Merge's Blog

The leader as a facilitator – are you a lifeboat or a lighthouse?

As a manager, your job is to get things done.  But as a leader, your mission now becomes to get things done through other people.  And many times, what that really means is that you have to be a facilitator – someone who removes obstacles, levels the path, greases the wheels – who ensures that your people have the tools they need to achieve their results.  But even your involvement as a facilitator can vary.  Imagine a continuum where one end is a lifeboat, and the other is a lighthouse.

facilitatorIf you’re at the lifeboat end of the continuum, you might visualize yourself as someone who lets your employees sail on their own, navigating their own way from port to port, but you’re close by to step in if there is a crisis.  When things go wrong, you’re right there to rapidly swoop in to save the situation, and you’re gratefully lauded by those who were otherwise drowning.

facilitatorBut if you see yourself at the lighthouse end of the continuum, the image is different.  Now, you’re a beacon, a guiding light that shines brightly, illuminating the path for your people to get from harbour to harbour.  Your role is not so much to search and rescue, but rather to stand firm in the storm, offering hope and resilience to those trying to get to shore.  Sometimes it’s through advice, and sometimes it’s just by being a positive role model.

So which type of facilitator is better?

For me, instinctively, both metaphors serve in different situations. The lifeboat version makes more sense when we are leading experienced employees in fast-paced scenarios. But when we are operating in situations of adversity where our employees are metaphorically “adrift” and need a rock-solid foundation to keep their stability, the lighthouse style of leader will create more positive outcomes. Despite that, it has been my experience that every person has a natural inclination towards one end or another. Our strength as leaders comes from not only being able to assess which type better suits the circumstances, but also from being able to fluidly move from one end of the continuum to the other.

So what do you think?  Which type of leader/facilitator – lifeboat or lighthouse – is better?  In what kinds of situations?  Which end of the continuum is your natural inclination?  I would love to hear what you think.  Please share your comments below.

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