When you think of the word ‘leader’ what characteristics spring to mind? Perhaps: strength, charisma, decisiveness, vision, negotiation skills, or something else.

A word that isn’t likely to arise is ‘facilitation’, and yet, so much of leadership is about facilitation.

A great facilitator knows how to draw out the ideas and thoughts of others, and to balance competing and diverse perspectives. They are able to ensure everyone involved feels heard and valued. They pay attention to what is going on around them – both the ‘saids’ and ‘unsaids’.

You can’t do it alone

When a leader applies facilitation skills to their leadership they recognise that leadership isn’t a solo venture. They know they can’t achieve success alone.

They recognise that each person in the team plays a role and contributes to the team’s progress.

Consequently, being clear about the role each person is playing is critical. They involve the right people at the right time, and everyone in the team understands their role and how it contributes to the team’s outcomes.

Make others feel heard

In team meetings and discussions, the leader ensures that people feel heard, recognising the positive impact this has on team engagement.

When a person feels heard they feel like they matter to you. They feel like their point of view has been considered and that you are interested in what they have to say.

Being heard doesn’t mean you need to agree with the other person’s perspective.

It means you are fully present when the person is talking to you. You are focused on them, and only them. You ignore distractions such as a ringing mobile or incoming emails.

You are genuinely interested and curious as to what they are saying. You ask questions and seek to clarify before sharing your ideas or providing a solution.

You listen with empathy and compassion because you are seeking to understand what they need in a non-judgemental manner. By doing this, you acknowledge how they are feeling and understand what they need.

It’s not about having all the answers

Facilitators know they don’t have all the answers. Instead, the wisdom is in the room and it’s their role to guide conversations so that those answers, thoughts and perspectives are surfaced and shared.

As Sam Kaner wrote in the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making: “The facilitator’s job is to support everyone to do their best thinking. To do this, the facilitator encourages full participation, promotes mutual understanding, and cultivates shared responsibility.”

It’s the same for the leader.

Leaders who facilitate spend time making sure that everyone feels safe to contribute ideas and to challenge existing constructs and dominant paradigms.

They understand that actively facilitating collaboration and discussion across teams, business units and geographic boundaries will help secure better organisational outcomes.