Visualize with me…
You’re facilitating a working session and it’s just clicking. The room is in the palm of your hand and they await your cues. When you pause, they lean forward. When you joke, they laugh. When you’re insightful, they smile and nod approvingly. When you offer them your energy, they generously give it back. And somewhere in this intoxicating dance of call and response, your vision of your role gets distorted.
I’m the center. I’m the reason. I’m the source.
I’m the most important person in the room.
That mindset is bewitching. Like a siren song, it tells your ego the lies it wants to believe, luring you to behave in ways that serve yourself rather than the group.
- You tell the answer, rather than asking a question. (“They need my insight.”)
- You pontificate, rather than tapping into the wisdom of the group. (“I’m smarter than they are.”)
- You tell your personal stories rather than drawing out theirs. (“I’m so much more interesting.”)
- You pepper your language with “I” rather than “you”. (“It’s all about me.”)
None of which serves sustainable collaboration, learning, teaming, or RESULTS.
In fact, you’ve stopped being a facilitator. You just became a presenter.
When people ask me what facilitation is, I often turn to the metaphor of a campfire. Sure, you can douse big logs with lighter fluid, strike a match, and you’ll instantly have massive flames (and fewer eyebrows). But 10 minutes later the fire will probably be gone. That’s what presenting looks like. The group is CONSUMING wisdom, and in a few days or weeks it will have faded away to cold ashes.
But, if you painstakingly build layers of dry grass, small twigs, and kindling, and then light a match, the flame starts slowly. You gently blow on it from the bottom to accelerate its rise, laying larger sticks and then logs on top when it’s just the right time. Soon, the heat, fuel and air need very little help to keep the flame going. Just poke here and there to make sure all the wood is burning evenly. Douse the hotspots when flare-ups happen. Add more fuel as needed. But otherwise, sit back and let it do its thing.
That’s what facilitating looks like. The group is CREATING their own wisdom, which they will possess like an eternal flame, long after the session ends.
Do you remember why you chose to become a leader, an instructor, a facilitator? Was it to be the center of ATTENTION, or was it to be the center of TRANSFORMATION?
If the former (and there’s nothing wrong with that!) maybe stick with Karaoke or TEDx talks and let someone else tend the fire.
If the latter, you’ve chosen a powerful role with the potential to spark uncontainable wildfires of positive change in the teams, groups, organizations, communities and families that you serve. But, only if you can remember this: We’re not the fire; we are the fire tender.
So, repeat after me. “It’s not about me.”
Say it again. “It’s not about me.”
Inhale it and exhale it until it inhabits your breathing. “It’s not about me.”
In the midst of a session that’s clicking, may that mantra be strong enough to drown out the seductive siren song of self, calling you back to service. Because we are not the fire. The flames of wisdom are already in the room.