Getting the Tension Right

Leveraging the Power of Opposition…

Tensions: Maintain high standards…cut them some slack. Focus on the task at hand…don’t lose sight of the big picture. Be yourself…continually improve yourself. Be consistent…know when to make exceptions.

The Power of Tension

The human thumb is an amazing appendage shared by only a short list of other animals. Its power comes by working in opposition to our other fingers. Imagine how limited we would be if our thumbs just lined up parallel to our other fingers. The tension created by our thumb opposing the other digits creates extraordinary new capabilities.

Good leadership also requires us to harness the tensions produced by opposing ideas.

Sources of Tension

Sometimes those opposing ideas come from team members with a different view. One of the dangers of hiring only people just like us is losing the creative energy we gain by wrestling through different perspectives.[1] Growing our emotional intelligence skills equips us to harness the power of those opposing views.

But some tensions are internal. Like our desire to serve clients well pushing against our need for some self-care time. Or our commitment to excellence versus the cost of that excellence. We fail if we cling tenaciously to either side and ignore the other. The tensions, managed well, lead us to better outcomes than a single focus on either side.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Dealing with It

This is tough for those who are really “black and white”: We have to get comfortable with shades of gray. That means learning which ideals to cling to tenaciously and which to hold more loosely. And which situations call for holding a particular principle loosely that might need clung to tenaciously in another situation. Learn to focus on the outcomes of a tight or loose grip in the current situation rather than just dogmatically standing your traditional ground when it isn’t warranted.

While you’re mastering that, don’t forget those around you. You don’t want them having to guess whether you’re Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde today. You have a responsibility to help them make sense of your behavior. They’re trying to interpret your past choices in order to anticipate your next response. Be intentional about explaining the “why” behind your choices. They (and you) will benefit from the increased clarity that comes from externalizing your thought process.

[1] © 2022 enLumen Leadership Services

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