Peace and Making Meaning

by Ron Potter

How do leaders create peace in the midst of chaos? How do they restore an organization to the point of balance and productivity? How do leaders reach out to employees during times of uncertainty and worry?

By becoming peacemakers.

The major problem many leaders face is not the mechanics of change or even embedded resistance to change. The chief challenge is helping people understand what is going on around them.

According to a national survey taken by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research in the fall of 2001, only 1 in 5 adults said they felt hopeful about the future as compared with 7 out of 10 who reported feeling this way in a 1990 survey. People are distressed and want someone to bring meaning to their daily lives.

Calm and team effectiveness come when a leader makes meaning out of the jumble of chaos that surrounds employees, suppliers, and consumers. In most situations, every person on a team brings a different point of view, a unique experience, or a personal preference to the table. Every market change brings with it new expectations, new competition, or new hopes. It also brings new opinions, new points of view, and new preferences. How does a leader make meaning out of all that?

Peacemakers focus outside themselves

Leaders who understand the need to make meaning for their teams and organizations understand that it starts with their own style. If we are self-centered and proud, we surrender the ability to see the angst in others. The prideful leader will not see the need for communication or helping others understand what is going on around them. Such leaders hold their cards close to the vest. Their focus is on themselves.

In contrast, leaders who put “you first” and have self-esteem based on humility are able to look beyond themselves and help others see meaning in their circumstances.

Peacemakers maximize opportunities for communication

I have a friend who says, “You need to tell people the story until you vomit—then tell them some more.” Peacemakers take advantage of every opportunity to communicate with people to help them understand chaos and confusion. Communication is not just speaking; it involves listening, too. In true communication, a leader honors everyone’s opinions and frames of reference.

The goal is to learn, not necessarily to check items off the to-do list. This creates a “learning” organization or team that encourages and listens to everyone’s opinions. Before making decisions, leaders of learning organizations probe the dissenters to better understand their opinions. They listen, learn, honor other people, and discover how to make great, lasting decisions.

Peacemakers encourage thinking

Even when people see change or confusion as an opportunity rather than a menace, they still need to feel safe and unafraid. Leaders need to create an environment that is open and flexible.

Leaders need to encourage thinking that seeks the sustainability of improvements, not just the solutions to problems. In order for people to go that far, they need to feel supported and that their thoughts are being heard and acted upon.

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