One role of a Leader is to make things clear and easy to follow. Yet, in this 20th century world, the Leader faces more and more complexity.

The Leader must be comfortable with ambiguity, and be able to get followers to say "yes" to often apparently conflicting goals.

This means that the Leader’s job is as much to do with the facilitation of the work of others as it is to just keep things simple.

Just look at some of the complex issues we face:

In business we must

  • Balance central management against local independence
  • Execute brilliantly - and execute quickly
  • Lead multifunctional & multicultural teams - yet also respect functional excellence and local knowledge
  • Have global strategies whilst also meeting local needs
  • Build Institutions, whilst also increasing the pace of change

In society, we note

  • The emergence of ever smaller constituencies and cultural groups who have global reach
  • The need for law and order in an "open borders" world
  • The role of values, religion and belief systems in a secular society
  • For our children, balancing giving them wings and giving them roots

All of these issues require the balancing of often seemingly equally correct and well articulated points of view.

All deal with paradox. Yet, it seems that we used to be able to make grand, simple choices. e.g.

  • In the West, the pursuit of truth, to prevent injustice
  • In Asia, the pursuit of harmony, to prevent anarchy
  • Socialist versus Capitalist

And so it goes on. What does all this mean? Well, it means we need Leaders with a healthy dose of yin and yang.

We need Leaders who can say "The answer is Yes", and get others to agree, when dealing with paradoxical questions.

"What do you want…?"  

  • Visionary plans, or pragmatic plans?
  • Values, or hard edged business decisions?
  • Interdependence, or independence?
  • Long term goals, or short term goals?
  • Creative organizations, or disciplined organizations?
  • Build trust, or change everything?
  • Shatter bureaucracy, or standardize processes?
  • Better development of people, or boosting productivity?
  • Excellent strategy, or perfect execution?
  • Accelerate sales growth, or get costs down?
  • Build market share, or grow profit margins? 

The answer must be "Yes".

The only way a Leader can answer "yes" is to become a world class facilitator.

Here are some ideas of what it takes to become a "Leader as facilitator".

1. Be clear in what you stand for

  • Start with (and stick to) a vision of the end point.
  • Be able to clearly articulate this vision.
  • Teach, but do not preach.
  • Be prepared to give in to detours on the road to this vision, provided the vision remains intact.
    • But, never compromise your integrity.
  • Set out, up front, very clear ground rules for your conversations with the group.
  • Expose your own value system, to start to build trust and openness.
  • Be totally consistent.
    • Stand by your statements and agreements as you move forward. 

2. Be clear that you respect the team you are leading

  • Empower and trust the group to know where they want to go.
    • In politics, trust the democratic process.
    • In the workplace, trust the group’s skills and knowledge of the issues.
    • In life, revel in diversity.
  • You follow, not the group. They lead.
  • Listen.
  • Listen for what is not said.
  • Learn to read the group’s temperature and its changing interest levels.
  • Respond quickly.
  • Get all the issues out, whilst also simplifying expectations for next steps.
  • Have enormous patience.

3. Develop your technical skills

  • Develop a personal "tool kit" of communication and teaching methods
  • Develop a "process kit" of approaches, which will engage the total group.
  • Stick to the chosen process - refuse to move off it.
  • Use shared "stretch" goals, and often time pressure, to get maximum effectiveness.

4. Let go (of your power) and do it visibly

  • This is probably the toughest thing for a Leader to do. But you must accept the interdependence of power between Leader and Follower.

5. Cherish ambiguity and confusion to get clarity. Don’t go for clarity too early. 

No one ever said being a Leader was easy!


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