All Articles Leadership Inspiration Why leaders need to learn the art of reconciliation

Why leaders need to learn the art of reconciliation

Leaders who learn the art of reconciliation will be better equipped to bring people together and bring unity to the workplace, writes John Baldoni.

5 min read



Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

When people disagree, they do so for various reasons — ego, rivalry and even orneriness. When agreement is found, tensions do not always disappear. They linger. What one party regards as correct may conflict with the “rights” and beliefs of the other. Resentments develop and fester. 

john baldoni 2022

What is needed is a reconciliation, a coming together to resolve differences. Solving issues is often a dilemma, so the new book by Justin Welby, The Power of Reconciliation, is a welcome resource. Welby knows his topic well. He began his oil business career chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa. After a decade, he felt a calling and became an Anglican priest after being rejected initially. Welby then worked on and studied reconciliation issues throughout Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Welby is now Archbishop Canterbury, the leading cleric of the Church of England.

What is reconciliation?

His background, both civic and cleric, gives him a grounding in personal differences that fester. In conclusion to his book, he offers four perspectives on reconciliation that, while based on his faith, are grounded in the reality of human behavior. “Reconciliation is the transformation of destructive conflict into disagreeing well,” Welby writes. “The impact of disagreeing may continue to be disagreement … even a state of well-contained hostility.” But its outcome is “new possibilities of mitigating the harm.” No namby-pamby here. Stop fighting as a means of alleviating harm. 

Welby continues by writing, “Reconciliation offers the possibility of forgiveness, of the victim being liberated from the perpetrator’s control.” Furthermore, Welby argues that “reconciliation is a way of hope because it requires the stronger party to make the sacrifice of choosing to live with the weaker, and not to control, dominate and rule them.” Finally, “reconciliation opens the way to justice and truth. When sacrifice is made, then truth can be told.” And when that happens, “justice and mercy can meet and can be seen to be real.”

What emerges from Welby’s argument are vital concepts relevant to leadership:  stop the harm through forgiveness, sacrifice and mercy. Justice emerges from these elements. However, implementing these concepts can take time and effort. The challenge is to take the long view. What matters now is less important than what occurs in the future.

What is the leader’s role?

The leader’s role is to illuminate the way by setting direction and bringing people together. Simple, except that you are dealing with people, each of whom may have their ideas of how to do things based on their personal experience. And when things have gone wrong, and people get hurt, achieving unity is much harder. 

Leaders can facilitate reconciliation by making it clear that the power for healing lies within the disagreeing parties. Listen carefully to each party, separately and together. Invite both parties to have a discussion. Underscore the challenges and make no promises. Confirm that only the parties themselves can find a reckoning. Thank them for their willingness to listen. These steps are easy to state but may take a long time if ever, to implement.

The recognition that it may be impossible is not comforting, but it is reality. Addressing reality is a leader’s responsibility. Directly and conclusively. However, recognizing that some things are beyond us does not mean we do not try. On the contrary, it means we need to make an effort, if not for ourselves, but for those who come after us.

Peace through sacrifice and trust

Justice and peace can come about. President Bill Clinton, who was instrumental in instigating the Good Friday peace accords that ended sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, described his perspective in an op-ed for the Washington Post marking the 25th anniversary of their signing. 

“First, the process was driven by the people. They’d grown weary of the killing and the arbitrary tragedies of nonlethal political violence, and weary of the economic deprivation born of the divisions.” Political leaders, too, put their lives and careers on the line. “Trust was built slowly but surely through years of confidence-building measures, such as prisoner releases and cease-fires.”

“Though power-sharing has at times yielded frustration and even gridlock,” writes Clinton, “it has given each side the opportunity to make its concerns heard and work toward consensus.”

Justice comes only with acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Reconciliation supersedes justice because it embraces the notion of forgiveness and mercy. Justice is institutional; forgiveness and mercy are personal choices. Both are easy and may never occur. Yet, as Welby argues, we must try to reconcile. Doing so can bring peace to the heart and soul, even if pain and suffering remain. And it is in the suffering that we learn our strengths, what we can take, what we can endure, and what we cannot. Reconciliation, therefore, is the embracing of our humanity.


John Baldoni is a member of 100 coaches and leadership keynote presenter. He has been recognized as a top 20 leadership expert by Global Gurus, a list he has been on since 2007. He is also ranked as a Global 100 Leader and Top 50 Leadership Expert by John is the author of 15 books. His leadership resource website is 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


Subscribe to SmartBrief’s FREE email newsletter on leadership or HR to get news updates on topics like this. They’re among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.