcome. Do connect on Linkedin.

Play The Role: Communication Skills Facilitators Need

The Fundamental Facilitative Behaviors

It consisted of two actions: observations and interventions that move that group forward while maintaining consensus.


This passive activity involves using the powers of a great detective to put together a coherent picture from observable information. It consists largely of listening and interpreting nonverbal communication patterns.


An intervention has as its ultimate objective changing the inherent nature of interactions and processes within the group. It could be directed at any of the focus areas described earlier. Running Exercises (Experience) An experiential intervention means using a type of game, exercise or structured activity to help the group learn.

Measuring Facilitator Effectiveness

How you define effectiveness, depends on your purpose. Let’s say your purpose is to inform. In that case one can measure the ability of people to comprehend your message. A simple way would be to send out a written message and then ask a question in a meeting. Of course, asking a question has its limitations. Most members won’t want to admit that they didn’t read the message or didn’t understand it.

One can also try to measure confusion. It’s amazing how often people and groups are confused but fail to say anything. This happens many times in every meeting. And of course, there are certain types of meetings where the audience is almost always confused, almost all a time. Think about when you’re a student listening to professor’s lecture.

Situations Where the Facilitator Style is Helpful

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, painting by Michel Gantelet from 1472. Notice that in this case, the King (or the authority figure) has reduced their status to become a member of the group.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, painting by Michel Gantelet from 1472. Notice that in this case, the King (or the authority figure) has reduced their status to become a member of the group.

“If you fail to honor your people,
They will fail to honor you;
It is said of a good leader that
When the work is done, the aim fulfilled,
The people will say, “We did this ourselves.”
Lao Tzu, 604-531 B. C., Founder of Taoism, Tao Te Ching

Main Point 1: Meeting facilitation is most appropriate when one has to deal with complex problems.

When you are faced with a complex problem, it is important to get input from all of the stakeholders involved. Facilitative leadership can help you to do this by creating a collaborative environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. This can help you to identify the best possible solutions to the problem.

Main Point 2: Facilitative leadership is a natural style for project managers, board chairman, entrepreneurs, and team leaders.

These are all roles where it is important to get buy-in from others and to build consensus. Facilitative leadership can help you to do this by helping you to create a collaborative environment where everyone feels valued and respected.

Main Point 3: You don’t have to be the leader to be a facilitator.

Anyone can play the role of facilitator in a meeting. If you are a participant in a meeting, you can still use facilitative leadership skills to help the meeting run more smoothly. For example, you can help to keep the discussion on track, encourage everyone to participate, and summarize the key points of the discussion.

Learning More About Becoming a Facilitator

Are you interested in learning how to be a more effective leader? Do you want to learn how to empower others and build consensus? If so, then you need to learn about facilitative leadership.

Facilitative leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on empowering others and building consensus. It is a collaborative approach to leadership that emphasizes the importance of listening, understanding, and respecting the perspectives of others.

Click here to learn more about our training program on facilitative leadership.

The Facilitative Leadership Style: Three Essential Assumptions

Success in playing the role depends on three key assumptions:

  • Facilitator Neutrality
  • The Leader Acts in the Groups Best Interest
  • Group Functions Under Consensus

Assumption 1: Facilitator Neutrality

One of the major differences between an autocratic leader and a facilitative leader is how each is perceived. Autocratic leaders typically take a position for which they are strong advocates. Facilitative leaders appear neutral and may really be neutral.

“A facilitative leader is like a referee in a sporting event. They are there to make sure that the rules are followed and that everyone has a fair chance to participate. They don’t take sides, and they don’t try to influence the outcome of the game.”

Let’s say that you are facilitating a meeting to discuss a new marketing campaign. As a facilitative leader, you would need to be neutral in your approach. You would need to listen to everyone’s ideas, even if you don’t agree with them. You would also need to help the group reach a consensus on the best way to proceed.

Assumption 2: The Leader Acts in the Best Interest of the Group

In many respects the facilitative leadership looks a great deal like a servant leader—they put the primary needs of the group ahead of their own selfish needs. A classic example is short-term profits over long-term growth. The dominant view in capitalism is to stroke short-term results and hell with the long-term. Such a view benefits the c-level executives and impatient investors at the expense of employees and patient investors.

For an exception to this rule, see the 60 Minutes video titled Antinori: Keeping it All in the Family. It’s about a family that has a long-term view. The subtitle of the piece is, “Family Has Run Wineries For 623 Years, With No Plans To Sell.”

During facilitation, it’s hard to act in the best interest of the group as a whole. It’s hard to know what “best interest” means.

Let’s say that a corporation has set up a strategy council to determine fundamental business strategy. Since the CEO is too busy shepherding the merger, the CIO was asked to chair the sessions. For that person to succeed, she would have to set aside her advocacy of IT.

In many respects, facilitative leadership looks a great deal like servant leadership. Servant leaders put the primary needs of the group ahead of their own selfish needs.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that servant leaders are more effective at building high-performing teams. The study found that servant leaders are more likely to create a sense of trust and belonging among their team members. They are also more likely to empower their team members to take on new challenges and responsibilities.

Assumption 3: It’s Important to Build Consensus

To understand facilitative leadership, one has to understand the nature of consensus. The Diocese of Greenburg defines it as, “A method of making decisions through which a group strives to reach substantial, though not necessarily unanimous, agreement on matters of overall direction and policy which can be supported by all.”

Some might say it means one needs 100% agreement, others might say it means everyone agrees somewhat. Someone else might say, “You have consensus when they can live with it.” A cynic might say, “Consensus is when someone is not actively sabotaging the efforts of the group.”

Whatever definition is chosen, consensus is important since members supporting the consensus are more committed to implementing the solution.

Consensus is important in facilitative leadership because it helps to ensure that everyone is on board with the decision that is made. When people feel like they have had a say in the decision-making process, they are more likely to be committed to the outcome.

I once worked with a team that was struggling to reach a consensus on a new product launch. The team was divided on the best way to proceed, and there was a lot of tension. I facilitated a series of meetings where we were able to air our differences and come to a consensus on the best way to move forward. The product launch was a success, and the team was able to move forward with a clear sense of purpose.


Facilitative leadership is a valuable skill that can help you to be more effective in leading teams. If you want to learn more about facilitative leadership, I encourage you to check out our training program.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”— Kenneth Blanchard

Problems With The Facilitator Style

“To facilitate or not to facilitate, that is the question.” — A paraphrase of a much more famous saying by William Shakespeare

Inappropriate Use Presents an Appearance of Weakness

High power distance cultures such as those in Asia tend to prefer leaders with an autocratic style. In some environments, people prefer to be told what to do, not asked what they should do. It’s important to remember, faciliative leadership does not mean a complete absence of autocratic leadership,

It Requires High End Communication Skills

Functioning as a facilitative leader requires more skill than acting as an autocratic one. Telling people what to do is easy, asking them what to do and getting them to all agree is hard.

It takes Time To Reach a Consensus

Making the decision yourself is always faster—obtaining consensus is slow and often difficult. In fact, some might argue that if consensus is unlikely, it’s better just to make the decision yourself.

Elements of the Leadership Facilitation Model

This is another one of those complex leadership styles — one that sometimes takes a while to perfect. The good news. There’s many opportunities for daily practice.

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