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The ‘How-To’s of Leadership: How to Facilitate a Discussion at Your Dinner Table or Boardroom

by Nicole Arnold October 23, 2014

Thgroup discussione other day, I found myself struggling with a problem, so I asked my kids for advice.  They were happy to provide it.  Upon listening to their input, I explained why the solution they offered up wouldn’t work.  My 8-year-old (quite fairly) responded, “Why do you ask us for advice if you think you know the answer anyways?”  Good point.

Leaders and parents do this frequently.  I have been on the giving and receiving end of those interactions at board and committee meetings as well as at the dinner table.  How does a child or co-worker feel when their ideas are solicited and then rejected? They feel frustrated that their ideas were negated.   They feel resistant to future discussions.  For them, there is a salient sense that there is a firm power structure and that they are on the bottom of it.  In a word – powerless.  Is this the result we were looking for? Don’t we want to be empowering our children and employees?

As leaders and parents, it’s crucial to understand that it’s not always the solution or end game that’s important, but rather the discussion itself. A well-facilitated discussion where ideas are welcomed and explored is a powerful thing.  It is powerful in that it empowers the people around the table.  It empowers them to think creatively.  It’s powerful because the interactions that transpire can only occur through discussion.  One person can provide the spark, another the wood and a different person the oxygen.  We require all the components to really make a fire.  The same is true for great ideas.

The role of the facilitator (or leader or parent) cannot be underestimated. We design the questions.  We facilitate the discussion.  We might generate several answers on our own.  Then (here comes the challenging part), we give up the idea that we know what the outcome should be.  We trust the people around the table.  We trust the process.  We understand that if we don’t arrive, during this specific discussion, at a solution, then we will get to a place where we will, at the very least, understand the next steps.  Providing a space for everyone to provide ideas models compassion and respect and generates good will.

I have been at committee tables and dinner tables for discussions like this.  Sometimes they’re uncomfortable.  Sometimes they get a little wild.  Occasionally people need to be reined in. At some point, it can be very hard to see how anything is going to be accomplished.  Then, inevitably, we find ourselves at a new place.  A place that we all arrived at together.  Evidence that the power of many minds together is really far more powerful than working alone.  A greater understanding that discomfort and confusion often happen shortly before something extraordinary and clear occurs.

What do leaders and parents aim to develop? Independent thinkers.  Autonomous beings who treat each other with respect and are fully invested in what they do.  Creative problem solvers.  Individuals who treat others with courtesy and compassion.  All of these qualities can be developed at a dinner table or board meeting near you.




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