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Hey Leader, Bring on Some Tension!

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The Utopian World?

It seems that we operate in a world where most people expect to go about their business in an ultra-professional, rational, controlled environment. In this utopian environment, people expect their leaders to give them nothing but calm, “let me work at my own pace”, conflict-free interactions in a workplace where nobody is offended or challenged?

Contrary to that perspective, that is not what leadership is about and it is not how leaders should operate.

2 Leadership Imperatives

In any organization, leaders need to do 2 things:

Bring a vision to inspire others and give them a direction to go.

Introduce the right amount of tension to get results.

Vision Alone Isn’t Enough

There have been volumes written about the importance of leaders setting a vision and inspiring others to adopt that vision as their own (Good to Great, The Leadership Challenge, etc.). Vision alone is not enough. As an old Samurai saying goes,

Vision without action is dreaming. And action without vision is wasting time.

And, as my father used to say,

If you don’t know where you are going, any old road will take you there.

It takes more than a vision and a strategy to get results. How do leaders get results? In a word: tension.

The Value of Tension

There isn’t much written about the need for leaders to bring tension to the workplace, but if it is results you want, tension is exactly what you will need. To get things done a certain amount of tension is required. A reasonable amount of tension leads people to act. Too little tension or too much tension leads people to inaction or inappropriate action.

Let’s get something clear. Tension is not by itself a bad thing. Tension is simply a condition that exists and that can be managed. This fact may surprise those of you who have always seen tension as something that happens to you rather than something that you can manage.

There are 2 kinds of tension: task tension and relationship tension.

Task tension is a focus on a particular assignment or something that needs to be done. This is generally accompanied with a deadline.

Relationship tension shifts the focus from the task or the assignment to the people doing or supporting the task. When tension shifts to the people who are involved, rather than the work that needs to be done, that tends to make things less productive.

3 Possible Outcomes based on tension

The right kind of tension brings a team of people together, focusing on a common outcome. The wrong kind of tension can destroy a team. Understanding and managing tension is a component of the Social Style workshops that I teach. In those workshops, we emphasize that there are three possible productivity outcomes from the level of tension in any interpersonal interaction. Here they are:

1. Low Tension/Low Productivity:

I call this the vacation mode. You don’t have anyone telling you where you need to be or what needs to be done. And there certainly aren’t any deadlines. Without something specific to do or a time to do it, not much progress is made. Ever have a project to work on like this?

2. Moderate Tension/High Productivity:

This is the optimum environment. Stress levels are manageable, tasks are clear and defined, objectives and priorities are agreed upon, and deadlines are realistic.

3. High Tension/Low Productivity

In this environment, people are working under high stress. Timelines are unrealistic, objectives are not clear, priorities compete with each other, and relationships are strained. This is the most unhealthy environment in which to work.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to create the environment in which your team can operate at the optimum level.

 

As a leader, you have to understand how to read the amount of tension among team members in any given situation. Then you need to adjust their behavior to influence their team members to increase the right kind of tension and decrease the wrong kind of tension.

 

Once you have managed the tension, then you will be more successful achieving your vision.

How about it, leader? Are you looking for better results? Bring the right kind of tension to your world and you’ll be surprised by the results you get.

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Dave Hasenbalg has spent the last 20 years leading, coaching, and consulting businesses to find solutions to real-world challenges by illuminating blind spots, building better teams, and coordinating action that produces results. He has an expertise in developing leaders, bringing about change in organizations of all sizes, and eliminating the impediments to effective execution. His practical background is as a military officer as well as a leader in cutting edge, non-profit, and Fortune 100 companies.

Comments

  • Guest
    Paul Klein Friday, 15 May 2015

    Excellent article... How do you recognize the correct amount of tension?

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Guest
Guest Thursday, 14 December 2017

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