Home Leadership The Relationship of Mediation and Coaching to Leadership
The Relationship of Mediation and Coaching to Leadership

The Relationship of Mediation and Coaching to Leadership


By Dr. Anthony Patete
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University

What is leadership? What is conflict? How are they related? The short answer is both rely heavily on self-determination to arrive at a solution.

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Leadership has been defined academically, ethically and practically. Managers have power and authority because those qualities were awarded to them; leaders have power and authority by earning them. However, not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers.

When discussing leadership, scholars approach the subject by considering different sources of power and leadership styles:

  • Legitimate power is afforded to a manager by virtue of his or her title or position.
  • Expert power is given to managers who possess significant knowledge of a job area which they are responsible for managing.
  • Reward power is attained by managers who have the ability to provide tangible positive incentives as motivation for employees to follow their orders.
  • Referent power is held by managers whose subordinates regard them with great respect or admiration, whether it is personal or professional in nature.
  • Coercive power is gained by managers who are able to administer punishment or negative repercussions toward their subordinates who do not follow their orders.

In addition to the sources of power, there are leadership styles that a manager can employ to reach established goals. Two of these styles are authoritarian leadership and participatory leadership. These leadership styles may engender some ethical issues.

Authoritarian Leaders Make Decisions without Consulting Others

Authoritarian leadership can cause subordinates to feel undervalued. Similarly, authoritarian leaders tend to make decisions with little regard for the opinions of those who are affected by their decisions.

Participatory leaders value input on a decision from all stakeholders. However, they also run the risk of considering too many opinions, which can hamper their ability to make correct business decisions.

Ethical leadership is the umbrella for leadership styles or sources of power. All managers must employ ethics whether they practice authoritarian or participatory leadership styles. Ethical leadership requires managers to consider the moral implications of their decisions while ensuring that those decisions are made with the best intentions for the organization.

Ethical leadership has been described by scholars Yajun Zhang, Fangfang Zhou and Jianghua Mao as demonstrating a normal approach through appropriate conduct of personal actions and interpersonal relationships while also promoting this conduct through communication, reinforcement of ideas, codes of conduct, and decision making.

As Clayton M. Christensen noted in The Tools of Cooperation and Change, “The primary task of management is to get people to work together in a systematic way. Like orchestra conductors, managers direct the talents and actions of various players to produce a desired result. It’s a complicated job, and it becomes much more so when managers are trying to get people to change, rather than continue with the status quo. Even the best CEOs can stumble in their attempts to encourage people to work together toward a new corporate goal.”

Leadership principles can be summarized using the CARET principle: communication, accountability, respect, education, and trust or truth. Leadership differs from management in that leaders take a macro look at an organization whereas managers take a micro look. It is the difference between setting strategy and implementing strategy.

Defining Conflict, Culture and Communication

Conflict can be defined as the perceived or actual incompatibilities of needs, interests, and goals of two or more parties. A conflict must involve two or more people or organizations and normally arises from a relationship or perceived relationship. If a resolution is to be reached, the incompatibility of needs, interests or goals must be identified.

Culture must be taken into account as a way of discovering conflict among individuals, groups or organizations. Culture is about how we will be together or the way we do things. It is the behavior and the belief system of the individual, organization or group. A party and its representative, or an employer and employee, along with the facilitator and leadership, must know and understand how culture affects leadership and the resolution process.

Conflicts Arise out of Relationships 

When people interact, they experience the behavior of others. These experiences and their observations are fraught with errors of perception and interpretation. Nowhere is this more evident than in communication.

Two behavioral acts are found in all communication: the sending and the receiving of messages. These two acts are almost never performed perfectly.

Imperfect communication gives rise to errors in perception and interpretation. However, this imperfect communication is also the key to conflict avoidance and conflict resolution. Since culture is expressed through communication, they are an indivisible part of conflict.

Alternative Dispute Resolution through Arbitration and Mediation

In the late 1980s, courts adopted a voluntary system of dispute resolution to reduce the backlog of cases. This system explored arbitration and mediation, which were not new to society but were new to the court system.

Arbitration involves the voluntary resolution of claims that becomes binding by an honest broker third party or a panel of arbiters. The result, however, could lead to an adversarial relationship between the two parties.

Alternatively, mediation involves a voluntary self-determination process. The parties to a dispute, in conjunction with a trained mediator, meet to discuss the conflict, explore possible resolutions, and come to a solution to resolve the conflict and preserve the relationship.

This conflict resolution is often done through communication and an exploration of solutions based on identifying the interests and needs of both parties. The parties must set goals and plan for the actual negotiation; then, implementation should be the goal.

Conflict diagnosis and resolution skills are now being taught as a crucial competence component for legal professionals. Often, this type of training takes place after law school; it is not viewed as a legal study, but as a study in interpersonal communication or psychology.

Interests, Values and Needs Are the Driving Forces Underlying All Motivations

Basic human needs are the driving force underlying all motivations. Discovering and identifying interests, values, and needs, and then understanding how they create a particular goal in a conflict, is an essential step. Discovering and identifying an interest, value, or need is the impetus to creating the conditions for an amicable resolution. The same applies to coaching or mentoring.

Coaching Serves as a Guide for Leadership

The coaching experience is the process of discovery for the client in a confidential setting. The coach merely serves as a guide. The fundamentals of a coaching relationship are to:

  • Define the opportunity or problem
  • Analyze options for resolution or goal setting
  • Develop an action plan
  • Hold the guide accountable for the goals and actions plan

A core competency of coaching is creating awareness. The coach must not be a mentor or problem solver. The client must arrive at a goal or solution through exploration, self-determination and awareness.

Creating awareness involves the ability to accurately evaluate multiple sources of information and arrive at interpretations and solutions that will achieve the client’s goal or agreed upon result.

Coaching and Mediation’s Relationship with Leadership and Conflict Resolution

Where do these two concepts intersect and why? If it has not been apparent up to now, the two concepts that connect these processes are self-determination and goal setting.

Conflict resolution and leadership include planning for discussions or decision making. The  intent is to come to a mutual agreement on the topic over which there is discord or disagreement or a common interest or need. The keys to this process are preparation, preparation, preparation!

In conflict resolution, a party should prepare; to do otherwise almost always ensures failure. Planning and preparation require you to:

  • Know your goals (interest, value or need)
  • Anticipate the other party’s goals
  • Do your homework in preparing for the process (the value of information and how to get it)
  • Understand the process
  • Design a strategy for the process and a goal

In leadership, using a coaching strategy, the process requires the leader to:

  • Define the opportunity or problem
  • Analyze options for resolution or goal setting
  • Develop an action plan
  • Hold the client accountable for the goals and actions plan

Do leadership and conflict face off? Yes, daily. Trust is easier to destroy than it is to build. The other party holds the key to success.

In the final analysis, coaching and conflict resolution share two key elements: both are a self-determination process and both require goal setting. Often, it is the journey and not the goal that is the most effective.

About the Author 

Anthony Patete is an adjunct faculty member at American Public University in the School of Business. He has taught law and business since 2004 and has been an administrator in post-secondary education. “Dr. P,” as he is affectionately known, provides his students with seasoned instruction, career guidance, coaching and conflict resolution.



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