"John" and I founded and used to run a nonprofit. I have been detached from the company but do not desire or plan on having anymore influence in the organization. I have nearly as much influence as John. He stepped down to pursue other activities and handed the torch to "Ross", a former employee/volunteer. Ross doesn't have any ownership over the company. Neither John nor I can force Ross to do anything, although we can remove him (albeit we don't have a valid replacement).

Ross did not do as well a job as John at running and growing the company, and John was bothered by this, since he felt attached to his company and still wanted to help guide its direction. Thus John began to call Ross nearly weekly, but almost all the conversations would frequently turn heated - John wanted things to be run one way, but Ross felt that John shouldn't have an opinion since he doesn't actually do any work for the company anymore and thus is unfairly restricting Ross's autonomy. Because of these heated calls, Ross now thinks of John as a controlling "jerk" (his word) and John thinks of Ross as irrational and choleric.

Both sides have a point - John doesn't do much work for the company anymore, and Ross hasn't done as well a job as John. I serve as a neutral intermediary between the two, trying to resolve this conflict.

Yes, there is an unclear power dynamic: John wants to act like Ross's manager (and his advice may help Ross), although Ross doesn't like this because he feels like John is bossing her around when Ross is the leader and John doesn't do any work for the company. We considered creating a board but there was the issue of finding board members that both leaders would agree upon.

Both parties reached out to me separately to talk about the issue given that I have the same power as John but don't use it. I wanted to help them resolve this conflict because I saw them struggling and saw room for improvement.

The issue is that a good chunk of John's points to Ross are valid, so I would love for Ross to consider them. However, based on my conversations with him, John feels that his ideas are the best and Ross should be listening to all of them, and thus attempts to impose his will upon Ross and the company, angering Ross. Having more people involved in the discussions may provide a way for John's ideas to be backed by others and show Ross that they are valid, while also filtering John's bad ideas. I am close to both parties so with enough talking I could get them to agree to whatever new systems we implement.

Given their positions of power and hostile relationship, how can John give advice to Ross on issues that both plague that company on a week-to-week and strategic basis without Ross reacting negatively? Or to generalize it for future readers, how can a former leader who wants and thinks they have the same amount of power as the current leader effectively advise the current leader without appearing overbearing?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Brian, please edit updates to relevant questions into the OP - the linked chat room is good for chat type of discussion too. – enderland Mar 18 '18 at 21:34

How to Reconcile Two Hostile Leaders Desiring Equal Power?

You don't unless you have the authority to make decisions. You're not their mum and you have no real deciding influence. All that you could accomplish is becoming embroiled in their dramas and destroying your own positive relationship with each.


The working relationship between John and Ross is irretrievably broken. You're not going to be able to mediate this - one of them has to go. Whoever owns the company has to make the decision either to remove Ross (hopefully via a mutual agreement, but if necessary by sacking him) or to give Ross the authority to tell John to get out and stay out. There are no other options here, it just isn't going to work to have both John and Ross still involved.

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    @abagh0703 The OP pointed out in a comment that the two parties couldn't even agree on a list of board members. For them to reconcile, they have to both want to do so. There doesn't seem to be any indication of that from what the OP has said, therefor the situation is indeed likely unsalvageable as it currently stands. – Jane S Mar 15 '18 at 23:50
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    There is no ownership of a nonprofit. Appears there is no board. – paparazzo Mar 16 '18 at 4:52

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