I enjoy bass fishing very much. I like the challenge of either getting the fish to believe the lure you present can actually be eaten, or making the fish angry enough to want to destroy the lure at the end of your line. Successful presentation of your lure will result in the fish striking. Once the fish bites, this rule applies;
“Reel in the slack and set the hook”
From the moment you set the hook, tension on the line is imperative. Slack line will result in a lost fish, however too much tension could break the line, or rip the hook out of the fish’s mouth, also resulting in a lost fish. The art lies in keeping the tension on the line just right to land the fish.
Experiencing Tension in Leadership
If I tell you the same principle applies to Leadership, you might not agree with me. How can tension in leadership be a good thing? Is the aim of good leadership not to manage tension away and get everyone to get along with one another?
The short answer is “No”.
Tension is not something to manage away or avoid. The same art of keeping enough tension on the line as you reel the fish in can be applied to leadership as well. The art of managing tension in leadership lies in how skilfully you can keep the tension in a group to produce peak performance and achieve the preferred outcome. I agree, too much tension in a group can result in counter productiveness but the right amount of tension in the right situation will result in progress.
“One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.” – Barry Lopez
Contradiction forms part of our life, in fact according to Barry Lopez, it sits at the very essence of our lives. Contradiction generates tension. Leaders have to deal with this contradiction on a continuous basis. Tension always exists between available resources and demand, time and amount of work, good ideas and wrong timing. Tension normally develops between seemingly opposite sides, even though their intentions may seem good. Good leaders move along the tension continuum and ensure all sides get the necessary credit at the right time to move the organization towards the desired outcome.
Tension is good for progress and you as the leader can leverage against the tension in the group or organization to create the most desirable outcomes. Through leveraging tension in the organization, good leadership induces progress. Managing tension creates opportunity for growth and development of both the individuals and the group or organization.
During times of heightened tension, there are two factors leaders need to deal with in order to successfully lead the group or organization:
Good Leadership and Fairness
It may sound like a contradiction but sometimes being unfair is the right thing to do. Fairness means you always try to give everyone an equal opportunity or give equal time and resources to opposite sides of your team. This kind of fairness puts you at risk of not making decisions based on what is best in order to serve the desired outcome.
If you base your decisions on fairness, rather than on the best option for the group or organization, you may make the wrong decision at a crucial point. Leaders should not try to be fair. They must make the correct call at the correct moment, resisting the pull of tension by the seemingly opposite sides in their group.
Good Leadership and Resolving Tension
Good leadership is sometimes to not solve all the problems in an organization and to allow some tension to remain. Tension in the group will always be there and should be managed, not eliminated. Leading in this circumstances means leading “…in the middle of contradiction”. Some tensions are good for progress. It provides fertile ground for discussion and debate, challenging old though patterns and the status quo. By resolving these tensions you might create a barrier to growth.
The leader should develop an ability to objectively listen to both sides of the tension continuum and not let his or her personal likes and dislikes influence the decisions. The ability of the leader to make the right decision in spite of his or her preferences marks a mature leader. Tension is unavoidable within any group. Keeping this in mind makes it easier for leaders to manage tension instead of trying to resolve it.
How often do you encounter tension you should not resolve?
What cause this tension in your group or organization?