The leader as mediator
Next up in this month's Leadership Inspiration series is Mary Ghikas, CAE, senior associate executive director for member programs and services at the American Library Association and a former chair of ASAE & The Center's Executive Management Section Council. Below, Mary shares the inspiration she has found in the writing of mediator and author Mark Gerzon:
Toward the end of his masterful book on leadership, mediator Mark Gerzon recounts the story of three bricklayers, working side by side. Each in turn is asked what he is doing. The first says, "I am laying bricks." The second replies, "I am building a wall." The third, however, responds, "I am building a cathedral." The "cathedral," in Gerzon's metaphor, is a vision of what is possible—and the story is a powerful reminder of the role of "possibility" in the work we do as association executives.
We live in a world in which we must "dwell in possibility," while managing the myriad details that go into successful conferences, publications, governance meetings. We live with conflict—between competing projects, objectives, perspectives. We are daily confronted with change—in everything from the tools we use to the level of control we are able to exert. In such an environment, Gerzon argues that the mediator has the "critical capacity to see the whole—and to act in its best interest."
Drawing on both scholarship and his own experience as a mediator in national and international settings, Gerzon provides a list of "tools" for "leading through conflict":
- Integral thinking;
- Systems thinking;
- Conscious conversation;
Individually these are not new concepts, and indeed they appear repeatedly, under various names, in the literature of leadership. Gerzon provides us with a guide to the way a skilled mediator uses these tools for "transformative leadership."
In speaking of innovation, Gerzon shares a poem inspired by his experiences in South Africa:
If you see two sides,
Create a third.
If you see many sides,
Form a circle.
If you see many circles,
Begin to dance.
...and when we do we change our relationship to conflict and focus on the wider possibility.
Looking at the leadership guides I have used over the past decade or so, I realize I have returned repeatedly to Mark Gerzon's Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities for its scope, its felicitous language, and its sense of the "dance" that I must still seek to master.