Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries



Thought for the day:

Facilitators lead groups by providing tools and methods to help group members work productively together

Facilitators do not determine a group’s vision and purpose; that is the leader’s role

Leaders seek to inspire action and commitment so that a vision will be realized, or at least progress will be made

(from Fran Rees, The Facilitator Excellence Handbook, (1998) p. 17)

This is where my head will be for the next two days.

I can definitely see that above statement as true (and I am very clear that  will be facilitating my committee towards a purpose, not leading them there), but what I’m spinning over and inside out about are these questions:

Are the two never needed in the same place, the same person? Is there not a time and a place for a person to have both skill sets?

Which encompasses the more desirable skill set for a successful career doing what I love to do? I don’t want to be a Director/Dean/University Librarian, but I want to inspire folks to works towards goals and visions that I am passionate about! And I also want to help folks get there and not be standing firm and immobile on my perspective.

what does that quote do for you? do you facilitate or lead? which do you aspire towards? which garners more of your respect?


6 thoughts on “Facilitation::Leadership

  1. An interesting conundrum. I always think of facilitators as the pie-in-the-sky folks who provide resources but not guidance, and leaders as the useful “GSD” people who lead in asking the hard questions, divvying workloads and assigning people tasks (or at least querying to see who wants to do what, and makes sure the project is going along, meeting deadlines, etc.) To me, a facilitator can easily be an outsider brought in on an ad hoc basis, but a leader needs to know the strengths/weaknesses of team members and the organizational culture in order to produce results.

    While I think each skillset is useful, I find leaders, and not facilitators, to be more essential at the under-director/dean level. People who can keep things on track, assess and change midstream when necessary, and not only maintain order and a working knowledge of the group’s dynamics, but who also have the wherewithal to DIRECT the team…yes, more of that please!

    Because I’m very results oriented, I think I have a tendency to fall into the Leader category. I also tend to be more impressed with Leaders since they’re involved in the actual gruntwork and getting their hands dirty – inspiring action and making progress is no mean feat, and it often requires not just dedication to the cause, but goosing folks to get their part done, diplomatically addressing shortcomings and group dynamics issues, and more. Facilitators are kind of absentee landlords (although necessary, since they often provide the tools and funds).

    No, give me leaders any day. Leaders Get Sh*t Done, and the “GSD” factor is key for a successful organization or program. You can swap facilitators with little effect on productivity, whereas loss of a leader has a far greater ripple and morale effect, and a greater effect on the final product.

    *steps off of soapbox*

  2. Hey Colleen!

    (do you want me to point out that in 12 point font, double spaced, your comment is a full page? I have no worries at all about you knocking out that chapter in a timely way!)

    The book counters a lot of your points (it’s whole premise is that facilitation needs to become an in-house skill, not something outsourced. Something developed in multiple staff and), but I’m still working my way through my thoughts. A lot of this has to do, for me, with working in a supposedly flat, team-based environment.

    If the organization has a flat structure — and that flat structure is filled with tenured faculty — then leaders need to be facilitators, need to bring their teams into consensus and work with them to develop a vision and a set of goals. Because in a team environment, the vision has to come from the team, right? Herds of cats don’t work to fulfill someone else’s vision unless they buy into in 100%, which means they have to feel like it is their vision.

    In a hierarchical system, (or a non-flat system) the vision can come from the leader, who can then empower other folks to GSD.


    Also, I’m pondering this sentence of yours

    “goosing folks to get their part done, diplomatically addressing shortcomings and group dynamics issues, and more”

    Because to me, that sounds like facilitation. But a more robust, less touchy-feely kind of facilitation than what I’m reading about. The book claims that Facilitation can be a leadership style as well, but in my experience facilitative leaders lack some of the GSD oomph implied in your description above…

  3. Hee, sorry about the length of that last one.

    I suppose I don’t understand the point of having both a facilitator *and* a leader in a flat organization with smaller teams (of 5-7 people). Making facilitation an in-house skill is useful, but given that the facilitator is – as I understand it – the one providing the resources, not that many folks in an organization have that power. And to create a system where one person provides resources and methods, but another person

    I would argue that working in a team-based environment requires that people be on multiple teams, so that everyone has the opportunity to be a leader in some capacity (and get an opportunity to perform or not, thus demonstrating their efficacy at their job). I guess I don’t see all that much difference between a leader and a facilitator at the smaller-team level that we work with in libraries. Our teams arent big enough to need two leaders.

    Trying to separate facilitating from leadership, in that saying ‘to facilitate towards a purpose’ but ‘not lead them to that purpose’ – seems to be organizational doublespeak to me. (I have little patience for making simple things complicated, though I know it makes things sound more interesting). A committee/team should not exist without a purpose. Given, then, that each committee/team HAS a purpose, then should a facilitator simply be the go-to person for resources and policies while the committee hashes out exactly what they want to do? In that case, you’ve got a facilitator and the rest are *all* leaders (which is the same as having *no* leader).

    I think it’s possible that we can indeed work too hard into separating ourselves into facilitators, leaders, and worker bees. Occasionally the only thing needed is a leader who is willing to delegate things to the team. (This is not to say that those team members don’t have input into the direction or development of action, just that there needs to be one go-to person for accountability and organization purposes).

    Then again, perhaps this is why I’m not in management 🙂

  4. Rudy,

    What an interesting and timely post. I’m with you that being a Library Director is not one of my aspirations but I still love inspiring my passions in others. That’s why the job opening at Geneseo has caused me to flounder. I was once involved in a leadership institute and one of my biggest strengths (as demonstrated by a personal inventory – completed by me and by a few colleagues) was “modeling the way.” Others have described me as a “silent leader.” So one can inspire and lead just by doing the best job they can. If what you’re doing catches the (positive) attention of others, they will instinctively follow/imitate. So “lead” by example but “facilitate” when group input is stronger than individual aspirations. 🙂

  5. colleen,
    I think the differences we’re circling around are more semantic than anything else.

    I think of facilitators as the folks who get teams to work together, who work through communication and personality issues, and keep things productive. I think of them this way based on theory, an am trying not to think of facilitators based on my experiences in the past with consultants, who seem to be pretty BSish and corporate New Agey.

    I’ve also started to think of consultants as serving the vision of the group, and not trying to impose their individual vision on the work.

    Leaders, to my thinking, are the visionaries. They inspire, an bring folks along in service of their vision. A leader without a vision, and without the ability to inspire other people to co-own it? Not much of leader.

    Doe that clarify the words? are we talking about similar things?

  6. “Facilitators” are simply managers not leaders. At the end of the day, leaders bear responsibility for their actions not facilitators. Some leaders are “uncompromising” and others less obtrusive. A facilitator is expected to make it reasonably fair for ideas to flourish, and challenges addressed without letting one person talk down or over the other.

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