The leader-facilitator difference

The essence of facilitation is helping people come to their own conclusions, commitments and contributions. When we're facilitating, we're not deciding, assigning, thinking or concluding for the group. These are historically the domain of leadership. Making this distinction between facilitator and leader is crucial to recognizing the unique power of facilitation in creating the conditions for authentic engagement. People are authentically engaged when they become co-authors of their experience and outcomes. Facilitation shifts people's locus of control from an external to internal orientation. Only when people have an internal locus of control do they have sustainable passion, agility and commitment.

This dynamic curiously plays out when I hear leaders complaining that no matter how strongly they lead, they continue to be challenged with unengaged people. The core of their complaint is that they have never developed knowledge and skills related to the uniquely distinct work of facilitator. 

Without this distinction, leaders think they're facilitating when in fact they are doing no facilitating. Getting input and updates has nothing to do with facilitation. Having the final say has nothing to do with facilitation. These are the practices of leadership.

So ironically, and realistically, authentic collaboration cannot be led. It can only be facilitated. People fail to collaborate most when they are led. They collaborate well and naturally when they're facilitated.

The good news is that anyone who has learned to become a decent leader can easily learn what it takes to be a decent facilitator.