Choosing Leaders

Even though I’m writing this post on the brink of a primary election, it’s not really about politics. The thoughts are transferable to that realm, but my mental processes were stirred by other experiences.

I’m a conflict resolution professional. I wade around in personal problems and organizational messes on a daily basis. Most often, the challenge to relationships or to the well-being of a group of people is directly linked to leadership.

What if we chose leaders based on elements other than power, prestige, and marketability? What if we looked to the humble servant?

I know. We have a system that rewards loudness and big promises. That reward structure is odd because we generally detest the loudness and the promises are rarely fulfilled. But our history is such, not just in politics, but in our personal relationships.

As you choose who leads you — in politics, in your workplace, in your personal life — consider those who quietly serve and humbly offer what they have. Their power is not based on their position. Yet, their influence is heard far above those who shout loudest.

Choose well.

When Conflict Systems Fail – an editorial

As I teach and train on the topic of mediation, I extol the virtues of process. I repeatedly emphasize that, to be successful as a peacemaker, individuals need to study and adopt a process that will help them and the parties at their mediation table step forward through the conflict. I believe this. I’ve seen it work more often than not.

But the practice of mediation is part of a larger system that is built on the following framework:

  1. Attraction and recruiting of individuals with a heart open to resolving conflict on a personal level
  2. Effective training of potential mediators in process, communication skills, and techniques coupled with the willingness of the trainees to adopt best practices
  3. Refusal of mediators to take shortcuts in the mediation process and a dogged determination to keep ethical practices in the forefront
  4. When mediation participants refuse to honor their agreements, an enforcement mechanism to ensure the integrity of the resolution

Thus, we need the right people with the right training to do the right thing at their mediation tables. And, if the parties renege on their agreements, we need a ready way to bring them back into compliance.

From time to time, I receive calls from individuals who are displeased with their experience in mediation. In virtually every conversation, items 1 through 3 above emerge. If the caller is accurate in telling me their story, they had the wrong person as their mediator. That person was often trained poorly or, as more often is the case, refused to accept the wisdom of their trainers. As a result of attitude or lack of preparation, the mediator violated ethical rules — most often the one about allowing the parties to make decisions without coercion. The most common complaint I hear is that the mediator “forced me into the agreement.”

Yes, I’m a realist. I know that some of these people weren’t coerced into an agreement. But I do believe that most perceived that they were forced. If we expect mediation to continue as an effective means of conflict resolution, we must deal with those perceptions.

I would encourage mediators and those who train mediators to look carefully at those first three notches on the mediation door post. We need to ensure that our profession continues its evolution as one of the most effective resolution methods ever known. To do that, parties to mediation must be satisfied — not necessarily with the outcomes, but with the processes and systems that serve as the foundation.

Yesterday, I received a call from an individual who apparently was the victim of the failure of all four elements of the mediation system. Her last comment to me stung. “So you mean to say that I can’t do anything about the mediator? And, since I can’t afford an attorney, that I can’t enforce the agreement against the other party?”

After a little more thought, I will address the fourth element of this mediation conflict system — enforcement of agreements. It seems to me that recent moves from the Texas legislature and the Supreme Court have addressed the wrong side of a problem by allowing limitations on mediation. Perhaps we should all take a closer look.


True Humility – A follow-up

After seeing my last post, True Humility, my good friend, Carisse Berryhill, shared the poem below from William Stafford. Such excellent words! Thanks, Carisse!

– William Stafford

Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self–
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

True Humility

I’ve never seen a peacemaker who wasn’t humble.

I have seen those who want to claim the title, but miss the absolute requirement of humility.

Sometimes, false humility will carry them for a while. However, when things get tough and emotions run deep, calmness drains from them and a steely determination takes its place.

It’s no longer about peace. Instead, the goal becomes manipulation and control. Some even call what they do “peacekeeping.” In truth, it is all about the triumph of the “peacekeeper” over those in conflict. The bottom line becomes winning for someone who wasn’t part of the struggle.

Too often, I have walked from a training of potential peacemakers knowing that some will never see nor understand a peace that is generated by the will of the opposing parties.

The true tragedy of never seeing and never understanding is that they miss the glimpse of mutual agreement and spiritual movement that gives rise to true humility.

If it’s about you, it isn’t peace.