Book Review

Leading Through Conflict

by Mark Gerzon, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass., 2006, 273 pp., $27.95 hardcover

When conflict strikes in your organization or community, how will you pull people together? Mark Gerzon, author of Leading Through Conflict, specializes in working with leaders of conflicted groups and fragmented organizations. His clients range from large corporations, legislatures and communities to educational institutions.

Through case studies in a wide range of conflicts, the author provides eight tools leaders can use to transform differences into progress: integral vision, system thinking, presence, inquiry, conscious communication, dialogue, bridging and innovation.

His opening chapters describe the three faces of leadership: The demagogue, who uses a fear-based leadership strategy and establishes a win/lose mindset; the manager, who means well but operates only within his or her department, seeing issues as us/them and not the big picture; and the mediator, who thinks systemically and sees the entire picture, identifying all of the significant elements related to the conflict and understanding the relationship between these various elements.

The remainder of the book is devoted to the eight tools leaders can use. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on bridging, which looks at building partnerships throughout the organization. Partnerships are more likely to be effective if everyone has an equal right to be at the table regardless of social status or financial clout; if working relationships are open, honest and accountable; and specific results are attainable for every partner. The latter increases the likelihood that key stakeholders will stay committed.

While I enjoyed the book, I found it was a slow process because it was necessary to reflect on many of the points made in each chapter.

Reviewed by Paul A. Shaw, superintendent, White County Public Schools, Cleveland, Ga.