5 Reasons Urban Planners Must Use Facilitative Leadership

Urban Planners must make decisions and complete analysis with more diverse groups of people and tremendous amounts of data. With more diverse teams and stakeholders involved in transportation and development projects, conflict arises out of differences in priorities, values, communication styles, and personalities. The tremendous amount of data available for decision-making and analysis increases the complexity of connecting all the pieces to see the whole. In order to make progress in making sound, sustainable decisions and analysis in this landscape, urban planners must use facilitative leadership.

Facilitative leadership is a people-centered approach to achieving complex goals within a team setting through learning and systems thinking.  They in turn create synergy within groups to produce something that no individual can do alone. Here are 5 reasons urban planners must be facilitative leaders do to create a comprehensive process in achieving the most difficult goals:

1. Continuously Learn

Most working planning professionals aren’t providing the time or incentive for reflection and real-time learning. Once a project is completed, it’s onto the next one. This can cause planners to make snap judgement, rather than seeing the underlying issues and patterns. Facilitative leaders create an environment for teams to reflect on lessons learned and achievements to either repeat or adjust in the future. This type of learning is not taking in information, but a shift in mind how people and teams influence the world.

2. Enhance Creativity

Many past solutions to cities’ problems have found to be not working, such as our huge highways that are congested and falling apart. Facilitative leaders stimulate creativity within teams by using conflict and using different approaches to change desired outcomes.

3. Empower Everyone

Everyone has a unique skill, talent, or expertise in a subject. Facilitative leaders understand this and seek to extract it from each individual to contribute to the team.  They do this by asking powerful questions, actively listening, and creating psychological safety for open and honest dialogue. Facilitative leaders listen for and seek to help others make the connection of all the data and the differing points of views, comments, and values of others. They create psychological safety by helping the team develop guidelines on how the team treats each other in their interactions. One guideline could be to put away phones and actively listen to the person who is speaking. Urban planners must use a facilitative process to develop inclusive and comprehensive solutions to today’s most challenging planning issues.

4. Ensure Accountability

Accountability is one of the biggest needs in urban planning today. To build accountability with others, facilitative leaders encourage feedback, even when its uncomfortable. One technique facilitative leader use to stimulate feedback, is to share their “own observations or perceptions with the team and invite others to do the same without judgment or recourse”. Feedback then becomes routine in a teams daily interactions.

5. Use Systems Thinking

Facilitators are aware of underlying patterns and structures that influences human behavior and how individuals and teams can influence the systems with the right leverage. Urban planners must use this way of thinking to focus on influencing the future, rather than reacting to the present by seeing patterns and interrelationships, rather than cause-effect linear events.

So what are the strengths of facilitative leaders?

  • They are great listeners – they listen to understand, not to respond.
  • They have high emotional intelligence – they are aware of their emotional triggers and of others.
  • They are courageous
  • Powerful inter-personal skills, and
  • They love to learn and learn how to learn.

To better understand this leadership style, I may write more in depth about the following topics:

  1. Holding an effective stakeholder meeting for your project
  2. Facilitating public input to create value
  3. Listening Skills

If there is a specific question or topic you would like to hear more about please write it in the comments below. Check out my resources page here for more information about this topic.

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