The following text is based on written exchanges with four leaders in the field of mediation: Kenneth Cloke [1], Joan Goldsmith [2], Rosemary Howell [3] & Alan Limbury [4] Compiled by Valeri Primo-Lack[5]

Leadership is a skill. It is not inborn, dependent on money, power, or titles. It is something everyone does at multiple points throughout their lives, whether they consider themselves leaders or not. We all have led someone somewhere, sometime, and can do it again – consciously, collaboratively, and effectively. Some skills, behaviours, and traits can be directed or mandated by others. But others cannot be mandated and must be led, demonstrated, facilitated, encouraged, supported, mediated, mentored, or coached[6].

When, in about 500 BC, Cleisthenes moved the Athenians toward a collaborative form of self-government, everyone was invited to participate in leadership as well as “followership.” The numerous democracies that developed around the world thrived on diversity, requiring leaders who bring diverse ideas, talents, perspectives, cultures, values, and constituencies that together formed an integrated, dynamic, collaborative whole. Leaders stood with, not over, above, or against, those who choose to follow.

There are three distinctive leadership styles[7]:

  • Autocratic: hierarchical, controlling, competitive leaders who take responsibility and make decisions for others;
  • Anarchic: bureaucratic, detached leaders who administer but abdicate responsibility and let others take the blame; and
  • Democratic: collaborative leaders who inspire, encourage, empower, facilitate, critique, support and share responsibility and are there to serve. Given that it aligns interests, we can refer to it as “mediative leadership.”

The reality or prospect of intense competition can result in autocratic or anarchic leadership styles. As we look to what the next decade may hold for mediation, the field has an opportunity to come together and very visibly practise mediative leadership.

Mediators are natural leaders. Leaders are natural mediators

Unlike other forms of leadership, mediative leadership is exercised not only at the “top”, but at the “bottom” and throughout. Like mediation, it seeks to balance power and challenges the very existence of “top” and “bottom”. It gives everyone the ability to become a collaborative leader, sharing the responsibility to pursue a joint mission in the common interest. Mediative leaders inspire collaboration, stimulate synergistic connections, support honest interactions, build trusting relationships, and encourage self-management, diversity and integration across boundaries. They connect people through problem-solving, dialogue, and collaboration, so they can intelligently co-create solutions. They synthesize diverse approaches, theories, orientations, and discoveries; spark innovation, and create synergies that strengthen consensus and inspire collaboration.

Mediative leadership requires leaders who can listen, empower others, generate trust, build relationships, and negotiate collaboratively (including with competitors). They are ubiquitous leaders, who can prevent and resolve conflicts, lead, follow, and build consensus. By the nature of what they do, leadership comes naturally to mediators. The field of mediation requires visibly concerted leadership that can inspire and orchestrate the co-development of the profession globally.

Mediative leadership competencies

Warren Bennis’ book co-written with Joan, Learning to Lead[8], identifies five primary competencies of leadership. Joan and Ken have added a sixth (#6):

  1. Mastering the Context: Understanding the big picture.
  2. Knowing Ourselves: Understanding our limits and skills.
  3. Creating Visions and Communicating Meaningfully: Having an inspiring vision.
  4. Empowering Others through Empathy, Integrity and Constancy: Building trust.
  5. RealizingIntentions through Action: Turning visions into practical solutions.
  6. Preventing and Resolving Conflicts through Collaboration: Preventing adversarial conflicts through skill and capacity building, using mediation.

The global dispute resolution field is ripe for mediative leadership

The mediation field has always been fragmented internationally. It requires conscious effort, and some structure, to lead collaboratively and implement strategic plans capable of driving widespread systemic change in a concerted manner. If the main players make that conscious effort to come together and demonstrate mediative leadership, leverage their collective experience and the benefits of technology, they will be able to generate a common agenda that seeks beneficial results for all stakeholders. Ways to do so could include the following:

a. Learn from differences and build cross-regionally

The Global Pound Conference Series 2016-17 (GPC) generated important new data showing regional variations. For example, the latest GPC series North America Report[9] reveals significant differences within the USA and with Canada. If such differences are observed within this region, it is fair to assume that there are even greater ones internationally. Can the mediation community step back to consider how mediation can be practiced more pluralistically and holistically, in a party-centric manner? Can different communities more systematically share and learn from one-another, across regions?

b. Educate and train mediation as a core skill for all professions

Many universities are often reluctant to provide vocational skills as opposed to academic learning. Teaming up with professional bodies can make it possible to promote the principles and practice of amicable conflict resolution as a core component of any degree. Business and law school curricula could both teach how to diagnose disputes, their tendency to escalate, interest-based negotiation, and when to bring in mediators. Students would be able to demonstrate skills in mediative leadership and how to facilitate negotiations and handle disputes. Professions that are regularly involved in disputes, such as law, project management, accounting and psychology, could make a comprehensive understanding of mediation a requirement for admission to practice.

c. Promote dialogue and connect all stakeholders

It is necessary to promote dialogue between all stakeholders to identify ways of supporting the uptake of mediation in the future in a concerted manner, aligning interests. If all stakeholders work together to collaborate in developing compelling, consistent messages to disputants, such as how to use mediation to prevent conflicts from escalating and prevent positional approaches from becoming stuck, the market will grow and everyone, mediators and disputants alike, will benefit.

d. Energetically develop all six leadership competencies as one mediation community

The world’s leading mediation institutions and their members could meet regularly to discuss the six competencies identified above. This could begin with a global conversation, convened by a neutral, non-services-providing organization, supported by service providers and professional bodies. Together they could focus on crafting a shared vision for the global development of mediation by 2030.

Who can do this?

Mediative leadership requires sharing power. If all stakeholders become owners, and not merely renters of the field’s future, mediation will become more widespread.

Who will design, build, own, and sustain these leadership skills and unlock mediation’s Golden Age? We will, together.


[1] Kenneth Cloke is Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution and a mediator, arbitrator, consultant and trainer, specializing in resolving complex multi-party conflicts internationally and in designing conflict resolution systems for organizations. Ken is a nationally recognized speaker and leader in the field of conflict resolution, and a published author of many books and journal articles. He was a co-founder of Mediators Beyond Borders.

[2] Joan Goldsmith has been an organizational consultant, coach and educator for the past thirty-five years, specializing in leadership development, organizational change, conflict resolution, and team building. Joan has authored several books on leadership including (with Warren Bennis) Learning to Lead, and the soon to be published Women Leaders at the Grassroots: 9 Stories and 9 Strategies.

[3] Rosemary Howell is the Chairman of Strategic Action in Australia providing mediation, facilitation and coaching services nationally and internationally. She has served a term as Secretary-General of the Law Council of Australia. She is a Professorial Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales and a Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Her doctorate investigates ‘How Lawyers Negotiate’. Who’s Who Legal 2019 identifies her as a Global Thought Leader in Mediation and she has recently been awarded Client Choice Australian Mediator of the Year by Lexicology.

[4] Alan Limbury is one of the pioneers of mediation in Australia. He established the first ADR practice group in an Australian law firm and was a co-founder, and subsequently a Chair of LEADR (now Resolution Institute). He has been at the forefront of establishing the Law Council of Australia’s policy on ADR, model legislation and rules for court-annexed mediation, ethical standards for mediators and the role and responsibilities of lawyers in mediation.

[5] Valeri Primo-Lack is a former banking executive and project coordinator working with LAWTECH.CH.

[6] Examples of such skills, behaviors and traits associated with leadership that cannot be mandated are captured by the following words: Trust, Love, Caring, Dedication, Creativity, Self-management, Curiosity, Honesty, Insight, Courage, Synergy, Empathy, Integrity, Compassion, Consensus, Understanding, Craftsmanship, Wisdom, Values, Passion, Perseverance, Forgiveness, Initiative, Unity, Flow, Trustworthiness, Collaboration, Follow-through.

[7] For more on this see: The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy by Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith (Jossey-Bass 2002)

[8] Learning to Lead: a Workbook on Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis & Joan Goldsmith (Basic Books/Perseus, 2010)

[9] The GPC Series was organized by the International Mediation Institute (IMI).  While it was not focused on mediation particularly, but all forms of dispute resolution, it provided insights into how mediation varies from country to country.  For more information about the GPC Series, click here. For the North American Report referred to and a summary of the differences encountered, click here.


Originally published via Mediate.com. Republished with permission.

Alan Limbury

Posted by Alan Limbury

Leave a Reply