Being civically engagedIntegrating values and beliefsOpenness to values and beliefs by each member of the teamSees the added value of such openness for his/her own personal and professional growthShows interest in and is sensitive to the values and beliefs held by individual members of the teamSupporting learners to take action, and to participate in democratic processes

Facilitation as a leadership style

Facilitative leadership is one of the emerging leadership paradigms making its way into more and more organizations, training, governments, and institutions. It is a co-creative leadership model asserting that leaders should effectively facilitate deep collaboration. Essentially, a facilitator functions as a leader, and it is one type of the 19 leadership style — one that is very participative and democratic. It is not a laisse faire style; one does not allow the group to do whatever it wants. And especially it is not an autocratic style.

As leadership expert Warren Bennis once stated, “leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Leadership means different things to different people around the world, and different things in different situations. For example, it could relate to community leadership, religious leadership, political leadership, and leadership of campaigning groups. The words “leader” and “leadership” are often used incorrectly to describe people who are actually managing. These individuals may be highly skilled, good at their jobs, and valuable to their organizations – but that just makes them excellent managers, not leaders.

So, be careful how you use the terms, and don’t assume that people with “leader” in their job titles, people who describe themselves as “leaders,” or even groups called “leadership teams” are actually creating and delivering transformational change.

A particular danger in these situations is that people or organizations that are being managed by such an individual or group think they’re being led, but they’re not. There may actually be no leadership at all, with no one setting a vision and no one being inspired. This can cause serious problems in the long term.

Leadership involves:

  • Establishing a clear vision
  • Sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly
  • Providing the information, knowledge, and methods to realize that vision, and
  • Coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders.
    A leader steps up in times of crisis and can think and act creatively in difficult situations.Facilitation as a Leadership Style

A facilitative leader is someone who acts on the premise that a leader does not do for others what they can do for themselves
— Fran Rees —

Facilitative leadership style is indeed in a new era of piloting a project, training or an organization. If you need to motivate your team members and/or participants toward a common purpose, objective or goal instead of giving them strict and detailed instructions to abide by, although in some cases it may be absolutely necessary.

Facilitative leadership requires the leader, you, to be compassionate in your communication and that includes listening openly to the verbal and non-verbal expressions of your team members, or participants without judgment or condemnation of any sort. This kind of leadership is non-authoritative and invites open suggestions and constructive feedback from the floor so that everyone involved gets to share their thoughts and opinions.

It is encouraging to note that facilitative leadership permits understanding and appreciation to arise between team members and participants. This openness and allowance to sift through valuable ideas provide a clearer vision of the path where a project or training is heading towards without taking the reins. More importantly, your participants will not be afraid to let you know when your project or training is going off the rails.

Qualities of a Successful Facilitating Leader

Why is this important? Giving participants the authority and responsibility to do their work enables the right kind of trust to develop. And, being a facilitative leader vs. a directing one gives the whole process that gentle guidance that is neither overbearing nor out of control.

The facilitating leader is exactly that: an effective facilitator, a person who leads or coordinates the efforts of a group. The facilitating leader uses group facilitation skills to help teams and individuals solve problems. Think of a facilitating leader as a guide who helps others move through a process together.

A good facilitating leader draws out the input of others through open, well-crafted questions and is not there to offer opinions per se. He or she helps direct discover what they already know. He or she also offers alternative ways of interpreting their experiences. This encourages individuals to critically examine and build on or challenge their knowledge, attitudes, and assumptions.

Good facilitating leaders are:

Intuitive thinkers

Intuitive thinkers are “big picture” thinkers. Thinking intuitively involves accessing and using the full potential of “whole brain” intelligence in making evaluations or decisions. It involves making lateral links and guesses about all possibilities before rational thinking calculates something more carefully.

Warm and empathetic

Being warm and empathetic involves creating a positive and supportive climate, demonstrating compassion for others when communicating, and demonstrating an understanding of others’ viewpoints and feelings.

Collaborative communicators

Communicating collaboratively means working directly and openly with others so messages are sent and heard optimally.

Good listeners

Being a good listener means both hearing and understanding, other people, paying close attention to decipher the full message, so you understand completely what the other person is saying. How many times have you heard, “that’s not what I said,” or, “that’s not what I meant?”


Being flexible means being able to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements when necessary. It also means not being rigid or fixed in how you think or act. That seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?


Being lively and passionate about what you do and what others around you do is infectious and essential in maintaining a positive and productive training environment!

Leader vs. Facilitator and how to combine them both in a training

A major difference between leading and facilitating is that a leader often tells; a facilitator always asks.

A Leader is someone who is a visionary, someone who sees the big picture and leads the group to achieve that vision. A Facilitator is someone who brings people together to develop a vision, then leads the group toward achieving it. A facilitator can be a leader, but the leader not necessarily can be a facilitator.

Successfully leading a group or team requires the skills to facilitate groups. It is an unusual team or group leader who has the combined experience and knowledge of both project content and group dynamics. Understanding team dynamics, helping the team reach its goals, and focusing the team on its business objectives are the strengths of a skilled facilitator. There is a difference between facilitating and managing groups or teams. A facilitator is an expert in the group process, a troubleshooter who does what needs to be done to get the team moving. A facilitator is a diagnostician with intervention skills appropriate for the stage of the group’s development. A facilitator is a neutral associate of the team or group who brings objectivity. Objectivity is extremely important since it is the bridge to building trusting relationships. A facilitator helps groups improve upon their group processes and moves them toward greater efficiency and effectiveness. A skilled facilitator takes responsibility for guiding a group so that synergy is created. A facilitator is a change agent or catalyst who can challenge old approaches and move a group ahead.

A team leader plays a different role which focuses on the mechanics of tasks, resources and budgets and schedules. Team leaders are often content experts with experience in similar projects but not necessarily skilled at facilitation.

Why did I choose this tool?

The art of facilitation is an essential skill and knowledge for a trainer to be civically engaged. It is more important to ask the right question than to give the right answer. The right question will lead the participants to their answers reflectively and respectfully. Skilled facilitation with asking the right questions is also a democratic process that involves the audience in a meaningful dialogue where relevant input and conclusion is drawn.

Suggested Reflection Questions

Think of a situation where silence was more important than talking? Think of the last training you held. Think of which questions would answer the same points you made? (but without telling them, instead of asking questions).


Divide the participants into two teams and present them with a survival situation: a plane crash, a shipwreck, lost in the desert. Then present them with a list of items that might be useful in that situation.

Challenge the groups to choose five items that will help them survive. After the teams finish picking their items, ask them to justify their selections and how they would use those things to overcome their given circumstance.

This leadership exercise stimulates critical, creative, and strategic thinking as well as problem-solving skills.

Other Ways to Practice:

Author of the article Martina Durljanova

After graduation as an engineer at biotechnology, Martina`s experience in the field of civic organisations started as EVS volunteer in Poland. Since then she continues her contribution in the field of youth, firstly as a volunteer, then mentor, and trainer. Her first experience as a trainer started in 2014 for the pool of trainers of National Youth Council of Macedonia. The trainer experience is upgraded for the pool of trainers of OSCE Skopje mission, basically on topics of Hate Speech and Discrimination. Locally, she co-founded organisation Youth Vison, where she worked as coordination and trainer. Nationally she became the contact person for Loza Foundation, a Swedish organisation that support vulnerable people and organisations that works for marginalised people in N. Macedonia.

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Editor: Antonio Jovanovski

Antonio Jovanovski has extensive experience of training and facilitating diverse groups all over Europe. His training and facilitating experience started during his AIESEC years ( where he served as President of AIESEC in N. Macedonia and France. Currently, he is a director of a youth environmental NGO ( where he works on the topics of climate change, youth eco-activism, greening of economy, greening of education and jobs. He is also a member of the Pool of trainers of Youth@Work partnership on employability and entrepreneurship (

Click here to read more about Antonio Jovanovski

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