Ask Amy – Facilitation Skills

Dear Amy,

I work for my dad in our family’s marketing firm.  I have a marketing background, but I am really more interested in the management side of the business than in the creative side. It’s pretty clear that one day I will run the business, but of course, there are no guarantees.  It’s certainly something I’d like to do.

My dad has given me a lot of responsibility for managing client accounts and leading a lot of our meetings.  Here’s my problem.  I get frustrated when I’m leading a meeting and he’s in the group.  Not only do people look at him all the time, but they also nod their heads at whatever he says-even when he goes on tangents that take us way off of our agenda.  I get stressed and then I end up in a power struggle with him.  I start getting more forceful, interrupt him, and everyone sees how frustrated I am. He has the real power in the group so my efforts to take back control never really succeed. I end up feeling undermined, and our meetings often end up being a waste of time.

~ Kathy

Amy KatzDear Kathy,

It sounds like you do have authority at work, and that your dad sees you as someone who is capable of taking on a leadership role.  Many leaders are unaware of the power they have-and I don’t mean simply the power to hire and fire.  Leaders influence groups in ways they rarely intend.  I’ve observed employees almost unconsciously start to use the same phrases their managers use, tell similar jokes, adopt similar gestures…while the manager is completely unaware of his/her impact.  While some of this is benign, in some cases people literally stop thinking for themselves and the group or organization loses the opportunity to listen to and respond to new ideas. This can be a particular challenge in small businesses, where employees have frequent access to the leader.

I am quite certain that your dad is unaware of the extent of his influence.   While he may of course be acutely aware that he is the boss, and that what he says is important, he probably does not quite see that voicing his opinions too often may actually shut people down and limit the group’s capacity for creativity and for making good, well-reasoned decisions.

Since he has put you in a position of authority, I am also quite certain that he is not trying to undermine you.  Keep in mind that he may be a bit scattered and go on tangents in EVERY meeting he’s in, whether at work or in other settings.  In other words, that’s just his style.  So the challenge for you is to become a great facilitator.

I suggest you learn as much as you can about how to manage a meeting.  That means learning how to set a meaningful and reasonable agenda, to use a flipchart or whiteboard effectively, to understand group dynamics, and to keep a group on track.  I’ve seen strong facilitators leading their very senior leaders in highly productive meetings that leave people feeling proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Focus on the facilitation skills you need to learn. Google topics like “how to run a meeting” or look for books about facilitation, such as The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz.  The more you learn about and practice facilitation skills, the more you will feel empowered to assert and maintain control of the meetings you lead.  And I promise you, your dad will be grateful, and the group will respect you.

Facilitation skills are leadership skills.  Invest in yourself by developing them…they will serve you well.

Take care,


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