Mediation and the Leadership Mindset

By Douglas Katz – 11/05/2022

Conflict is part of the human condition.  Be it due to limited resources, different view points or both, we humans like to fight and we seem to always be able to find new ways to do so.  Whether in our relationships, work lives or our daily interaction with the world around us, conflict is everywhere.  The good news is that as rational beings we try to find new and better ways to reduce conflict.  One which has gained a lot of momentum in the world of alternative dispute resolution is mediation.  In a nutshell, mediation is about using a disinterested 3rd party to help parties in conflict to work together to create and agree upon an outcome which is acceptable to all parties and which, most importantly, ends the conflict.  While generally associated with divorce, mediation is a broad field that covers resolution of all types of conflict.

This is the third in a series of articles that I am writing about considerations while selecting a mediator.  I see too many people neglect this most important part of a mediation and all too often this can hinder outcomes.  Not all mediators are created equal and that is actually a GOOD thing.  Every mediation is different and the parties are different which definitely shapes the best selection.  I recommend deciding what kind of mediation experience that you want and interviewing/selecting a mediator based on their personality as well as a set of skills that match your needs, wants and preferences.  Hopefully my insight on some characteristics and mindsets will help you make the right selection.

A mediator is in many ways a guide.  A conflict resolution Sherpa whose is tasked with helping people in conflict find the way to a best solution.  Based on the need for a mediator, the parties are definitely lost and they need to be led to right path and toward the right solution.  Moreover, often times, neither of these will be what they envisioned as a resolution to the conflict, so there is definitely the need for leadership and motivational skills to keep the process moving and the parties engaged.

I have led.  I have done so in the military, in corporate America and informally.  I began my leadership journey well before becoming a mediator in the intense, immersive development process at West Point.  In the environment of the United States Military Academy, leadership is not taught, but rather infused to one’s being.  It was in that process that I learned some key aspects of a good leader that have also greatly benefitted me and my mediation clients.  For me several especially stand out as essential, specifically goal setting, communication, empathy, sacrifice/selflessness and integrity.

Goal setting is key to leadership.  There is no way to get a keep a team moving unless they know where they are going.  Goal setting is not an activity but a skill.  Good leaders do so with their subordinates and, in doing so, get their subordinates and sometimes even tangential parties invested in a common objective.  I am sure this is hugely intuitive and obvious, but you would be astounded at how the stress of conflict can contribute to temporary flaws in judgement that can hide the true objective.  Leaders do this daily, usually multiple times a day, to keep their team running well.

Communication is the next essential skill without which I would be the much less effective.  I have learned the hard way that there can be a chasm between what you meant to say, what you said and how it was perceived.  Usually, you see two of these, but it is important to understand your own intent, how you can clearly communicate it and how your team receives the guidance, mission or task.  Additionally, the need to use the same skillset to help subordinates understand the broader scope of a situation and the details which make it unique, challenging, etc.  To validate this you need search no further than your social media or email inbox. Time and time again you will see people sabotage their own efforts with ineffective or, even worse, inflammatory communication.

Empathy can sometimes be intertwined with sympathy and both are valuable tools but it is the former that truly makes a leader effective.  Being able to fully understand the motivation driving individuals within a team is essential to working with them.  Everybody has a unique and different background that shapes how they react and respond to things.  I want to stress that this is something that is very hard to change and it can actually be a benefit to have different points of view.  You can only leverage these differing points of view if you understand the genesis of the perspectives.  Understanding and empathizing allows you to do this to build effective teams and to reach desired goals.

Leaders a unique individuals, at least good ones.  The best leaders subvert their one needs and wants for this of their team.  I recall being taught very clearly that as a leader you are a servant leader.  In the Army, our men ate first, slept first, et al.  I even recall on one field exercise, I gave one of my subordinates my sleeping bag when his fell off a vehicle while in transit.  It took about 2 seconds to decide to give him mine, especially because he was going to be forward deployed with no shelter.  Leadership serving the leader and making them look good.  When at its most beautiful, it is about doing everything for your team and succeeding through that.

All this means nothing without trust and successful leaders have integrity.  The do the harder right versus the easier wrong.  The act with ethics and honesty.  They earn the respect of their team by conducting themselves in a manner that shows all of the members that they have their backs.  I would like to say that all or even a majority of the population acts in accordance with this characteristic of leader, but sadly it is not the case.   A plurality act in the very natural paradigm of self success and achievement.  This is fine and, aside from egotists and narcissists, it rarely negatively impacts you in day-to-day life, but the positive impact of a selfless person especially in a position to help you can be a game changer.

This relates directly to the benefit that you can see when you work with a mediator equipped to bring you the benefit of these attributes.  Think of the power of being guided by someone who can help you set clear objectives for the process and the ability to see all sides and bridge the gap in a positive manner with clear communication while acting in an ethical and selfless manner.  If it sounds like a job description that is because it is.  That said, you need to look for the type of person who can fill that role.  Start with a leader.  One who can share with you the wisdom of leading teams and help you reach a fair and equitable outcome.

Do you have have a mediation need? Tell me about it and let me see how I can help.

I always end with a reminder that we have discounts available for veterans, first responders and law enforcement. Make sure that you check out the section of the page covering our commitment to those who served with discounted mediation services.  My lending partner also offers a discount as well, so if your buying or refinancing check it out