Remember this scene in Miss Congeniality? At a beauty pageant, Sandra Bullock (an FBI agent posing as a contestant) is asked, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?” She responds,
“That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.”Miss Congeniality
The crowd is stunned. Stan is stunned. Sandra collects herself and adds, “and… world peace.”
Peace is not the goal.
Near the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was pressured to accept terms of peace without unity. Most politicians had lost their resolve to continue a war. They were close to giving in to mounting pressure. Lincoln didn’t budge. He knew that unity is better than peace. He knew that short-term peace would be artificial and not lasting.
You know of, or may personally experience, a family where there is artificial peace. Everybody understands the unwritten rule: as long as we never engage, we can have quiet.
You won’t sit on your deathbed hoping for quiet. You will want relationship. You don’t just want people you can predict and get along with, you want people you can trust. Trusting relationships are the birthplace of everything good and beautiful.
You also don’t want to just go to work where it’s never uncomfortable. Your 18-year old self didn’t want to merely avoid discomfort. They wanted to make an impact. And if you want impact, you’ll have to set aside peace as the primary goal.
Innovation does not sit at the threshold of harmony. Innovation is on the other side of conflict. Harmony may maintain, but it never creates. If in your pursuit of excellence you have been shut down for ruffling a few feathers, you may work for a peace monger. If you start to fidget at the first sign of conflict, you may be one.
In any type of institution whatsoever, when a self-directed, imaginative, energetic, or creative member is being consistently frustrated and sabotaged rather than encouraged and supported, what will turn out to be true one hundred percent of the time, regardless of whether the disrupters are supervisors, subordinates, or peers, is that the person at the very top of that institution is a peace-monger.”Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve
The goal isn’t peace. The goal is better. The goal is impact. The goal is relationship.
Friedman, quoted above, goes on to describe peace-mongers as risk avoiders, concerned more with good feelings than progress, who pursues consensus over clarity, who cannot take a stand, and with any hint of conflict runs away.
And how would you describe these peace-mongers? Most people would describe them as… nice. More than polite, they are often charming and winsome. At least immediately, they may be more popular than you.
Leaders who are trying to make an impact know: popular is not the goal.
Write it down. Keep it in front of you. Don’t let harmony or popularity sneak in to become an unchosen value. Leading change takes remarkable courage. It means choosing impact over popularity.
Be kind, not nice. Pursue great, not comfort. Chase impact, not peace.