The job of a leadership facilitator does not lie in the entertainment business

It takes some humility to master the skill of guiding great conversations, so that a team can learn how to better work together, to collaborate, to trust, to commit and to take accountability.

One of the greatest pleasures of the work I do as a leadership facilitator, is partnering with switched on, motivated and genuinely passionate leadership teams to help build their constructive culture and enhance their leadership skills. Recently, with my colleague Gaby McDonald, I had the privilege of working with such a team; the wonderful folk from Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), which is a Nestlé and General Mills Joint Venture. Hosted at Nestlé’s stunning Conference Centre sitting right on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, we had many of their Global Leadership team in attendance, as well as their other Senior Leaders from Switzerland, Indonesia, Turkey, UAE, Mexico, Malaysia and the UK. A more committed and engaged group would be hard to find. At a lunch break in the program, a participant asked me to describe what we ‘actually did’ at Jim Grant & Associates. The question seemed born of curiosity rather than just lunch time banter and the person seemed genuinely interested in my response which (I hoped) went beyond a mere task description. However, I struggled to answer in a meaningful way other than “we work on culture, leadership and with high performance teams.” It was clear this response did not satisfy their curiosity, as the person gazed away politely (but I fear, pointedly). This short but insightful interaction at a conference on the other side of the world, made it clear that I needed to pay more attention to my answer – what I actually did with clients. Perhaps, my poor response was in part due to my childhood and adolescence, where my father and others repeatedly told me not to be boastful, along the lines of “you should never brag Jimmy!” And so, I suspect that my awkwardness around these issues has stayed with me to this day and many people, including my family, often tell me I am poor at ‘sharing’. In addition, I reflected on the endless posts some leadership facilitators or coaches place on platforms such as LinkedIn or Twitter, where grandiose descriptions are frequent and ‘boastfulness’ tends to make me cringe. I may be somewhat old and cynical, but I am tired of reading (or not!) multiple posts drowning in self-congratulatory commentary, alongside endless hyperbole and exaggeration. I can’t think of a single success I’ve had at any level, where any of these types of claims mattered. Both my experience and intuition tell me that people are significantly more attracted to thoughts and ideas, on all social media platforms, rather than the exaggerated claims made in the bio. It then occurred to me that these biases should not inhibit my thinking. I have been consulting for 22 years and have worked with over 200 organisations and thousands of individuals. And so the essence of it is that I spend my life working with organisational leaders, teams and individuals talking about problems and opportunities. I try not to give direct advice – although I sometimes do as it is tempting when years of experience allow you to simply offer the answer. So, when I’m asked for direct advice, I tend to push the questions back by encouraging the person to think through the issue, so they can solve their own problems. I do not believe that the role of a consultant is to push their point of view down others’ throats. It’s the client’s voice that should be amplified, not mine. I work with leadership teams in much the same way. My job is to facilitate great conversations so that they can learn how to better work together, to collaborate, to trust, to commit and to take accountability. My experience is that with good processes, and some prodding on my part, most teams are very capable of rising to the challenge. My job is never to be on stage, to impress people or to be the centre of attention. This is not the role of a leadership facilitator. In fact, the very word gives it away – it is about facilitating the processes to make people’s working lives easier and clearer. Leadership facilitators are not entertainers, rushing to read their personal evaluations. Rather, they should examine the impact they have on people’s ability to think, to have a say and feel that, for the most part, going to work is fulfilling for them. Further to this, I strongly believe in undertaking robust diagnosis to get evidence about the issues individuals and organisations are dealing with; whether it be leadership diagnostics, emotional ability, preferences or team behaviour. Our business seeks to diagnose the culture in organisations using OCI/OEI and interviews to help interpret what is actually going on in an organisation. What caused it? What outcomes is it producing? What can they do about it; what tangible actions can they take that are meaningful, graspable and measurable? Most often people are not surprised by their cultural results and, therefore, the approach once again, is to help them think things through. My dominant drivers are trust and safety. I want our clients to trust me/us and I want them to feel safe. My hope is that our clients know that they’re getting the real story: where (perhaps) the door might be metaphorically shut in the value of confidentiality, but the dialogue is natural, flowing and open. Some of the best feedback I’ve had whilst undertaking both executive and senior mentoring, is that people feel safe to disclose their most intimate leadership and personal struggles. Things they might not even disclose to their close circle. This privilege and responsibility is never lost on me. Leaders everywhere tell me how lonely their jobs are; unable to find people to talk to who will listen to them personally and help them sort out all sorts of matters. Perhaps this is the very void I try to help fill. Perhaps? As my late father would say; listen to the feedback and try hard to stay humble.

One thought on “The job of a leadership facilitator does not lie in the entertainment business

  1. Brian Bloomer says:

    Fabulous article Jim. I can attest to everything you’ve said, when you facilitated our leadership team conversations some years ago now. Thanks for your guidance.

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