I have had the privilege of knowing and working with Greg Robinson for several years. His ideas have influenced me greatly, but I just now finally read his book A Leadership Paradox: Influencing Others by Defining Yourself. There is a big idea on the very first page: Leaders have to play three roles: prophet, priest and facilitator.
Prophet: A proclaimer who speaks the truth about the current situation, and forms a vision of the future.
The anxiety of the organization can be amplified by avoiding the simple, unadorned truth. Leaders may fear their people will turn on them as a result of such honesty. Yet in most cases, allowing members to see that ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind an effort to change calls out the best in people.
Priest: a person who reminds people of who they are.
Leaders are at their best when they see the value in the people around them and call on those people to remember that value. It is easy to forget your own value.
Facilitator: one who makes something easier.
Ultimately, the facilitator seeks to leave those persons he or she helps better equipped to continue on unassisted. In this sense, facilitative leadership is generative in nature.
The rest of the book talks about what it takes to play these roles. It’s worth reading.
Self reflection is in order. I don’t really have big obvious leadership roles in my life. But, it is pretty easy for me to know which ones I am good at and which ones I lack in. I am strong as a facilitator. On a good day I can be a prophet, I am very weak as a priest. I often forget who I am, and I am not good at reminding others of who they are.
It seems that these three roles are of equal importance. A leader or leadership team cannot be successful if they lack even one of the roles. For example an organization that has a strong prophet and priest leader will understand their situation and where they want to be, and everybody will know they have a part to play, but there will be no path to get there. On the other hand a an organization that lacks a prophet will not be able to honestly evaluate their current situation. They will probably have all sorts of great plans that do not work to a unified vision of the future. Finally lacking a priest means that the people in an organization will not know their own value, talents, and importance, and how they fit into the overall work being done. Or perhaps the leadership team will not value the people and see them simply as machines to be used for accomplishing the goals. For sure an organization that lacks one of these roles can still have some level of success, but will be more effective if all three are present.