Putting My Mediation and Collaborative Skills to Work During a Professional Transition

I usually spend my days helping divorcing couples navigate the separation and legalities of ending their marriage or co-parenting through the use of Mediation or Collaborative Practice.  For the past few months, however, I’ve been doing something a little different professionally.  I have been very involved in the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) for 15 years in various roles—as a member, committee member/chair, Board member, President, and then back to member. I have had a lot of history with this organization. My involvement recently took a turn I never could have expected, however.

Recent IACP Leadership History

Earlier this year, the CEO hired last year by the IACP resigned – which was actually a good thing, as she was not who she said she was and definitely was not capable of doing what she said she could do.  Having been through this unfortunate experience, however, the organization is understandably being careful about choosing a replacement.

Since we thought a candidate would be found fairly quickly, I was asked to fill in temporarily.  The position needs to be filled at least part of the time in Phoenix, AZ, so I have been “commuting” as needed – and the “temporary” part is stretching into longer than we all had envisioned.  As we enter our fourth month and I deal with the 100+-degree temps in Phoenix, I can say that I have learned a lot and have worked harder than I have in a long time!  When you get to this stage in your career, you typically know what you have to do and how to do it.  While there are still things to learn, most lessons are in context, which makes it easier—as it should be at this point.  Work is hopefully still challenging and interesting, but comes with a comforting sense of familiarity.

That has all changed since I took on this interim position. After three months, I finally have a sense of the CEO job and what is needed, but my learning curve is making me realize just how amazing our first Executive Director/CEO was.  She was with us for 11 years before retiring earlier last year.  She worked hard—I never fully appreciated how hard—and brought the organization to new heights, leaving tough shoes to fill.  We knew we would not likely be able to find a replacement who was as immersed in the community or as experienced as she was, but we hoped we could get some fresh perspective and new direction.  Unfortunately, that did not work out in our first selection.  While I know that I am not the person to do this long-term, I am doing my best in the short term.

Value of Mediation and Collaborative Skills

Interestingly, one thing I have learned is how valuable my Mediation and Collaborative skills are in this new and different situation. For example, I have a small staff to consider.  They are great and we are fortunate to have them.  Working with staff is different than working with volunteers, however, and I am learning how to balance the dynamic.  This transition has been hard on them, and I know that I need to consider what they have been through as well as the challenges they will face ahead with ongoing changes.  Of course they have jobs to do, and the organization needs them to do those jobs, so it is critical for me to create a healthy atmosphere in which they can function.  I try to give them the perspective of the organization so they can better do their jobs.  I realize it would be much more difficult to be aware of and balance their different needs without my professional training and background.

Other constituencies come into play as well. The IACP members do not really know what has happened or why, but they expect the organization to continue to serve them in the same way it has for many years.  Working with the members has required other skills and perspectives, which has also been made easier due to my training.

There is also the Board of Directors—hard-working volunteers who have been asked to do more than they would have if we were not in this transition.  I am so grateful for them.  I have gotten to know them—or, in some cases, gotten to know them better—from a different perspective.  My training has served me well here, too, as I have learned how to anticipate, provide what they need, and help them to gain the perspective they need to accomplish their goals.

Identifying Goals

In my Mediation and Collaborative cases, I am constantly identifying goals.  I help my clients identify their goals and then give them the resources to achieve those goals—or as close as we can get.  I’m finding that I’m doing much the same thing in my current interim position. Helping my clients to re-direct and continue to co-parent, for instance, is not all that different from helping the IACP Board to re-direct and achieve its goals.  (One of my goals is to take the extra work off the Board members’ plates as soon as possible, so they can go about the business of directing the organization.) Likewise, helping a newly separated couple sort through the changes and move forward in a constructive way is not all that different from helping the IACP staff recover and move forward.

It has been both challenging and rewarding to have this opportunity to help the organization that I believe in by using my training in new and different ways.  I believe this experience will also provide me with a fresh perspective when I return to my primary job of helping Mediation and Collaborative clients through their own personal transitions.