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Leadership is Defined as a Relationship, Not a Person

Two Minute Trainings by Maria Simpson

I have always maintained that, if people weren’t so afraid of the process of disagreeing, they would have much better outcomes and more creative solutions to problems. Now, Mark Gerzon in Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, provides sound arguments for why leaders need conflict and how to use it to their advantage to build relationships and organizations. This book is well worth your time.

Gerzon identifies three models of leadership: the manger, the dictator, and the mediator. It’s not hard to guess which comes out as most effective. The mediator model provides the most benefits to leaders and their organizations. Mediating a discussion instead of simply managing a process or dictating an outcome allows for full exploration of an idea, debate that results in more informed decisions, and a process that strengthens teams.

Gerzon also provides eight tools or approaches to help leaders “transform intractable differences into progress” including such approaches as systems thinking, presence, inquiry, bridging, and dialogue. The definitions of these approaches are a bit different from what we might expect from our standard definitions of these words, and they combine to form a fully-developed and consistent approach to working through disagreements to find their creative benefits.

Gerzon takes his ideas from his work as a mediator all across the globe and shows how these ideas can be applied to your own organizations and teams. In the chapter on bridging, for example, which he defines as building partnerships across boundaries, he describes how members of groups as divers as Sears and an international group called the Bridging Leadership Task Force used similar approaches to work through conflict.

The old model of “CEO as hero” has run aground. It leads to burnout, empty marriages, and second-rate decisions. The new-model CEO is not a savior on a white horse but a team that knows how to bridge. . . . Put bluntly, leaders who are Mediators will outperfrom those who aren’t because they know how to build the partnerships and alliances that are the key to enduring success.”

Mediation has become so closely associated with the legal system recently that its value in all areas of discussion and leadership has been overwhelmed. Gerzon points out the value of the approach in public areas of concern, education, business and international relations. Now, if we could only get people to learn how to use it.

This book, which is well worth your attention, focuses on process and approaches, rather than conflict management techniques, which you can find in other sources. Together, his general approaches and the specific techniques available from other sources can change the dynamic of your organization and vastly improve your success. In times like these, a new approach is most welcome.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

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