I frequently get asked how to differentiate between leading, managing, and facilitating. These are roles that many people in leadership or managerial positions must often switch between depending on the circumstance. But many people struggle to know which role to use when.
The first step is understanding the difference between these roles and the purpose behind each one. That then makes it much simpler to clarify what your best approach is to tackle the situation.
The easy answer is that you lead people, manage process, and facilitate decisions. Great leaders are skilled in changing their role as easily as a chameleon changes color. Let’s explore each of those in a little more detail.
Leaders set the vision, tone and direction for people to follow, and expect that others will carry forward and implement that vision. They focus on the what and why along with long-term goals and impacts. They seek out innovations and future opportunities.
Leaders focus on doing the right thing – the right thing for the business, its employees, and the people it serves.
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow a weak trumpet.” — Theodore Hesburgh
Because leaders are responsible for people, interpersonal skills and communication skills are critical for success. If a leader can’t communicate their vision and can’t inspire people to follow, failure is certain. Interpersonal and communication skills must be continually honed for a leader to grow and achieve.
Based on the leader’s vision, managers create the plan and set the pace while encouraging others to complete the tasks identified in the plan and according to the timetable needed by the pace. They think in the short-term and concentrate on how things are being done. Managers focus on administration and maintenance, keeping within the designated boundaries and present limits.
Managers focus on doing things right – following proper procedures and protocols so that the business processes will function correctly.
“The true measure of the value of any business leader and manager is performance.” Brian Tracy
Managers are responsible for process and need to be skilled in project management. But they also need effective interpersonal and communication skills as they don’t usually perform the process themselves, rather they direct people to implement the process.
Facilitators help people make sense of the tone and direction set by the leader and find ways to function within the pace set by the manager. By helping people to gain clarity around the here and now, facilitators allow people to find and articulate their own views. They help people to think and communicate their thoughts.
Facilitators focus on helping people to do things. There is no judgement as to whether that is the right things or if it’s done right, simply the act of doing things.
“The defining feature of facilitative leaders is that they offer process and structure rather than directions and answers. In every situation, they know how to design discussions that enable group members to find their own answers.” Christian D. Kobsa
The skill sets needed to facilitate decisions are varied. Facilitators must have excellent interpersonal skills, communication skills (especially active listening), group process skills, and be familiar with multiple decision-making models.
Putting It All Together
The primary reason people have difficulty differentiating between these roles, is because many positions require us to take on all of these roles at different times throughout the day. Just like a chameleon changing color, those in leadership positions have to keep changing roles.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy
Here’s a fun fact: chameleons don’t change color in order to blend in, they change skins color as a form of communication. According to the San Diego Zoo, a chameleon’s skin changes colors in response to its emotions, such as anger or fear, changes in light, temperature or humidity.
Rather than changing based on emotion, leaders must change based on situation. The better skilled you become at identifying the situation and being aware of which role is needed to address that situation, the more effect you can be. In addition, you need have all the different skills needed for each role and know how to implement them effectively.