All people want the same thing in life: peace. Not happiness, which is an unsustainable and fickle emotion, but rather peace, which is the deep understanding that all is well, even when happiness is not possible. And we all know when we have lost our peace; it’s when we feel fear, anxiety, angst or dread. As much as those feelings are painful, they are actually blessings if we respond to them correctly.
See, fear and anxiety alert us that something is wrong, and force us to make a decision. Will we work with courage to recover our peace by identifying and addressing the causes of our anxiety and fear? Or will we choose to distract ourselves from those feelings through self-indulgence, and allow them to continue? Here’s how this choice manifests itself in my life.
I often lose my peace when I get caught up in following the news and indulging in entertainment, and neglect to pray. It’s like clockwork. I start to feel uneasy, even anxious, and I know I have a choice to make. I can either turn off the TV or shut down my computer, and make real time for prayer, or I can try to distract myself by finding something more stimulating on television or the internet. The first option is a little painful because it requires discipline and sacrifice, but it always works. The second option is certainly easier and more convenient, but ultimately leads me further from my source of peace.
Okay, so what in the world does this have to do with teamwork? Well, I recently came to the realization that teams also want peace. They want to know that all is well in the group, regardless of whether the organization is in the midst of great success or struggle. Essentially, they want to know that everyone trusts one another deeply, and is aligned around a common cause. They need to know that no toxic, painful issues are fermenting beneath the surface, and that teammates say what they mean and mean what they say, without fear.
But peace on a team, not unlike in our hearts, is elusive and precious, and must be maintained through discipline. Otherwise, it can be easily lost in the swirl of daily stress, sometimes abruptly, but more often, gradually over time. We usually know we’ve lost our peace as a team because we see the signs of it; team members hesitate to disagree with one another, they use passive aggressive language, or they engage in back channel conversations after meetings. Whatever the case, everyone knows that something isn’t right, but no one is talking about it openly.
These signs, as unsettling as they are, can be invaluable if we see them as alarm bells alerting us to take the steps to reestablish peace. They can provoke us to address whatever it is that is causing the problem, regardless of the discomfort it will inevitably, though temporarily, entail. It is always worth the effort.
But we leaders are human, and we’re often tempted to look the other way when we see signs that peace is threatened on our teams. Sometimes we just underestimate the cost of the problem. But all too often, we know the magnitude of the issue and simply choose to blunt the pain by indulging in the very behaviors that are causing the problem in the first place.
In my weaker moments, I’ve done this by failing to directly and compassionately confront a difficult or struggling colleague, instead indulging in water cooler discussions about them with others in the organization. I’ve also held back frustrations from my team to avoid potential conflict, choosing instead to vent to my wife or a friend. Of course, those behaviors only took our team further from the precious peace we wanted and needed, requiring unnecessarily painful recovery efforts later on.
The next time you feel that your team is losing its peace—trust me, it will happen and you’ll know it—challenge yourself to be the kind of leader that embraces temporary suffering for the good of everyone else. Enter humbly into the discomfort of that situation, because that is the only real remedy. When you’re tempted to choose the easier but destructive path of distraction and stimulation, opt instead to be the leader your team needs, and that peace demands.