We sat having lunch, enjoying a sandwich together. Katie is a longtime friend from my career as a pastor. Our conversation topics were all over the place. Church life, personal challenges, Border Collies, and leadership. We found all of it intriguing, and fun-loving too.

When I probed a little deeper on the topic of leadership, she responded rather bluntly, “Well, I am really not a leader; I’m more of a facilitator”.

Frankly, this distinction caught me off guard. I thought to myself, is that true? Is there a difference between leadership and facilitation? Later that week, I began to explore the idea.

The word facilitate means: to make easier: help bring about, as in, to facilitate growth. Immediately I started to see a connection. In their book, “Managers as Facilitators”, Richard Weaver & John Farrell distinguish between the visionary leader, the manager, and facilitator. Notice the facilitator column.

Visionaries                            Managers                                Facilitators

Doing the right things       Doing things right                Helps people do things

Takes the long view           Takes the short view             Helps people find a view

Sets the vision                     Sets the plan                          Helps people function well

The concepts behind the facilitator style leadership remind me of one major component of Transformation Leadership. Transformational Leadership teaches the principle of Individualized Consideration.

The principle of Individualized Consideration means the leader “facilitates” the person’s own growth and development, not in an abstract way, but toward greater leadership capacity and mission accomplishment. This could apply in a small group, an art project with a student, or even a coach- athlete relationship.

Facilitative leadership may not always be appropriate. The particular type of leadership style depends on the abilities, situation, and even culture of the organization or individuals involved.

For instance, facilitative leadership can miss the mark in settings where followers are learning the basic skills their work demands. Furthermore, in crises, autocratic leadership is often the style of choice.

In an environment of rapid change, however, no single person can see all that is going on and that needs to be done. Facilitative leaders look for engagement and empowerment of the team.

My friend is more of a leader than she realizes. In fact, she is a great leader in the settings where she functions as a facilitator.

Next time you hear someone make a distinction between facilitating and leadership, chime in. Remind them, leadership is a collaborative process; Collaboration means facilitating.


Dennis Nichols serves as the Lead Faculty for the Master of Arts in Leadership program at William Jessup University.