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Tension is Good

My client Gilda is a dynamic, entrepreneurial, get ‘er done kind of woman. I think she’s awesome. Anyway, Gilda was recently offered a job in a new city and she was pretty excited about it. The job was in a new industry and the company was looking to expand nationally over the next five years. Gilda would be playing a key role in the expansion process. Her first week at the new job was lovely. Her boss was laid back and kind, unlike the boss she had left back home. Her new coworkers were very sweet and welcoming. The place totally lacked drama. Gilda felt like she could breathe for the first time in years. She was excited to get to work and we agreed to put her coaching sessions on a brief hiatus while she got herself settled.

Three months later, we reconnected. I had been excited to hear about all the great things Gilda was doing at her new company, but she told me a very different story. She was bored off her ass, frustrated, annoyed and ready to quit. “I feel less challenged than I’ve felt in any job,” she told me.

It turns out, the organization was so nice, nothing ever got done. “There’s lots of twiddling of thumbs waiting for things to fall into place. I’m having a hard time cooking things up to get me excited. When I come up with new project ideas, the team is like, ‘Oh, no thanks, we’re good’.”

Not only are the company’s plans for national expansion going nowhere, an excellent employee like Gilda, who they spent a lot of effort hiring, and money relocating is so frustrated she’s job hunting after only three months.

Why? Because the company is utterly devoid of tension. And that ain’t good. If everything is hunky dory all the time, chances are, something is being missed, be it an opportunity or a threat.

The traditional view of leadership is that the presence of tension is a failure. This is an extremely damaging notion. If there’s never any tension, there can be no learning, no growing, and no creativity.

To tolerate tension and reap its rewards, we must learn to live with the discomfort it creates. We have to manage our need for certainty by focusing not on the discomfort, but on the exploration ahead. We don’t know how things will turn out. We don’t know if we can solve the problem, launch the product, build the team, or write the algorithm, but we know where we want to go.

It’s our job as leaders to create tension, embrace it and sustain it. “Oh, no thanks, we’re good,” must never be uttered. Instead, we should seek to highlight the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

Tension is born of truth and it creates energy. When we make space for it, and we act, analyze and make decisions from that place of truth, amazing things are created.

Now. Don’t go thinking all this creative tension means you and your team have to live in a permanent state of agonizing angst. That’s bullshit. It’s true, your need for certainty will be screaming, but if the conditions are right, you will also be very present, focused and in the moment.

The Unstuck Leader creates an environment where tension creates positive energy. But I have to warn you, don’t be surprised if you piss off a few people in the process.

Because tension creates conflict.

And to that I say, Yay for you!

Conflict is great, and we'll talk about that next week.

Hiya! This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Unstuck Leader: Getting unstuck. Staying Unstuck. If you’d like to learn the five steps to eliminating the patterns of belief and behavior that are holding you back, sign-up for my email newsletter, and you’ll be the first to know when the book is published.

The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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