Home » Archive » Embracing elitism

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Here’s another question for Chris, Siona, and Dave: What is a facilitator compared to a host? And compared to a coach? And finally, compared to an artist?

I ask because people keep suggesting I’m a facilitator. But being a bit of an elitist, the two seem juxtaposed.

But I’ve started to wonder if elitism has been given an unfortunate and unjustified coloring. I also wonder if facilitation has been characterized too much as group hugging when there’s really a lot more on the table.

I picked the comparisons above because they each seem to have some element of facilitation and each also maintains a primary sense of elitism. For example, I think a host can be picky about her company. A coach makes cuts when creating his team. And the artists we all seem to love the most all seem to have a bit of that elitist flair.

It seems to me we’ve all run pell-mell into the arms of the crowd … the broader and more base the group, the better. And I’m wondering what your experience has been across the gradient of elitism. How does the value of the outcome change across each step up the ladder of exclusivity? What is given away and what is kept?

So, I’m hoping you each might weigh in without getting too hung up on the caustic connotation of the words I’ve chosen – that you see beyond them to the sense of my inquiry. What do you think?

image posted by jesus.is.my.copilot


An artist is an imitator, someone who reflects back. A coach is a helper to do better. A host is someone who offers a place for guests, outsiders. A facilitator is someone who makes things easier, a remover of obstacles.

So if a group of people were Invited (=life brought in) to an Open Space event, the only exclusivity would be imposed by who was not invited, each would be an expert (=experimenter, someone who Tries things) in a different way, and only the coach would intervene (=come between) the invitees.

The Host would offer the invited a place to collaborate (work together) and would Try to make them welcome.

The Facilitator would make it easier by Trying to removing obstacles (=things standing in the way) to the collaboration.

The Coach would offer advice (=what they see) to Try to make the collaboration more effective.

The Artist would reflect the results of the collaboration to Try to show what s/he perceived.

None would lead, direct, control or manage the event, so in that sense it would not be elitist, but rather self-managed. Those who aspire to lead, direct or manage others would probably find their presence unappreciated.

In fact, I think increasingly collaborators, invitees working together, may Ask, individually or collectively, someone to Coach them in a particular context, at their discretion, based on reputation rather than role, so a Coach may not even be needed or appreciated.

As I get older, I no longer aspire to be a leader, controller, manager or director. I aspire less to be a Coach, and more to be a Facilitator.

There’s an interesting, and I think mostly overlooked, book on leadership from about a decade ago written by McGill professor Patricia Pitcher titled “Artists, Craftsmen and Technocrats – The Dreams, Realities and Illusions of Leadership” that delves into some of these issues, albeit tangentially because it is not focused directly on any of these three roles.

I am dubious about Coaches offering advice, unless it is in the guise of probing through questions like “what if”, etc. When I was coaching more, I learned pretty quickly not to offer advice unless asked for it and even then would probe further to see if a coachee might be able to advise her /himself from their beliefs, wishes, desires and motivations.

People who offer advice I would call Advisors.

So, obviously this question was previously loaded. Dave and I have previous conversations on the topic. It was the previous chat that drove Dave’s reference to Open Source. And it was that discussion of Open Source that encouraged me to invite Siona and Chris to comment on the post above.

I wrote it because Dave and I don’t really agree (though in nothing but the most amicable of ways). And I don’t think my question was driven out of an interest in leadership – rather, I’m interested in creating environments that allow stuff to happen. More catalyst than champion.

Now, with all that on the table, I agree with everything Dave said about a process of collaboration/innovation.

I also agree with Jon on coaching and would use the sentence he gave to define facilitation: helping others “advise her /himself from their beliefs, wishes, desires and motivations.”

As I’ve written before, audacious as it sounds, I’d aspire to be Socrates before I’d aspire to run anything myself.

But I’m still interested in what Siona and Chris would add to this conversation (which, by-the-way Dave, I’d call a blog-hosted conversation).

Hi Jeremy, i’m filling out this box cause i somehow think i’m supposed to do so. Not much to add but can think of some loosely connected ideas:

“I fail to get even the attention of the mass. I should suit them better if I suited myself less. I feel that the public demand an average man,–average thoughts and manners,–not originality, nor even absolute excellence. You cannot interest them except as you are like them and sympathize with them. I would rather that my audience come to me than that I should go to them, and so they be sifted;”

it seems you like thoreau, and at least, to some extent, thoreau too was an elitist. elitist facilitator does not seem self-contradictory, but rather necessary if you are to facilitate the elite. Differences between the words to describe roles do not interest me too much; because if I were make the words fit, then they fit, and if I can’t then they won’t… ultimately very unfulfilling for some reason.

on a slight tangent, it seems you believe there exists meaning and purpose prior to experience. that is, you, as a being, have abilities and callings and the fulfillment of these things is/are your specialty(ies). and if you should accept your role as a facilitator, then that is your calling… unless, of course, you somehow feel that, the fulfillment of “that knack” unfairly pins you to a mold and leaves you writhing on the wall…?

Thanks toan. Interesting that you feel you should respond. Any ideas why you feel that way?

I’ve never read that quote by Thoreau. Nice that “sift” is thrown in there.

I do appreciate Thoreau’s independence and elitism. I’ve just recently begun reading Emerson too. His essay on self-reliance is strongly related to the ideas written about in this post – though I read him after.

I suppose I believe a bit of what you suggest at the end. Maybe less a “calling” and more a “purpose”. That there are specific things each of us are ideally suited to do – perfect for that purpose. A way of being that is a nature outpouring of our character, perspective, and understanding.

Google threw up an interesting George Eliot quote today: “The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.”

Thanks for your note. I hope you continue to dig in when you have the urge. Drop me an email “jeremy.heigh at gmail.com” if you’d rather keep it offline.