Facilitating Leadership through Action Learning: The case of the Creative & Cultural Industries
This is an account of a novel approach to leadership development in the UK’s Creative & Cultural Industries. The Leadership Facilitation Skills programme [LFS] helps people to develop their skills in leadership through the unusual route of learning to facilitate action learning sets. The LFS is based on a Facilitative Leadership model that is proposed as well suited to organisations operating in complex environments and subject to unpredictable change. Facilitative Leadership “teaches you to facilitate your peers as they tackle complex organisational challenges” and involves learning a particular skills set comprising: attending, listening, questioning, reflecting, learning and giving fewer solutions.
This original approach to leadership development combines facilitation with action learning in resolving participants’ leadership challenges in order to develop their personal leadership practices. Previously, many of these Creative & Cultural Industries managers did not know what leadership was, or had not seen it as applying to them. The LFS and the Facilitative Leadership model allowed these people to recognise and acknowledge themselves as leaders for the first time.
This paper starts with an introduction, a background briefing on the UK’s Creative & Cultural Industries and a survey of how leadership is understood in this sector. The main part of the paper is a case study based on evaluations of the programme undertaken between 2008 and 2010. The findings from the case are then put into the context of wider ideas about leadership and leadership development. The paper concludes that the LFS is an important innovation in leadership development, especially in the context of the complexities and diversities of the creative economy. It is proposed as applicable to any situation where managers and leaders hold innovative and generative aspirations whilst facing difficult challenges and turbulent conditions.
The large majority of the participants in these studies thought that learning to facilitate action learning had helped them to become more effective leaders. The LFS case provides strong support for the thesis that learning to facilitate action learning increases a person’s effectiveness as a facilitative leader and demonstrates the validity of the Facilitative Leadership model for the Creative & Cultural Industries and for other sectors where similar conditions are encountered.
Of these findings some limitations must be admitted. The size and diversity of the sector renders provisional any generalisations from small samples, especially those that are self-selecting in choosing to attend the LFS and then to respond to the evaluations. The LFS attracts more women more than men, and more freelance, mid-career and middle managers rather than the “big personalities” who may sustain the heroic style. There are also a small minority of participants who felt they had learned much about action learning facilitation, but who still wanted more on leadership; suggesting that, for them at least, these skills sets are not synonymous. Finally there is the question of the example of the ALA tutors, who led from the front in espousing and enacting Facilitative Leadership, and who were experienced as highly skilled and authentic. Would less skilful leaders have established the thesis so strongly? Or would another programme based on a different model, but led convincingly, be equally successful with participants looking for help with their leadership?
Whilst these questions remain, the evidence available here strongly supports the Facilitative Leadership hypothesis as especially relevant to the Creative and Cultural Industries and also to other sectors of the economy with innovative and generative aspirations. In combining action learning with facilitation in the resolution of participants’ leadership challenges and in the development of their personal leadership practices, the LFS emerges as a strikingly original approach to leadership development. In many organisations perhaps, facilitative approaches may be inhibited by more dominant conceptions of leadership held at senior levels. In this case, many of the LFS participants had previously thought of themselves as managers or freelancers, and had either not known what leadership was, or had seen it as not applying to them. The LFS and the Facilitative Leadership model allowed these people to recognise and acknowledge themselves as leaders for the first time.