“Leading Through Conflict”

Mark Gerzon, founder and President of the Mediators Foundation, summarizes his view of leadership in his 2006 book Leading Through Conflict (Harvard Business School Press). He maintains that the we should think of the “Mediator” as the new model for leadership that “transforms differences into opportunities.” The Mediator:

  • Strives to act on behalf of the whole, not just a part.
  • Thinks systemically and is committed to ongoing learning.
  • Builds trust by building bridges across the dividing lines.
  • Seeks innovation and opportunity in order to transform conflict.

He contrasts the Mediator with the “Demagogue,” who leads through fear, and at worst resorts to violence to dominate others, and the “Manager” works within his or her own boundaries, and limits the view of self-interest to his or her own group.

The Mediator needs eight tools to work effectively. Gerzon describes them this way:

  1. Integral Vision: committing ourselves to hold all sides of the conflict, in all their complexity, in our minds – and in our hearts.
  2. Systems thinking: identifying all (or as many as possible) of the significant elementsrelated to the conflict situation and understanding the relationships between these elements.
  3. Presence: applying all our mental, emotional, and spiritual resources to witnessing the conflict of which we are now a part.
  4. Inquiry: asking questions that elicit essential information about the conflict that is vital to understanding how to transform it.
  5. Conscious conversation: becoming aware of our full range of choices about how we speak and listen.
  6. Dialogue: communicating in order to catalyze the human capacity for bridging and innovation.
  7. Bridging: building partnerships and alliances that cross the borders that divide an organization or a community.
  8. Innovation: fostering social or entrepreneurial breakthroughs that create new options for moving through conflicts.

Ultimately, Gerzon concludes that the challenge for – and responsibility of – leaders is to hold a vision of what is possible. “Our challenge is to see the seed or opportunity buried in the soil of conflict. . . . These eight tools are designed to unearth it, fertilize it, and help it become reality.”