The Guide on the Side, Not the Sage on the Stage
The Success Alliance


The Guide on the Side, Not the Sage on the Stage

Group of People Talking

By Karyn Greenstreet

I have strong beliefs about the role of a mastermind group facilitator, and the primary one is: It’s Not All About YOU.

The role of the facilitator

The job of a mastermind group facilitator is to help the group coach, mentor and support each other. Your role is to teach them how to brainstorm effectively and hold each other accountable for taking action.

A skillful facilitator creates a harmonious group where everyone feels safe and respected, and everyone works towards their highest potential. You facilitate the discussion, bringing clarity to it and taking the conversation deeper.

You’re also the one making sure that everyone has set goals and action plans, and your members are implementing those plans regularly.

I’ve seen too many mastermind groups run by “gurus” where the focus is on the guru teaching and mentoring exclusively. When it’s someone’s turn to be in the Hot Seat, everyone is waiting for the guru to tell them what to do or how to think. That’s not true masterminding. The focus of a mastermind group should be on each other and brainstorming together, not on the guru or coach.

But what if I am an expert?

That’s not to say that the mastermind group facilitator can’t or shouldn’t be an expert in something. It helps if you are. It serves the entire group if you have knowledge, skill, and experience to share with your members. Often members will join your mastermind group specifically because they want to learn from you.

But the facilitator should be the last to speak during Hot Seats, not the first. Let the other members share their ideas and solutions, first. Then, add your own thoughts after the conversation is complete.

If your ego is bound up in “being the guru,” and having all eyes turn to you for answers during meetings, then don’t confuse people by calling your group a mastermind group. It’s more akin to a “mentoring group” if everyone is looking to the leader for the answer. I have nothing against mentoring programs and a Q+A format; just be clear that’s the structure of the group so that your prospective members aren’t baffled when they attend and it’s not what they expected.

I don’t know who first said this, but my hat’s off to whoever did: “You are the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”

You might find this short video helpful: What’s the Difference between a Mastermind Group Facilitator, and a Coach or Consultant?

Want to learn how to start a mastermind group? Click here to get my free video tutorial on how to create a mastermind group of your own.

6 thoughts on “The Guide on the Side, Not the Sage on the Stage”

  1. Emma says:

    Hi Karyn,

    This is valuable advice; I am currently running a Success Team (based on Barbara Sher’s work), and I have been very lucky in that the people who showed up just naturally “got it” (understood the concept and principles of the group) and in that sense the group runs itself. However, I do have to watch for that tendency in myself to feel obligated to have the answers for people, so this is a good reminder.

    I have a question though. I want to eventually run this or similar groups for pay. How do I justify charging people money for the group if I am on the sidelines, and others in the group are providing as much assistance as I am?

    “Well, I took the initiative to organize the group” doesn’t seem in my mind to justify more than nominal fees.


    1. Hi, Emma,

      I agree, just organizing the group wouldn’t justify a few (though there can be a lot of administrative work associated with mastermind groups). Where I feel a fee is justified is when the Mastermind Group Facilitator is both an expert in the subject at hand and an expert in facilitating groups. I feel the Facilitator should speak at meetings, helping the group to see what they might have overlooked, getting them to work more deeply, helping them be more creative, and dealing with group dyamics problems as they arise. But the Facilitator should be the last to speak during each Hot Seat, not the first.

  2. Rosie Kaplan says:

    In response to Emma – there is a lot of work as a facilitator, I agree with Karyn about being an experienced facilitator. I did her facilitation course and it has changed my mastermind groups from good to great. I still struggle with not speaking first, partly because I have this need to justify the $ they pay me. I am getting better at it as I see the group doing what they need to do without my jumping in. This if my current Why do I need a facilitator? From my site.

    There are so many reasons why! A really important one is that facilitators carefully curate the group so that your needs are met. Other members are on the same level as you; a little above and a little below. You’ll have much to offer each other to will help each other grow as people and your businesses. I also:

    Set the meetings cycle
    Manage the meeting venue or host on-line
    Use a very supportive structure
    Talk to you before each of your hot seats to make sure you’re on track and asking your most important question
    Record the session and share
    Set up a group Facebook Group and am in there often
    Keep an eye on who participates, who dominates or doesn’t
    Keep the meetings to time
    Bring my own unique Rosieness to them

    What does Rosieness mean?

    I am a positive energiser – a person who helps others flourish and feel good about themselves. Research shows that positive energy is four times more important for predicting performance than just plain leadership or being the person who knows the most. It shows that if you hang out with positive energisers your performance goes up.
    As a positive energiser I’m dedicated to helping other people flourish with – and because of – my positive energy.
    You’re also investing because financially you need, as they say, skin in the game. You preferably need to be investing more than you are comfortable with because it adds urgency to your to do list. It gets it done.

    You could join a free mastermind groups without a trained or paid facilitator. But be warned very often they:
    Because there is no structure people don’t get their needs met
    Some people are in the chair all the time
    Others don’t use the chair
    There is no real accountability
    There isn’t a commitment
    They often fail to even meet

    A lot there and a bit scary putting it out here but hey! And I am working hard at really getting that I deserve to be paid for offering this and enabling people to grow in this environment.
    I am not yet fully the guide on the side but getting better!


    1. Karyn Greenstreet says:

      You bring up some excellent points, Rosie! (I love the “Rosieness” idea) And you’re right about the training and what happens in groups where the Facilitator doesn’t know what they’re doine.

  3. Elissa Couch says:

    Yes! I take pride in being the guide on the side! There is a time and a place to be the sage on the stage, and facilitating a Mastermind is certainly not one of them. In my first Mastermind, I was an active participant. It was made up of 4 women who I’ve known for many years. I did not charge because we each contributed to the “practice” of participating in a Mastermind, and we were all embarking on launching or expanding our work. My contribution was to facilitate the meetings. I have a unique approach to the “hot seat” and because we all felt safe, I was allowed the freedom to practice this approach, as I developed my facilitation style.

    This experience has served me well, because it helped me to learn a lot about adult learners. My role as a facilitator is to provide the framework (and parameters) within which the experts (members) work together to gain individual insight. I teach them how to engage in reflective discourse while maintaining a safe, productive experience that results in each member’s personal/professional development. If they are looking to me for the answers, then I am doing them a disservice and not fulfilling my own purpose.

    I am an educator, and whether I am teaching, coaching, or facilitating, my challenge (and obligation) is to elicit that which results in meaningful learning, no matter where one is on the journey to fulfilling one’s purpose.

    Thank you for posing this question. I am grateful for all that you do!
    Love and success to you, always.

    1. Karyn Greenstreet says:

      I love the way you said this, Elissa!

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