Mastering the Art of Facilitative Leadership in Meetings

July 17, 2023

Mastering the Art of Facilitative Leadership in Meetings

For leaders,  one of the most common pitfalls is the tendency to dominate rather than facilitate. This issue often manifests itself during meetings, when faced with complex challenges, or when assessing innovative ideas. The problem can even extend to one-on-one interactions between leaders and their direct reports. But why is this problem so prevalent? It stems from the perpetuation of common myths and outdated mental models about leadership.

As leaders, we may believe that we have to possess all the answers and single-handedly solve every problem. We may think that leadership is solely about steering the ship and dictating instructions to our team. Some of us might assume that we need to be at the forefront at all times, with our voices being the most important. While we might not consciously hold these beliefs, our actions and behaviors can inadvertently reinforce these outdated assumptions about leadership.

Somewhere along the way, we unconsciously absorbed these misconceptions about leadership—whether through our education or personal experiences. As a leadership coach, I've witnessed firsthand how these outdated assumptions continue to permeate leadership practices in countless workplaces, to the detriment of team performance and dynamics, as well as how leaders are perceived.

The best leaders understand that there are times when it's necessary to provide direction, offer guidance, and take the lead. They recognize when their voice needs to be heard upfront, clearly, and authoritatively. However, they also understand the importance of facilitating team discussions, asking powerful open-ended questions, ensuring everyone's voice is heard, and actively listening. They know when it's crucial to facilitate rather than dominate.

Contrary to what we might believe, facilitation is needed far more frequently than we realize. To guard against the inclination to dominate, here are some practical strategies for leaders:

When faced with a problem or challenge, pause before jumping into generating solutions. Ask your team questions such as:

 "What is the exact problem we're trying to solve? What does success look like in this situation?"

"What are our options? Let's hear from everyone, regardless of how well-formed their ideas may be."

"Can you build on someone else's idea?"

"What are other people's perspectives?" 

Encourage eye contact with those who haven't spoken yet to ensure diverse viewpoints are considered.

Rethink your approach to running meetings. Instead of relying solely on general discussion, which often favors dominant voices and stifles introverts, try alternative approaches:

When a team member approaches you with a problem, refrain from immediately providing solutions. Instead, ask questions that encourage reflection and problem-solving:

"What do you think?"

"What are our options?"

"What's the real issue?"

"What are your ideas for reaching our goals?"

In these situations, practice spot coaching, which involves using open-ended questions, active listening, and summarizing before offering your own thoughts or advice. This approach empowers your direct reports to enhance their problem-solving abilities and fosters a stronger perception of your leadership.

To embrace active listening and avoid dominating conversations, leaders should:

Limit airspace in meetings: Create an inclusive environment where all voices are heard by avoiding monopolizing discussions. Encourage others to contribute and tap into the collective intelligence of the team.

Maintain a balance between statements and questions: Effective communication involves asking meaningful questions that stimulate dialogue and critical thinking. Strive for a balance between making statements and asking open-ended questions to invite active participation.

Listen to understand, not just reply: Practice mindful listening by focusing on the speaker and suspending judgment. Seek to genuinely comprehend their viewpoint, fostering an inclusive environment built on trust and respect.

Ask follow-up questions: Demonstrate engagement and value others' input by asking follow-up questions. This encourages elaboration, clarifies perspectives, and promotes critical thinking among team members.

By embracing these practices, leaders enhance their facilitation of productive and inclusive discussions, cultivating collaboration, innovation, and a high-performing team. Effective leadership involves creating an atmosphere where every voice is valued, heard, and respected.