The Ethical Leader as Herder – How herding cattle in Africa helped me to understand and appreciate ethical leadership

Harold Tessendorf

October 17th, 2022

I was raised on a small farm outside East London, South Africa.  Raising livestock and growing vegetables formed an integral part of our household economy.  My brothers and I were assigned roles in this economy.  One of these was to herd cattle by driving them out to pastures, bringing them in to be milked, and feeding them.  We also had to herd them to neighborhood farms for preventative medical care.   Our cattle were an important household asset, and we came to appreciate the responsibility that our parents had entrusted to us at an early age.  The death or injury of one or more of these cattle would place our family at financial risk.  They represented an important source of my parents’ savings.  The income that we derived from our cattle paid for our expenses, including our schooling.  This meant that as children that we had to be careful herder-stewards.    We had to plan our activities around the times that the cattle had to be moved.  We had to be alert to changes in the weather to safeguard these animals.  We had to be alert to the threats posed by speeding cars and early indications that a cow was ill or about to calve.  All of this taught us at a young age to be alert to the environment and the cattle themselves.  We learnt to read trends and adapt accordingly.   

I learnt that cattle were not uniform and that they could not be treated in the same way.  They had unique personalities and they gelled together to form their own herd hierarchy.  Some of the herd evolved as leaders and matriarchs.  Some had quirks that the others recognized and responded to. This was my introduction to the concept of informal networks that we find in human organizations and to the art of managing personalities effectively.  Our local climate was a harsh one with extremes in heat, drought, and cold.  With good care, our cattle proved to be adept at dealing with adversity.  While out in the pastures and especially when traveling to neighboring farms, I learnt that herding involves both movement and monitoring the situation for problems and anticipating where things will go wrong.    

Herding cattle became such an implicit part of my DNA that it was only later in life that I became aware of how it has shaped my approach to ethical leadership and management.  In addition to the herding stories that I heard and read in the Christian community that raised me, there are three authors who have shone an intellectual light on this phenomenon.  In the paragraphs that follow, I will share their insights before sharing my tentative conclusions that shows how my herding experience helps me to explain ethical leadership. 

The first author is the South African author Laurens van der Post who led columns of the Gideon Force in Ethiopia during the early years of the Second World War.  Van Der Post wrote that as the column leader, he needed to set the daily direction and then remain near the rear of the column.  Experience had taught him that it was near the rear that trouble was most likely to emerge since this was the most vulnerable part of the column.   I have applied this insight when leading organizations and initiatives over the past two decades and found it to be true.  Leaders send their most experienced people up front so that they can give feet to the direction the leader has set.  They can draw on that experience to solve any small problems that arise and they are also mindful of those to come when they select a path that heads in the direction their leader has set for them.  This frees the leader up to monitor and work with the vulnerable parts of the organization. 

Writing in Attuned Leadership – African Humanism as Compass, renowned South African business leader and ethicist, Reuel Khoza, introduces the concept of reciprocal leadership which can be likened to lateral movement.  Khoza defines reciprocal leadership as involving “…the mutual exchange of energy between leaders and followers with this all being based on trust…” and “…growing from the milieu that both the leader and followers inhabit…” (Khoza, 2011: 491).  Followers lend their power to their leaders who reciprocate by empowering their followers.  It is only when leaders enjoy this trust, are sensitive to the expectations and perceptions of their followers and have earned their trust, that leaders can take “bold and unprecedented steps” to achieve a vision.   

The feedback loops that link leaders and their followers serve to energize both parties in a virtuous cycle.  As the leader proves their competence and their alignment with their followers, the followers reciprocate by rewarding them with greater trust and authority.  Influence comes from the leader’s consistent behavior which builds their influence and allows them to project their power far beyond their immediate circle of followers and reports.  Leaders reciprocate by providing their followers with an account for their actions and outcomes.  Questions that they answer include the following:

  • What did you do?
  • Where were you when we needed you?
  • Did we get there?
  • How well did we get there?

David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, writes in The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company how his management style was influenced by his experiences herding cattle on the ranch that he co-owned with Bill Hewlett.  He went on to write that when he applied too much pressure to hurry the herd along, that his haste and impatience triggered a stampede.  When he applied too little pressure, then the cattle wandered off in different directions on their own.  Packard found that the key was to apply gentle, consistent pressure so that the cattle remained together and on track.  His ranching experience taught Packard to manage others by maintaining a gentle, yet consistent presence.    

Tentative conclusions

  1. Ethical leaders promote the common good.  Their moral compass leads to actions which ripple through their organization into the wider community it represents, resides in, and serves. 
  2. Ethical leaders choose and grow good middle managers from within their organizations.  This reinforces the need that senior management and board members actively and intentionally cultivate an ethical organizational culture.  Good middle managers are the lead cattle in the herd.  They set the pace after they have been given direction by the senior leader.  Ethical leaders know the strengths and weaknesses of their middle managers and understand how best to temper and direct them. 
  3. As part of this ethical culture, leaders invest the resources necessary to create and train the next generation of ethical leaders.  They ensure that the next generation is not only technically competent but also that they also understand the organization’s values and ethos. 
  4. Ethical leaders are present and circulating.  Borrowing again from the herding example, if the front of the herd runs into a problem and must turn back, then they will find their herder moving up to meet them.  In organizations, people will come across the leader who must have the technical competence and confidence to lead their people in that moment. 
  5. Ethical leaders need to be consistent in their message and management style.  Consistent behavior grows the leader’s influence. 
  6. Ethical leaders use the ethical exoskeleton to grow and reinforce the moral endoskeleton inside each of the individuals that they lead.  They model their own strong moral compass and exercise their power judiciously and compassionately.   
  7. Ethical leaders set direction and serve those whom they lead with undivided attention, coaching, commitment, and resources.  Ethical leaders draw from a deep reservoir of values. Ethical leaders are present, strategic, and technically competent.  Power is instrumental, to be treated as something that is used to advance the common good.  This final concept, the idea of promoting the common good, is what is commonly associated with being ethical.  


Khoza, R.J. 2012.  Attuned Leadership – African Humanism as Compass. Rosebank: Penguin Publishers.

Packard, D. The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company.  New York. HarperCollins.

Van Der Post, L. 1974. A Story Like the Wind.  London: Penguin Books. 

The Tessendorf Consulting Approach in Action

By: Harold Tessendorf

The Tessendorf Consulting Approach is a customized intervention that helps a client become more resilient by partnering with them through four steps.  These include action-research, co-design, execution, and accountability and evaluation. 

The following article which appeared in The Den, a publication of Mercer University, in September 2022, describes how this approach was applied to benefit the Streetscapes Urban Farm Program in Cape Town, South Africa. 

#socialenterprise #actionresearch #foodsecurity

Promoting Affinity Ownership through Community Investment

By:  Megan-Lee Meredith and Harold Tessendorf

January 21st 2022

In our book Social Enterprise as Peacebuilding, we highlight ownership as an essential component of any social enterprise that wants to be sustainable and resilient.  We continue to express the view that the widespread ownership of the tapestry of organizations that comprise our communities – traditional for-profits, nonprofits/non-governmental organizations (NGOs), small businesses, social enterprises, civic and social organizations, and government agencies chartered to manage community assets, help them remain socially and economically viable and resilient.  Our ongoing work with the organizations that serve inner city neighborhoods and rural communities has only sharpened this conviction especially as we watch these organizations grapple with problems such as the lack of capital and the need for succession planning. 

Our work has led us to ask and ponder the following questions:

In what ways can a myriad of ownership patterns help make communities more resilient? 

How can we increase and broaden ownership within communities? 

How can local communities mobilize their own capital to address pressing local problems so that they are not solely dependent on outside private, philanthropic and government funding? 

Can a hybrid model of local and outside investment assist community enterprises to navigate the sensitive issue of raising capital and succession planning, especially when their communities are experiencing a decline in population and when those remaining residents are aging? 

While the institutional definition of “corporate” includes any organized effort to mobilize tangible and intangible resources and use, earn income from, and dispose of assets, this word is mostly associated with the image of large, privately held businesses.   We believe that the structure and practice of ownership should not be viewed as an either/or proposition and that we should not limit ownership options to either that of the state or the for-profit/nonprofit corporation.  Instead, we argue that our communities can provide more opportunities for residents to own a piece of their local organizations.  Our central thesis is that we need to highlight the place that community ownership occupies on an ownership continuum that extends from the individual pole to that of corporation and government.

In the Community, or Affinity, Ownership Model, individuals, acting on their shared social connections and interests, pool their financial, human, social, intellectual, natural, and productive capital to create new, or to save failing businesses and local community assets.  As a collective, these individual investors and owners conform to the concept of an affinity group which social scientists broadly define as a group of people who are united by a common interest or purpose.  Building on this, we use the term affinity ownership to describe this model of community ownership. In this article, we use the term affinity ownership and community ownership interchangeably because this type of ownership is not necessarily limited to people living in the same geographical area.     Irrespective of the size of their individual investments, these investors agree to be governed by the co-operative principle of one member, one vote.  This distinguishes them from the mainstream shareholder model where investors are granted one vote for every share that they hold in the business.  Community and affinity ownership is an integral part of the cooperative movement, which traces its origins back to the Rochdale Pioneers of 1844. 

We continue to follow the work of the Plunkett Foundation as it supports rural communities in the United Kingdom (UK) when these communities decide to either to save their key local institutions or create new ones that address emerging local problems such as food insecurity and disinvestment.  The Plunkett Foundation pointed us to a 2020 Report titled, Understanding a Maturing Community Shares Market, which focuses on a  study prepared by a research and advocacy collaboration headed by Co-Operatives UK.  It highlighted the impact that the decade-old UK Community Shares Market had on rural communities and their economies.  Here is a summary of the findings:    

  • Since its inception a decade ago, community shares have raised £155 million to support 440 rural enterprises, of which 92% were still trading in 2020. Of these enterprises, which were also startups, 76% of them survived versus the UK industry standard of 42% for traditional startups.  Of the 8% that failed, only 1.4% failed to return any of the original investment to their community investors.
  • Successful community enterprises attributed their success to the fact that local investor-owners helped them to build customer loyalty, which translated into greater sales revenue and profitability.  Their local investors deemed these enterprises too essential to their communities to be allowed to fail. 
  • The shares are held by private citizens, with their financial investment also giving them shared ownership in the enterprise.  This ownership stake is governed by the cooperative principle of one member, one vote.   While investors can choose to invest more than the minimum required to be an owner, they all enjoy equal decision-making power.
  • Community shares are withdrawable (i.e. they can be redeemed by having the enterprises purchase them back from the investor), but they are non-transferable (which means that they cannot be sold directly to outside investors nor can they be traded on a stock exchange).  They can only be purchased by investors who agree to become members of the enterprise, understand that it is co-operatively owned, and agree to be bound by the principle of one-member, one-vote.
  • These investments are also governed by the principles of Patient Capital (no fixed payback date) and Flexible Capital (no fixed interest rate).  However, these principles do not permit the managers of these enterprises to decide if and when to repay investors.  As members, these investors have a seat on the enterprises’ Board of Directors that oversees management and decides, amongst others, on dividend payouts to investors.  Members are elected to the Board of Directors at the enterprise’s Annual General Meeting.  These enterprises are also required to produce regular and audited financial statements.    
  • These community shares have helped to leverage additional investments from traditional sources, including credit unions, community banks and co-operative investor networks. 
  • These investments are not necessarily into niche markets.  Instead, they include farms, grocery stores, housing, renewable energy, community centers, pubs, and even a minor league soccer club. 
  • Community shares have allowed more residents to invest in their local enterprises, thereby breaking the traditional investor stereotype.  The study found that keeping the share price at a minimal amount lowered the investment barrier for low- to-moderate income members of the community, as well as for women.
  • Since community shares are not regulated by the UK government, investors run the risk of losing their investment.  To address this risk, Co-Operatives UK created the Community Shares Standard Mark.  Shares are offered by licensed community shares practitioners with these being accredited by the Community Shares Unit.  This unit was created by Co-operatives UK, Locality and Baker Brown Associates. 
  • There are early and positive indications that the Community Shares Model is helping to address regional inequalities (i.e. the urban-rural divide) by investing into neglected and under-served communities. 
  • Another strength of this model is that community shares can be held by people outside the enterprise’s community with the principle of one member, one vote preventing affluent and outside investors from dominating the business and its decision-making process.  It also means that community enterprises can leverage the skills and talents of their outside investors to augment and complement their community’s capacity.  This can be of immense help to local nonprofits and businesses as they tackle the challenge of succession. 
  • Community shares have returned an average of 4.8%    

These results are encouraging with the study’s authors listing recommendations that the UK government, co-operative, and philanthropic sectors can take to strengthen the community shares market.  We feel that these results show that the Community Shares Model is worthy of replication in the communities where we live and work in South Africa and the United States of America.  It is clear to us that community shares are a viable way to mobilize community and affinity capital for investment into local enterprises that address social issues, produce goods and services that are valued locally and that build community connections, identity, and resilience. 

Succession Planning – A proactive tool to meet business and organization needs while delivering social impact

Megan-Lee Meredith and Harold Tessendorf

September 2021

The disruption that COVID-19 has caused all organizations has brought succession planning again to the fore.  This is true of all organizations, irrespective of whether they are organized as for-profits, non-profits, cooperatives, or government agencies.  It is true of organizations that serve urban and rural communities and applies whether their key personnel are paid staff or volunteers. 

Over the past 18 months, leaders and managers have resigned or retired earlier than planned, either due to the slowdown in business, through personal choice, or because of changing life and family demands.  This has left their colleagues to assume more of the workload.  Many of those who remain in organizations wonder how much longer they can maintain their frantic work pace given the work stress that they have inherited.  The viability of many organizations is threatened by this reliance on a limited pool of key staff.   The current and looming generational shift in leadership requires that all organizations create, or at least revisit, their succession plans. 

We first became aware of the phrase Succession Planning in 2010 when it became one of the hot topics to hit the conference circuit.  It challenged Boards and Senior executives to consider how they would respond to the planned or unexpected departure of senior leadership while minimizing any disruption that the organization might experience.

We define Succession Planning as the deliberative process that owners, trustees, and the senior executives of businesses, non-profits, cooperatives, and government agencies use to identify and groom candidates to assume roles currently performed by these organizations’ founders, current leaders, and key managers.  Such plans address not only generational succession (through planned retirement), but also emergency succession, when changes in life circumstances or moral failure result in the swift departure of key individuals.   Succession plans identify, amongst others, key leadership roles in the organization, outline the process the organization will follow to replace key people, and name those units within the organization responsible for executing its succession policy. 

Senior leaders continue to be responsible for succession planning at their organizations. It is a critical investment in the organization’s human capital.  When they make this investment, senior leaders ensure the organization’s ongoing viability and relevance. 

In the course of our work, we have noticed that Directors and Executives often tend to shy away from this topic. Some remain too caught up in crisis management, and so do not have the time nor the bandwidth to engage in succession planning.  Others feel insecure in their roles and tend to perceive any discussion about succession as an attempt to replace them.  Or they experience it as a reminder of their own mortality and that their involvement with the organization will end at point in the future.  Unfortunately, the failure to engage in succession planning will only put their organization at risk.  It will force the organization onto the defensive when the inevitable succession crisis hits. 

Does it have to be this way?  We say: No, it does not. 

What if we instead saw succession planning as a proactive tool – as the ability to strategically engage the senior leadership (Partners, Directors and Chief Executives)? 

Our experience with organizations that have proactively created a succession plan is that their overall performance improves.  We saw how succession planning allowed their executives to focus on medium-term strategic issues, including program and product development and delivery.  Once these executives knew and were confident that their work would continue even if something unforeseen were to happen to them, then it made them more intentional about empowering and mentoring their direct reports.  These senior and middle level managers developed the confidence and experience they needed to assume more senior positions when that time arrived.  All of this served these organizations well after their Chief Executive’s planned departure.    The same can be true at your organization.    

While the mainstream approach to succession planning focuses primarily on succession at the highest levels of the organization, we argue that it also needs to include all levels of the organization, especially its middle management.  A point in case was a recent conversation we had with the senior director of a well-established, employee-owned company.  He mentioned that a significant number of their middle managers are set to retire in the next five years.  This will result in much of their work migrating up to senior management unless the company creates and implements a plan to recruit and train a new generation of managers, either from outside the business or by grooming candidates from within. 

We have written more about the importance and aspects of succession planning throughout our book Social Enterprise as Peacebuilding. More information about this book can be found at

Succession planning is a useful tool to identify key leadership roles throughout the organization.  It also provides the organization’s leadership with the opportunity to explore how these generational shifts will allow employees and volunteers to assume even greater ownership of their organizations.  We will return to these topics in future articles.      


The Third in a Series of Articles

By: Harold Tessendorf

I was first introduced to the practice of co-mediation when I began my conflict resolution work in the late 1980s. The South African communities where I was raised and worked were deeply divided by the systemic discrimination created by colonial and apartheid practices.  The deep-rooted nature of that conflict also meant that South Africans did not view one another as being impartial.  Political and community tensions spilled over into organizations and businesses.  When South Africa’s religious and business leaders realized that their influence was largely limited to their respective identity groups, and that they were considered biased by other key groups, they began to work together to convene negotiation sessions.  My mentor and professor, Gavin Bradshaw, referred to them as being “dual mediators”.  My colleagues and I adopted this model to successfully mediate a wide range of community and business conflicts through the local peace committees established by South Africa’s National Peace Accord of 1991.  We referred to our practice as co-mediation.  

Co-mediation is when two or more mediators work as co-equals to assist the parties in conflict reach a negotiated settlement.  While co-mediation is sometimes used in divorce and community disputes in the United States, it is seldom used when organizations and businesses are experiencing conflict.  The purpose of this article is to shed more light on the practice and benefits of co-mediation.  

The practice of co-mediation is useful when the parties to a conflict have reached an impasse.  They see no way forward, but neither are they willing to return to the status quo.  They are “stuck” and become more entrenched.  The tensions between the parties are high; they deeply mistrust one another and outsiders; and, they have little to no prior experience of mediation.  They cannot agree on who to select as a mediator. 

Co-mediation is also useful when the personal relationship between the negotiators is weak and when they have limited experience in negotiating. Organizations can benefit from co-mediation as well, especially when they may have some in-house mediators who understand the issues and organizational culture, but whom one or more of the parties’ regard as being partial to the other side.  Pairing the partial in-house mediator with an external peer will increase the likelihood that the parties will reach a negotiated agreement.  Co-mediation is invaluable in community conflicts where there are often numerous and diverse parties.  It allows for the mediators to reflect the parties and their communities. 

During co-mediation, the parties will see and work with two mediators rather than just one.  The co-mediators will sit next to each other, and depending on their style, may alternate roles during the mediation.  For example, one of the mediators may take primary responsibility for helping the parties to understand the substantive issues (content) at the heart of their conflict while the other will focus on the negotiation dynamics (process).  Co-mediators can also caucus with each other to help move the negotiation process along.  Both solo- and co-mediators follow a similar process while assisting the parties with their negotiations.  These stages were mentioned in the second article in this series.  

There are several benefits associated with co-mediation.  It allows the mediators to better manage both the content and the process components of the negotiations. When using co-mediation in organizational conflicts, I find that this practice allows the mediators to better leverage their unique strengths, compensate for one another’s weaknesses and biases, and supplement the other mediator when necessary.  Co-mediation gives parties to the conflict leave to identify themselves in the mediation panel.  This practice also builds greater accountability into the process as experienced co-mediators serve as a check on each other and through that they build the parties’ confidence in the mediation process. 

Another benefit of co-mediation is that it is highly effective in dispelling the three myths of mediation that I addressed in the first article.  Co-mediation helps to remove the choice of a neutral, solo mediator from the conflict, thereby allowing the parties to focus on reaching a negotiating agreement which addresses the issues that are at the heart of their conflict.  Co-mediators can use their status as insiders with one or more of the parties to help them assess their options and tell them hard truths when this is necessary.  They can turn any pleas that the parties make for them to become their advocate into an opportunity to discuss options and offers.  

When building a culture of conflict management, organizations should invest in negotiation training so that their members are equipped with the practice and skills of negotiation as well as understanding how mediation can assist them when they are at an impasse.   Some of their peers will also have the skills needed to assist them with their negotiations.  Organizations should also develop relationships with outside mediators whom they can call on to complement their in-house mediators when necessary. 

Co-mediation is highly effective because it addresses the three myths of mediation.  It affords the parties with the opportunity to overcome their impasse and reach agreement sooner.   This leads them to waste fewer financial, emotional, and physical resources on a prolonged conflict and instead put them to more productive use.  Co-mediation also builds a sense of community and helps to strengthen resilience across the communities where businesses, religious and civic organizations and government reside and operate.   

Source:  Bradshaw, G.J. 2008. Conflict Management for South African Students – Theory and Application. Cape Town: New Voices Publishing.

What Mediation Is … And Is Not

The Second in a Series of Three Articles

Harold Tessendorf

Mediation allows parties to explore their conflict, generate options, and negotiate an agreement that they design together, own, and implement.   

Mediators are not partisan advocates who favor one party over the other.  Instead, mediators advocate for a sound process of assisted negotiation (mediation).  Elements of this sound process include acknowledging emotions, listening for convergent and divergent interests, joint problem-solving, and written agreements.   Mediators assist the parties by managing these elements.   

Given the confidential nature of mediation, mediators do not come with a list of references.  This makes it challenging to assess their competence and neutrality.  Choosing mediators does involve a metaphorical leap of faith but there are ways in which parties can mitigate this uncertainty.  They must remember that they remain in control of any agreement that might be mediated.  They can choose to end the mediation at any time.  A characteristic of mediation is that it is a voluntary process.     

Armed with this assurance, parties can then look for impartial mediators.  Mediators demonstrate their fairness by establishing credibility with the parties through their attentive “hearing”.  This leads the parties to feel that they are being respected and are being viewed as co-equal to the other side.  Mediators cement their credibility with the parties by consistently adhering to the ethical standards and processes that they outline during the preparatory conversations they hold with the parties.  They build their credibility further when they reiterate these points in the joint statements they make at the beginning of each mediation session.  They subsequently reinforce their credibility by demonstrating their competency throughout the mediation.   This means that the parties feel that things are moving forward, however painful and slow this may be.  Another sign of competence is when the mediators help the parties to transition from a win-lose mindset to one which encourages them to propose and consider new options that might move the parties closer to agreement.    

Mediation is an informal process.  This means that the session takes the form of dialogue rather than following the formal rules that govern business meetings and court proceedings.   

Mediation does not take place in public places.  A characteristic of mediation is that it is confidential.  This means that the parties and the mediator do not disclose their negotiations until they are ready to announce the details of any agreement that they have reached. 

Mediation is therefore a private process.  It also does not include unrelated parties and, except for community conflicts, is closed to the public.  This allows the parties the space that they need to conduct their negotiations.  Mediators help to make this space safe for the parties’ negotiations. 

Mediators are not the decision-makers.  In many instances, they are not experts on the technical and legal issues at the heart of the conflict and therefore are unable to offer advice.  They do not impose a settlement on the parties.  The power to make decisions always remains with the parties. 

Mediation is non-binding.  This means that the parties have the power to decide whether to terminate or continue with the mediation.  What is binding on the parties is the agreement that they negotiate with the mediators’ help, which they are then responsible for implementing.   

Mediators do not stand in judgment of the parties.  They understand that any conflict is filled with snares that trap parties and that make it difficult for them to reach agreement.  Since anyone can fall victim to emotional traps and mental blocks, honest mediators are humble enough to recognize that they, too, fall victim to the snares in their own conflicts.   They accord grace to the parties.   

Mediation is a process that may not be concluded in a single session.  All mediation sessions result in one of three outcomes.  They may result in full or partial agreements on the substantive issues at hand.  They may also yield no agreement, except possibly an agreement to meet again after the parties have reviewed their options based on insights they gathered during the mediation. 

In the next article, we will build on this understanding of mediation by looking at the practice of co-mediation and how parties can use it to address any lingering concerns that they have about impartiality, advocacy, and mediator competency. 

Misconceptions about Mediation when Dealing with Organizational and Community Conflict

The First in a Series of Three Articles

Harold Tessendorf

During my recent work advising organizations and communities in conflict, I have encountered several common misconceptions about mediation.  These collude to prevent parties from reaching a negotiated agreement.  In this first of three articles about mediation, I share three misconceptions and explain what is driving them. 

The first misconception is that mediators must be neutral. The term “neutral” is commonly associated with court-mandated mediation where the judge mandates that the parties seek outside mediation before hearing and adjudicating the case.  Mediators are called “neutral” because they are unrelated to the parties and have no material stake in the outcome.

Neutrality is more difficult to achieve when conflicts involve organizations and communities.  This is especially true when the mediator comes from within the larger organization or lives in the same community.  The closer the mediator is to the conflict, the more likely it is that they are concerned with and have an opinion about it.  Since mediators have a desire to see that these conflicts are better managed, they are also more inclined to want to limit the disruption from these conflicts.    

It is more reasonable for parties to expect that mediators act impartially. Impartiality does not mean neutrality.  Instead, it means that mediators look at the bigger picture and treat all parties fairly while assisting them to negotiate agreements.  This fairness helps the parties to trust and accept the mediators.

The second misconception arises when mediators are confused with advocates.  In many conflicts, parties fail to choose a mediator because they are looking for a third party who will intercede on their behalf, adjudicate in their favor, and punish the other side.  This leads their opponent to question the mediator’s motives and reject the offer to mediate. 

This leads to the third misconception, namely that of the solo mediator.  The mediator is viewed as a superhero.  Again, this misconception owes its origins to the parties’ experience of the judicial system where a judge hears the case and then decides in favor of one of the parties.  We can also trace this misconception to our childhoods when we had a dispute with our sibling.  We appealed to a parent to settle this disagreement and expected that they would do so in our favor. 

Organizational and community mediation is strengthened when the parties engage a panel of mediators instead of relying on a single mediator. This increases the likelihood that the parties will reach agreement.   

What drives these misconceptions is the way in which the parties understand conflict. Since parties to a conflict feel aggrieved, they come to view their conflict as being win-lose. They do not want to be the first to compromise as they fear that this will be interpreted as weakness and loss.  They do not want to admit that some of their actions may have contributed to the present conflict.  This leads to an impasse. 

In the next article, I will explore what mediation is and is not before exploring co-mediation in the third and final article in this series.  As a teaser, mediators allow parties to explore their conflict together and then generate options which allow the parties to negotiate an agreement that they design, own, and implement.   

Crisis Mediation – Some Reflections from a South African-born Mediator

Harold Tessendorf

September 2020

As the United States enters the final stages of the 2020 presidential election and as the summer of protests and counter protests continue in cities and communities across the country, the following questions keep recurring to me: 

Is it possible for protesters and counter-protesters alike to express their political views in a non-violent and safe way?

Is there a way that police efforts to maintain public order can resemble community-policing?

Is there a template that local police, protesters and counter-protesters alike, can follow?

The answer to these questions is … “Yes”.   There is a model that emerged in South Africa during the 1990s that can, and should, be adapted to work in the United States in 2020. 

Between 1992 and 1994, I served as the Director of the Eastern Cape Regional Peace Committee.  This organization was created as part of South Africa’s National Peace Accord which business and church leaders hammered out between the leaders of the African National Congress Alliance (ANC), the white National Party government, the South African Police, the Inkatha Freedom Front and smaller parties.  I helped to establish local peace committees in communities across the Eastern Cape and mediated numerous local political, community-police and business disputes. In addition to serving as a crisis mediator, my office also coordinated the training of thousands of community mediators and peace monitors

One of the many community-police conflicts that I mediated took place in the town of Graaff-Reinet.  Its local government repeatedly refused to issue a protest permit to the local ANC.  No reasons were given for this denial.  When the ANC attempted to force the issue using an illegal march, the marchers were dispersed by the local police, resulting in injuries and the destruction of property.  I was called upon to mediate the dispute.  Through a series of joint sessions and caucuses with the parties, we were able to arrive at an agreement.  After learning that the local government’s key concern was that the marchers would destroy property, the ANC agreed to have sufficient marshals on hand to deal proactively with any unruly elements.  The police agreed to keep sufficient forces on hand to line the parade route while also closing and re-opening intersections as the marchers made their way to the City Hall. Paramilitary units were kept on standby but out of the marchers’ sight.   In exchange the ANC agreed to a set march route and timetable.  Local peace monitors also marched along the route to observe that all of the parties kept to the agreement.  They also were to let the mediator know about any potential flashpoints so that these could be addressed before they became violent.  Finally, the mediator, ANC leaders and police leaders remained physically close to one another so that they could quickly respond to any flash points that emerged during the march. 

This protest march went off without incident with all parties keeping to their agreement.  This gave all the parties the confidence that they could effectively manage protest marches.  It was also a productive relationship-building opportunity which led to more cooperation between these leaders as South Africa continued its transition to a post-apartheid society.      

Creating Citizen Crisis Mediators and Monitors in South Africa

  1. A group of committed peace committee members and peace secretariat staff collaborated to produce a training manual which introduced participants to the codes of conduct governing the different parties as well as sections on negotiation and mediation skills and practices. 
  2. The peace committees and their staff reached out to civil society organizations such as business groups, congregations, civic clubs and student organizations to educate them about mediation and to ask them to publicize the mediation training events.  This outreach was made easier as the peace committees themselves included representatives from these different stakeholders who kept their respective organizations updated about the work being done.   
  3. Experienced mediators used the manual referenced above to train members from the regional and local peace committees, as well as individuals identified through civic associations.  After completing their training, these mediators and monitors were deployed in their community and called upon as needed. 
  4. The regional and local peace committees created mediation teams which reflected the composition of the parties to the conflict.  Team members trained alongside each other so that they understood one another’s strengths, weaknesses, and personalities so that they were could work well together as co-mediators.   
  5. Business and church leaders engaged with national and regional political leaders, including those associated with extremist groups, to ensure that they understood the reason for, and role of, the crisis mediation teams.  This outreach also gave greater legitimacy to the mediation teams and the process that they followed.   
  6. Crisis mediators and peace monitors were clearly identified by their distinctive vests and caps.  They had communications equipment which allowed them to remain in touch.  Mediators also followed a set protocol to engage with the parties in a way which ensured that they were viewed as impartial.  
  7. Crisis mediators and monitors followed a code of conduct which included the values of impartiality, fairness and competence.  These values are ones associated with mediation.  This code of conduct was included in the training session and was also shared with the parties to conflict so that they knew what to expect from the mediators and monitors.    
  8. As the elections drew closer and as more peace monitors were recruited to augment the mediators, the decision was made to provide these monitors with small stipends.  This was especially important in neighborhoods and rural communities experiencing high levels of poverty as these economic realities would otherwise have prevented people from these areas from being able to serve as mediators and monitors.  It was felt that the absence of representatives from these communities would have undermined the effectiveness of the crisis mediation teams.
  9. Street-level, crisis mediation sessions complemented facilitated negotiations between ANC, police and local government over issues such as housing, policing, education and local government services.   

The Outcome and the Possibility

While it was difficult to envisage how bitter rivals such as the ANC, Inkatha and Police leaders could negotiate community agreements to keep the peace, their success in doing so with the help of local mediators proves that people who passionately hold different opinions can find common ground.  The South African example shows that it is possible for parties to keep the peace while simultaneously tackling the systemic issues which lie at the heart of their conflict.  In the process of building relationships to keep the peace, they discovered a shared humanness which made reconciliation possible. 

I believe that community leaders in cities and towns across the USA have the ability to negotiate agreements just as their counterparts did in Graaff-Reinet and thousands of communities across South Africa.  With the resources and capacity that US communities have at their disposal, communities can invest in crisis mediators to help deal with volatile flash points during marches while, and this is very important, simultaneously engaging community leaders to begin addressing the underlying issues and practices that gave rise to the protests in the first place. 

Harold Tessendorf served as the Regional Peace Director of the Eastern Cape Regional Peace Secretariat between 1992 and 1994.  An experienced mediator and trainer, he also served on the committee that drafted the training manual used to train crisis mediators and peace monitors in the lead up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in April 1994. 

Achieving Effectiveness During and Beyond Mergers

By Harold Tessendorf, Tessendorf Consulting – Certified Aligned Influence Consultant

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the recurring questions that have surfaced in for-profit and nonprofit circles include, “How many organizations will survive this pandemic?” “How many of them will shut their doors?” “How many of them will be forced to merge with others?” National organizations which have affiliated structures have responded to these questions by, in some cases, restructuring their operations to provide staff, documents, and checklists to assist local organizations as they merge. Local organizations, which operate independent of a national organization, are faced with having to navigate this on their own, placing even more strain on their board and executive leadership. Irrespective of whether organizations have a parent body to lean on or not, the decision whether or not to merge lies within the realm of the organization’s governance structure.    

These questions of what to do with struggling organizations beg further questions. Whose responsibility is it to make the decision to merge? Is it the role of the organization’s board or does it fall within the realm of the staff? And does this all change if the organization is the weaker or the stronger partner in the proposed merger? How will the new organization merge not only the assets of the old organizations, but also the interests of those organizations’ stakeholders? How will the new board merge the roles of each of the pre-merger boards? What happens to staff who fill duplicate positions at both organizations? How will they be accommodated within the new organization? How do organizations merge in a way that helps the new organization to be stronger, more resilient, and to have more community support than before? How does the history, program impact, and institutional memory of the organizations that merged inform the new organization?  While these questions emerge early, they will continue to surface throughout the merger process. 

With the goal of ensuring organizational effectiveness, Aligned influence® introduces boards of directors and the executive leadership team to their aligned, complimentary roles of Direct – Lead; Protect – Manage; and Enable – Accomplish. This alignment is central to organizational effectiveness and is even more important during periods of growth and re-organization, including mergers. Therefore, boards and staff must remain cognizant of this alignment throughout the three inter-related and progressive stages in the merger process, namely pre-merger, merger, and then post-merger. Each of these stages produce its own set of iterations on the questions listed above as the board and the executive staff work to stay aligned and thereby effective.   

Aligned Influence® can help boards and executives successfully navigate the strategic decision to merge.    Aligned Influence speaks to the importance of role discipline with its related variables of open communication and mutual respect for the role of the board and executive leadership team. Boards should be asking whether a merger will allow their organization, or its successor, to honor their “Direct” policy and they should be proactively engaging with and reviewing the input they receive from the organization’s stakeholders. These stakeholders include staff. Since the executive leader and their staff have a vested interest in any merger, the board should take their input on the programmatic implications of a merger into account when deliberating about a merger. Boards should be sensitive to the natural concerns that staff will have about mergers such as job losses or fears of being overburdened with additional responsibilities and service areas. However, the board should not abdicate its role of directing and enabling the organization and should never place all of the responsibility of mergers squarely on the shoulders of their executive leaders. At the same time, staff should not abdicate their responsibility to execute their manage and accomplish responsibilities during this time. Staff are not responsible for making the decision whether to merge or not. This decision rest with the boards of the respective organizations. Once that decision has been made, then staff, starting with the executive leaders, are responsible for planning for and accomplishing the merger of said organizations.

While the organizations’ boards and executive teams deliberate on these questions, they need to be mindful that their organizations are undergoing both change and transition simultaneously. On the surface, there is the change that the merger is bringing – changes in name, structure, roles, programs, service areas, and legal identity, to mention but a few. There are templates for these changes which boards and executive staff can adopt and modify to fit their circumstances. Accountants and attorneys play an important role here as they account for and combine assets and then safeguard these in new legal documents. Customized templates and resources provided by parent organizations also play a role at this juncture in the merger process. But below the surface, there are transitions which need to carefully navigated to ensure that the new, combined board and the executive staff are also aligned with their new internal and external stakeholders and that these embrace the new, merged organization that has emerged. Some of the questions that the merged board and executive staff now have to consider include ones about what adjustments the board needs to make to their Direct, Protect and Enable policies so that these can inform the strategic and tactical plans which the executive staff are responsible for as well as the operational policies that they use to manage the work of the new organization. 

Aligned Influence® is present at each of the three stages in the merger process. Deciding whether to merge or not; discussing how this impacts the “Direct” policy, ensuring that the organization continues to have protective boundaries, and engaging sensitively with internal teams and stakeholders throughout the process is the responsibility of the organization’s board of directors. The executive leader and their staff can best support the merger process by remaining disciplined in their roles by planning how the merger will impact their strategic plans, modify operational policies to ensure that they manage within the protective boundaries that the board has established, and ensure that the organization is well managed throughout the process

By drawing on their extensive experience of navigating mergers and organizational change, Aligned Influence’s team can help boards of directors and executive leaders to apply the Aligned Influence® model as they navigate decisions about mergers.