Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Holding the middle, especially this week, is hard work.

The middle is not a compromise.  It’s not a lack of opinion or feeling.  It’s also not a passive place.  It’s a very active role in holding center while others around you get pulled (sometimes manipulated) to the extremes.

The middle doesn’t hate. It neither puts itself above anyone, nor is it a victim to anyone else.  It’s not a place where people are looking to win over someone else.

In the middle, people understand that conflict is inevitable, and that how we deal with conflict is sometimes even more important than the conflict itself.  Being in the middle requires reaching across the aisle, or the dinner table, and showing respect, and seeking understanding.  In the middle, disagreement is an opportunity for learning, and that dialogue and discourse are the way toward being a peaceful, informed society.  In the middle, we find shared values, interests, and goals.  The middle is the only place where collaboration and synergy can exist – where 2 plus 2 can equal 5.

The middle is quiet, and right now, that is part of why it is at risk.  It’s intelligent and sexy, but in a quiet way.  Not unlike Trump supporters in blue states, those in the middle are increasingly quiet about their position because it’s not popular, and holding it is sometimes seen as a failure to support friends and loved ones.  That quiet means we have to work harder to hold it.

And right now, the middle isn’t very popular.  Those in the middle are being pulled by those on the ends to join in.  When waves of euphoria, or rage, or entitlement sweep people up into a movement, saying to them, “No, thank you.” can be seen as oppositional.

Meanwhile, the ends are seductive.  It’s liberating to yell and vent, whether one is in a position of power or feeling oppressed.  It releases chemicals into the brain that are as powerful and exhilarating as a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning in your home ballpark, or a third encore of your favorite artist’s concert.

But, not unlike an eye for an eye, when we fight and yell and try to overpower, the other just regroups and comes back to yell even louder, or show their power or their teeth to win the next time.  Witness America’s pendulum-like swings from Kennedy to Nixon/Ford to Carter to Reagan/Bush to Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump.  If the pendulum were slowing and calming, and our swings as a nation becoming less pronounced and adversarial, we would be working our way toward a more sustainable middle.  But our swings have held or increased in their wildness between some people and the other people; between us and them.  So, in fifty years, is it working?  Some might say that this is how democracy is supposed to work.  I believe that we can do better.

This week, I had people I with whom I’m very close at both the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump and the Women’s March on Washington, and in various cities.  The middle was hard to hold this week.  Next week, I invite you to join me.  As a country, I think we could use some more people holding the middle right now.  I’ll hope to see you there.

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As a mediator and leadership coach, I have to say this:  While generally I don’t disagree with most of what Meryl Streep said during her acceptance speech for the Hollywood Foreign Press’s Lifetime Achievement Award at tonight’s Golden Globe awards, she did miss an incredible opportunity.

First, she used her audience, her station, and her status the same way she accuses President-Elect Trump of using his.  Then, by attacking him, all she did was up the ante and unify his supporters (half of our country), while ensuring that Newton’s third law of physics persists:  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As long as any of us advocate for one “side” over another, or argue over who/what is right/wrong, and frame it as “us and them”, we simply continue volleying in the same game.  The only way to unify us as a people, and appeal to the vast middle of the bell curve, is instead to catch the ball, stop the game, walk to the middle of the court and have real dialogue, with listening, understanding, and acknowledgement.

If you were cheering her speech, you may be caught up in the game, too.  We call it confirmation bias, where you seek out what you agree with because it feels good.  If you are booing it, maybe you should listen again and hear her words.  The fact that she delivered them in advocacy doesn’t mean that they are wrong; it only means she said them in a way that some couldn’t hear them.  And perhaps with a little too much judgment.

As a mediator, I know that telling people they are wrong doesn’t change their minds.  And as one who regularly mediates with the biggest celebrities in “Hollywood”, I know that even the ballroom before her was divided.  I also know that her talk made it unsafe for any who disagreed to speak up.  That’s why the election polls were so inaccurate.

We should be seeking to make people stop and scratch their heads and think in a new way about things they hadn’t before considered, rather than seeking to make the majority cheer and raise a fist.  As long as both sides persist in the latter, we are trapped in this volley for the unforeseeable future.

I call upon my mediator and leadership colleagues, and on all of you reading this, to help change the game and create dialogue, modeling more inquiry and active listening than advocacy.  It is up to all of us.

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Am I the only one who is tired of political rhetoric?  Am I the only one tired of turning on the TV and radio only to hear Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olberman, Bill O’Reilly, Randi Rhodes, Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow earning big bucks for doing nothing more than repeating sound bites, talking points and arguing extreme perspectives on every issue?  How did we get to the point where political debates were so politically correct that our leaders are afraid to say anything that their base might disagree?  How did “We the people” allow our politicians to become puppets to special interest groups and lobbyists with the largest budgets?

It really is time for a change.  In a time where more mediators are running for office, bringing with them the skills that conflict resolvers use, and where for a recent judge seat in Los Angeles County, four mediators were among those running, I think the change is more one of process than of ideals.  While most will agree that President Obama has certainly been a change from his preceding President Bush, many would also say that policy change has not solved the problems we face.  What is needed instead is process change.  Until we change the way we do leadership, in government, big business and in every organization, whether a massive homeowner’s association or a small non-profit board, we will continue to face the same frustrations, the same failures, the same disenfranchising, and the same power struggles.

John KavanaghKyrsten SinemaThis is why I decided to hold our Immigration Dialogue 2010 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on July 23rd.  Sponsored by the American Institute of Mediation, this will be a discussion of a different kind.  Rather than hosting a debate, where each side slings sound bites and talking points at the other, and the result is that each audience member becomes even more galvanized behind the position they carried with them into the debate hall, we are putting on a facilitated dialogue, essentially a mediation, featuring Arizona Representatives John Kavanagh (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D).  We will discuss the immigration issues facing our nation, and have some discussion about Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which is due to become law on July 28 of this year.

These two lawmakers, both intelligent and articulate, along with their constituents, have lived with these issues up close and personally in recent years.  Because of their experiences and their perspectives on the immigration issues we all face today (the fact that there are somewhere between 11 and 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country), we can delve into the underlying interests that they and their constituents hold, that are driving their positions on the solution.

In hosting this event, the American Institute of Mediation is hoping to commence a change in the way we all talk about the critical issues that face our society, and to become more collaborative and a little less competitive; to listen more and argue less; and to explain, describe and attempt to understand, rather than simply repeating sound bites and talking points.

We will attempt to find the underlying interests that they have in common, and build from there because we believe that solutions that are derived from people’s interests are generally strong and long lasting, and we hope to demonstrate this by moving this discussion in that direction using the same skills that mediators use on a daily basis.

If a mere 120-minute dialogue about immigration among stakeholder representatives could curtail protests, boycotts and protracted litigation, wouldn’t you welcome the opportunity to watch such a conversation live and in person?  We expect to fill a 300-seat neutral venue in Los Angeles with members of the public, government, law enforcement and of course the media who would witness how parties interested in the controversial immigration question might come together to have a facilitated dialogue from which every state, not just Arizona, could benefit.

We will do all that we are able to provide a safe, protest-free venue, a respectful audience, media coverage and the opportunity for our guests to speak about their issues freely and fully.

I am donating my time and resources to this project because in my 16-year career as a mediator, I have never encountered a conflict that could not benefit from a structured mediative approach when the parties so need to have their interests understood.  I believe the immigration dilemma has been minimized to sound-bites and protests and is no exception to this rule. Our guests, as thought leaders on this topic deserve to be better heard and understood by those who disagree with them, and we are able to provide that forum.

We invite you to join us for this AIM Institute Special Event. Only 200 tickets will be sold, so register now before it sells out. Advance registration is required, and parking is free.  Video highlights will be available online at the AIM Institute site following the event.

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Saying Goodbye to The Great Teachers

Author: Lee Jay Berman

John R. WoodenJust one week ago, members of the mediation community gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the life of our dear friend and mentor Richard Millen (see Mediation World Loses a Patriarch).  My friend Phyllis Pollack wrote a wonderful summary of that night in her blog.

Today, we lost the great teacher and coach John R. Wooden, long time and legendary UCLA basketball coach.

I’m wondering with these teachers now gone, will we continue to follow their lessons?  I’m wondering with them now gone, the Dalai Lama turning 75 and Nelson Mandella turning 92 next month, I’m wondering who will be our next great teachers?  Who will walk the talk and live a life that embodies both greatness and goodness?

Wondering this makes me proud to have been in the company of Ken Cloke last week.  Ken was a co-founder of Mediators Beyond Borders and has published prolifically.  Ken is a great teacher who lives a life of compassion and grace.  Erica Ariel Fox is another.  She founded the Global Negotiation Insight Institute and is working on her first book.  I see many other great mediator friends doing incredible work – teaching conflict resolution skills in prisons, or to children.  Most of them are growing and preparing into our next great generation of teachers.

Sports might offer us Coach K at Duke basketball or Phil Jackson and his blend of Native American,  Zen and Christian learnings, known for giving his multi-millionaire players books on philosophy, spirituality and balance.

I don’t think we’re going to see teachers of the caliber of Richard Millen and John Wooden any time soon.  They had so much in common, not the least of which was, to quote Kareen Abdul Jabbar on Coach Wooden, “he sent a lot of good people into this world.”

Coach Wooden had said that his proudest accomplishment as a player was being named Scholar Athlete of the Year at Purdue.  Richard Millen, a humble young man from Tennessee  became a Harvard Law graduate.  The national college basketball players of the year (man and woman) receives the John R. Wooden Award; the Southern California Mediation Association’s peacemaker of the year receives the Cloke-Millen Award.  Both men were selfless – Coach Wooden was paid $32,500 in his final year at UCLA in 1975; Richard Millen also made a small fraction of those mediators who he mentored.  Coach lived by, “Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of being.”  While Richard Millen would agree, perhaps his favorite was, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:  ‘we did it ourselves’.”

Who will lead us next?  Who will be our next great teacher?  Who will be worthy of us learning from?  Will it be you?

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