Leadership? Management? Facilitation.

Much has been written about the distinction between a manager and a leader; a manager – so the popular thinking goes – is one who directs resources (including the woefully misnamed “human resources”), and a leader one who enables others to achieve, often through leading by example.

I believe, however, that in most contemporary management theory and practice, the defining skills of a leader still tend to veer towards a concept of leader in military, heroic, or “leading from the front” terms. And it is therefore no wonder that the paradigm of a successful leader still tends to be deeply rooted in the masculine energy (regardless of actual gender, as manifested physically). Leaders we fete in most First World Countries still tend to have this energy, whether they are male or female.

And I do wonder whether this approach lies behind some of the difficulties we still have – as a global human society – of recognizing the true value of diverse contributions.

I was reminded of this recently in a team coaching session for a global (and commercially very successful) financial institution. When discussing how best to include geographically, energetically and gender-based diverse viewpoints, the team leader suddenly said: “Sometimes we make judgements because someone is quieter than us or has a different energy; we tend to surround ourselves with copies of ourselves, and it’s really easy to miss out on different contributions.” And this is – I would add – particularly true in project teams that are based in different locations, with different languages (or unequal command of the shared language – usually, English), and different paces/styles of discourse. The team leader in question realized early on, during telephone project calls, that certain members of the team were missing important bits of information due to his fast-paced delivery style, and decided to follow up the main actions and points of discussion in an email, so that the more thoughtful ones could re-read them and respond appropriately.

That was a relatively easy example, and I am sure many of you reading this will think inwardly: But of course, I knew that! But – ask yourselves truthfully – how often do you do it? Or, rather, how often do you make assumptions and quick decisions in the heat of the moment (and in the 21st century we seem to have more heated moments than ever) without considering how your leadership style will affect others? The team leader I was quoting earlier had himself decided to try – against type and natural leadership style – to try and listen more, not talk so quickly, and allow pauses and silences in discourse, without taking them as a sign that something is wrong, or that the project is losing momentum. In other words, he agreed to being coached towards becoming a facilitator and not a director of his “human resources”. I wonder how long it will take us to start rewarding this behaviour in organisations and society, including changing titles and reward mechanisms… Lead Facilitator rather than Managing Director: now that would be a step change towards a new paradigm!

Ana is a sought after expert in learning design, leadership development and team facilitation. Click here to find out more about Ana and contact her for further information around her experience or with any questions you may have.

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