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How to Solve Tough Challenges that Threaten Your Organization

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell

All leaders have to manage conflict in their organizations. I’ve distilled some key points that you can apply immediately from Mark Gerzon’s Leading Through Conflict:  How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into  Opportunities.  Hope you find this helpful.

How to Solve Tough Challenges that Threaten Your Organization

We at Alternative Resolutions have spent many years working with businesses, non-profits, professional associations and educational institutions helping them turn conflict into consensus. Whatever the specific issue, it is clear that when conflicts are not remediated, the outcomes the organization works tirelessly to achieve are at risk.

There are ways that leadership can reduce challenges before they rise to the level of critical conflicts. I endorse Mark Gerzon’s premise, in Leading Through Conflict:  How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities[i], that great leaders need to bring the skills and characteristics of a mediator to solve these tough organizational challenges.

The Leader as Mediator

Leaders who adopt the Leader as Mediator model work hard to exhibit these behaviors:

  • Integral Vision: looking at all sides of a conflict from a large scale macro perspective
  • Systems Thinking: identifying all significant elements of a conflict and the relationship between them.
  • Presence: applying all of our mental, emotional and spiritual resources to the conflict.
  • Inquiry: asking questions within and beyond boundaries of one’s professional lens.
  • Conscious Conversation: creating an environment where parties use language in diverse and more effective ways.
  • Dialogue: communicating in a way that reduces attachment to positions and creates awareness of underlying positions.
  • Bridging: the process of building partnerships and alliances across divisions, such that the energy between the disputants is transformed.
  • Innovation: breakthroughs that create new options for transforming conflict.

Counterproductive Leadership Styles

Gerzon describes two leadership styles that are severely counterproductive to resolving tough organizational challenges. We often encounter these in our mediation and conflict resolution work.

The Demagogue:  This individual leads through fear, threats and intimidation.  This leader disdains the very idea of transforming conflict into positive change.

The Manager:  This leader solves problems in a top down manner and makes decisions unilaterally.  They focus on the group they manage so tend to get territorial.

Do some people in your organization exhibit these behaviors? You’d be well-served by providing training or one-to-one coaching to move them closer to the Mediator leadership model.

Our Perspective

The sooner an organization addresses its tough challenges, the sooner it returns to full productivity and focus on its mission and outcomes.

We recommend these five steps to determine how well your organization’s leaders are following the Leader as Mediator model.

  1. Treat conflict as an opportunity for problem solving, not as a threat
  2. Think systemically about your own role in a conflict
  3. Become aware of your own biases and blind spots
  4. View the problem as if from outside
  5. Respect the diverse viewpoints that are represented in conflicts

We have always seen conflicts as opportunities to strengthen an organization. As Warren Bennis has written “We need leaders who will take on conflict courageously and resolve it.”

We urge you to take the courageous steps needed at your organization to recognize and resolve conflicts to clear the path towards the highest realization of your goals.


[i][i]Mark Gerzon, Leading Through Conflict:  How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.


Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. An expert in dispute resolution and mediation, Ms. Kandell is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She has been a leader in the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution. She provides mediation services, group facilitation, neutral evaluation 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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