Leadership style depends largely on the flow of content: Directive—one-way, Consultative—equal partner in content, and Exploratory—facilitative, not adding content.
A leader who predominantly gives direction and guidance with little participation or content added by the group characterizes this leadership style. Directive leadership is appropriate when the purpose is to share information quickly and clearly, such as briefings, staff meetings, symposiums, etc.
This leadership style is characterized by consulting with colleagues and subordinates in an open and respectful, not manipulative manner, during the meeting. Consultative leadership is appropriate when the purpose is to have the group make decisions with contributions and equal participation from the leader.
This pure and optimal facilitation style should be the predominant approach used for task-building and assignment meetings. In an exploratory approach, the leader is neutral in terms of contributing content to the meeting but is responsible for providing and managing the technique and agenda. In many task-related meetings, an outside facilitator is used to provide the exploratory leadership while the business owner participates with a consultative leadership style.
No One Style
There is neither single ‘right’ answer nor one right leadership style. The appropriate style is dependent on the particular type of meeting situation and nature of the group. Leaders of teams that work well together can use the exploratory style more frequently. Leaders with contentious groups either need to be directive or employ a neutral facilitator for their meetings. Managing meetings is much like managing people—be flexible and use the most appropriate style depending on the situation.
The same skills are required to lead a meeting as are required to facilitate a meeting. Keep the following guidelines in mind, especially when leading:
- Plan and choose use the most appropriate leadership style before you get into the meeting. For leading without facilitation, you will probably by either directive or consultative. If you are a facilitator, be consistent with being exploratory.
- Let the group know at the outset of the meeting which style of leadership you intend to use. They will respond positively if they know how to work with the style and role that you have chosen.
- If you are being consultative, use facilitation skills to get the group to participate as much as possible.
- Be aware of the influence you and your ideas have on the group. When you are not neutral, as when you are voicing an opinion about content, the members listen to your ideas. If they are dropping out, back off and become more exploratory.
- A good meeting leader may be a good facilitator with an opinion, but be careful. When leading content is appropriate, follow the guidelines above as well as general guidelines for managing people. Lead, but never continually remind the group that you are the leader.
Regardless of Style, Increase Your Leadership Likability By Strolling and Smiling More
Some of the best meeting designers are also capable of facilitating complex topics requiring much pre-thought and structure. However, sometimes they fall flat on the personality factor, coming off as dispassionate, aloof, or insensitive.
Most facilitators default in the other direction, they are typically warm and possess leadership likability but are frail when it comes to workshop breakdown structure and asking precise questions. It is frankly easier to teach a meeting designer or methodologist how to warm up to an audience than it is to teach people how to think—that is, how to think clearly. Simply start strolling and smiling more.
As most North Americans are afraid of public speaking, the worst thing they could do is hide behind a podium to protect themselves. The separation amplifies the ‘me’ versus ‘them’ space, causing them to become fearful and to underperform. In the role of facilitator, soften the edges by integrating yourself. Do not speak AT the participants; rather have a conversation WITH the participants.
To become conversational and more natural increases likability. One solution involves getting closer, measured in terms of physical proximity, to your participants. The easiest way to achieve closeness without violating personal space is to stroll closer to them.
When stuck in a small conference room with a big table or a huddle room with no perimeter, the strolling is difficult but can be managed by walking around the table, around the room. The U-shaped seating arrangement however makes it much easier to stroll around, get closer to participants, and therefore be more conversational.
Use your space wisely. If participants are vibrant and need a documenter, then stay at the easel as a scribe, while their energy remains high. But when uncertainty or disagreement rises, begin to slowly step forward to make it easier to demonstrate active listening, and to display a sense of respect and importance toward the participant who is speaking.
In the case of an argument, make sure that evidence and claims to support the participants’ positions go through you, and not around you. There is probably no better time to be in the middle of the U-shaped seating environment than when participants are arguing. They need a referee, and serving as referee is part of the role of facilitator.
Smiling Helps More
The two universally accepted non-verbal gestures are open-hands and smiling. Open hands signify culturally that you have no weapons and will not harm the participants. Open hands are far more welcoming than the opposite, pointing.
Smiling is also accepted throughout all cultures. A genuine, smile is found appealing and increases the likeliness that your participants will warm up to you. We must be careful however not to smile too much, inappropriately, or to laugh too loud.
Please smile occasionally, even with serious topics. If the facilitator remains too stern and sober, the participants will tense up, reducing the likelihood of collaboration and innovative thinking. If you need further help learning to smile, practice. Use your introduction material to practice and ask a co-worker or family member to observe and comment on the appropriate timing for a warm smile.
Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.
Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)
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- How to Facilitate Business Process Improvement: A Proven Approach Using Teams (mgrush.com/blog)
- How to Facilitate Three Actions We Take Next (mgrush.com/blog)
- When To Get All Bossypants (inc.com)
- Every Leader Is an Artist (blogs.hbr.org)