Thoughts of Steve Geske written in 2011.
Our world is filled with conflict and strife. It contains tyrants and dictators. Modern history is strewn with men who were monsters. Their existence has resulted in untold mayhem, death and devastation.
Yet, with all the examples in both history and current events, there is one “unsung villain” who has received no credit for the damage he has done and the lives and generations he has ruined. This is a type of villain so sinister, that he has been able to flourish undetected – a silent killer of the body and the spirit that continues to contribute to the demise of many. These people have networked their way to the top of our most prestigious organizations with all the efficiency and secrecy of the most intricate conspiracy. You don’t know him as evil. More than likely you feel sorry for and wish to support this leader. You may even feel drawn to and charmed by him. You might even find him endearing. But that is how he does his damage. “Who is this leader?” you ask. Who indeed? Behold, we present to you “The Peace-monger!”
“The Peace-monger,” so named by Dr. Edwin Friedman in, is the leader who values peace at any price. His call is for unity. His mantra is, “We all must get along.” Conflict is not tolerated and is quickly squelched with swift and surgical precision.
By now you might be laughing and have begun to make an argument for the innocuous nature of such a leader compared to the tyrants and monsters of history. Before you conclude we’re crazy, you might want to consider the evidence.
So what is it about the Peace-monger (PM) that is so destructive in leadership positions and so toxic within organizations?
PM’s Cater to the Least Mature
Because PM’s value unity, anyone who threatens it will automatically gain the PM’s attention. This means anyone with a gripe can sabotage the entire organization and bring it to a grinding halt. The most dependent people, those who need others to change before they can be happy, are the ones who hijack the organizational mission and everyone’s time. You don’t need ideas, you don’t need solutions, you don’t need innovation to get on the organizational agenda. All you need is a mouth.
PM’s Sabotage Innovation and Initiative
Because the least mature, least creative and most dependent people are allowed by the PM to dominate the agenda, those who have ideas and solutions tend to get drowned out. This has a chilling effect on initiative and a withering effect on creativity and innovation. Creative individuals eventually tire of trying to get their ideas heard.
PM’s Provide No Consistent Mission
In the shifting sands of appeasement, the PM is willing to suspend, compromise or suppress the organizational mission. Competing agendas take center stage. Ambiguity and the resulting anxiety rule where PM’s lead.
PM’s are Passive
When a leader puts a high premium on unity, he or she will be putting out lots of fires. PM’s act like referees. They are not really in the game. They are pacifists by nature. The agenda of smoothing things over holds sway. More than one “teambuilding” program has been started in this way.
PM’s are Reactive
Related to passivity is reactivity. Because PM’s don’t know what to do until someone else becomes a problem, they are reluctant to act decisively until things have escalated. Action is delayed until a crisis occurs. Then the PM suddenly springs into action. His overreaction does more damage than good.
PM’s Undercut other Leaders
In such a “predictably unpredictable” environment, it doesn’t take long for other leaders to figure out that they can be trumped by the PM. They can be hung out to dry or tossed under the bus at any moment. True leaders quickly learn not to stick their necks out.
PM’s Keep Organizations from Maturing
Scott Peck, in his book, “A Different Drum”, offers a helpful framework for how organizations mature into a true community. He offers the following stages.
- Pseudo-community – where differences and conflict is suppressed and kept below the surface
- Conflict – where these differences finally come out into the light
- Chaos – embracing an “empty” position that allows solutions on a higher level
- 4.True Community – where differences are present and celebrated
We see how a PM prevents maturity in an organization. By squelching conflict, rather than surfacing it and using it creatively, the organization is quickly pushed back into pseudo-community. Creative tensions arising out of differences give way to denial instead and like a spoiled toddler, never gives up the pacifier.
PM’s Keep Organizations “Stuck” – Forever!
All these factors accumulate to create a kind of “Groundhog Day,” déjà vu atmosphere where nothing changes. The organization becomes Kafkaesque. Nothing changes. Hope dies.
Do you still think these leaders are harmless? Sure there are no mass graves, no torture chambers, no weapons of mass destruction. But people die slow deaths here rather than quick ones. Their spirits languish. They leave their souls in their cars in the parking lot. The organization becomes a 40+ hour a week “gulag” every bit as dangerous, every bit as suppressive as any in Siberia.
Beware the Peace-mongers, for they shall inhibit the world!