One of the most effective tools a leader can utilize is that of facilitation. If you are able to facilitate things, it spreads out the work and helps build momentum. This can be a valuable resource for any organization. I think most leaders get this, at least in principle. There are enough examples of how facilitation has propelled a company forward in some capacity and so the chase begins to make it “repeatable” and “scalable”. That is where it begins to fall apart.


morphOrganizations demand a lot from leaders. Finding the quickest and most effective way to do anything is of extreme value. Where things go off the rails is when the quickest turns into a destructive shortcut. The idea of making something repeatable causes us to look at the superficial aspects without fully understanding the context and underlying contributing factors that led to the initial success we are looking to replicate. When this happens, facilitation ceases to exist and something else takes its place. Manipulation.


Often times, once we see the value in something we want it so badly our approach ventures dangerously close to “Anything goes as a means to acquire the value.”


If things aren’t moving in the direction we want, or at the velocity we feel is most appropriate, frustration and fear can creep in and affect our response to things. Since the value is so high, the urgency is as well and so is the pressure we assert can be quite high as well. It is this process that morphs facilitation into manipulation and our untempered focus on value gives us plenty of reasons to justify the manipulation – although that is not our conscious choice.


The impact this has on company culture and employee engagement is absolutely devastating. The value of the thing has been presented as infinitely higher than the value of the human being and the emotional response to that is ugly. Judge it all you want, it won’t change this response.


There are key aspects to keeping leadership honest and let facilitation remain exactly that…facilitation.


  • Be educated – Learn as much about the thing before you begin taking action on it. Don’t just skim across superficialities you found in a blog post and a couple links from a three minute Google search. Critically pick apart how it developed. What were the preceding issues that made the thing even possible? If your organization isn’t experiencing similar issues, it most likely will be more work than you anticipate.
  • Make it personal – Every organization is different. Values are different. The manner in which value is delivered to customers is different. The company culture is different. Even if your research is impeccable and the thing is a perfect fit for where your organization is, make it your own. Take into consideration your culture, leadership style, processes (or lack of them) and especially the human element. Look at an external benchmark, but develop an internal baseline that works for the ENTIRE organization, not just serves your idea.
  • Collaborate – Do a town hall, or whatever reaches people best. Explain what you’re thinking about, why you’re thinking about it and how you think it will be good for the organization. Then let people help craft the best way to do that in your organization. You may be quite surprised by the quality of the suggestions.
  • Focus on result – Don’t get so emotionally invested in the way the other guy did it. Look to them for some ideas but at the end of the day, what got you so excited was the result. As long as how you achieve that result is in line with your values, ethics and culture you should be in good shape – assuming the quality of those three is good.
  • Avoid mandates – Creating a sense of compliance around an idea is the best way to be exceptionally mediocre at something. Compliance implies doing the minimum to stay out of hot water. Shoot for an opportunity to passionately participate. It’s all about presentation and involvement of those involved. Make that work for you, not against you.


How else would you avoid facilitation devolving into manipulation?

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