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Valentine’s Tip: Embrace Conflict

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell


Embrace conflict, put your arms around it…Happy Valentine’s Day!! While it’s very hard work, productive management of conflict results in growth and change. It has the capacity to transform relationships. That’s why we do this work.

This month’s article continues our series on leadership and conflict resolution.

Demagogue, Manager or Mediator: What Kind of Leadership Style do you Use?

The premise of Mark Gerzon’s book, Leading Through Conflict, is that a new model of leadership embraces the characteristics of a mediator (Mark Gerzon, Leading Through Conflict:How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2006). Each chapter of his book focuses on a particular mediator tool with detailed profiles of leaders who are using the various tool in diverse sectors of the economy.We will be featuring these tools in upcoming editions of this newsletter.
To better understand how innovative and radical this approach is we need to examine some existing leadership styles and their deficiencies.

The Demagogue: This is a more dangerous style of leadership and is displayed by dictatorial leaders, or irate tyrants and classroom bullies. The demagogue leads through fear, threats and intimidation, turns opponents into scapegoats, uses lies and propaganda to dehumanize the “other” and resorts to violence to dominate or destroy. These kind of leaders disdain the very idea of transforming conflict into positive change. Communication is manipulated so that safe communication and constructive feedback isn’t possible. History contains many examples of this leadership type. We’ve seen countless examples in genocide in Rwanda, Darfur, Syria and Bosnia, to name a few. This is the most destructive form of leadership. When demagogues emerge it is incumbent upon us to quickly identify the neutralize them.

The Manager: While competent and efficient managers are a necessary component of organizations there are some significant limitations to this style of leadership. Managerial leaders solve problems in a top down manner. They make decisions unilaterally. Their focus is on”us”, the group they manage so they tend to get territorial. Many of today’s organizational problems cross boundaries and need leaders who don’t simply consider the impacts of changes on their discrete group. The manager leadership style has a narrow perspective on interests.

The Mediator: Gerzon proposes that our future crop of leaders will have the characteristics of a mediator. Unlike the manager mindset, the mediator strives to act on behalf of the larger group, thinks broadly and systemically about problems and looks to build bridges across any divides. Gerzon identifies these tools as follows: integral vision, systems thinking, presence, inquiry, conscious conversation, dialogue, bridging and innovation. While these tools are not steps in the mediation process they are characteristics that mediators inherently possess in their heart and soul or develop through the process of peacemaking.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: Ellen Kandell

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