Make the most of tension and disruption

Make the most of tension and disruption

Communication, Leadership, Personal Growth

Written by Tracey

April 3, 2023

In his book, Straight Talk on Leadership:  Solving Canada’s Business Crisis, R. Douglas Williamson states, “In order to lead any meaningful and significant organizational transformation, you first need to understand that the inevitable result will be a much higher level of tension and stress within the organization. 

The space in between who you think you are and how you are actually perceived is a place rich in possibility. Uncharted territory that can open up new frontiers to explore and discover. ~ Tracey Burns

It will be the kind of tension and anxiety that comes from operating at the very edge of performance expectations, where the adrenaline is high, the senses are heightened and the fast-paced thrill of the pursuit is the elixir that keeps people going, even when they want to give up and cruise on autopilot for a while. The question the leader must know the answer to is, how much tension is enough tension to keep things sharp and moving forward at pace?”

What a great question.

How do your own leadership set points influence what you believe to be, “enough tension”?  What impact will your perspective have on those you lead?  Do you really know? The space in between who you think you are and how you are actually perceived is a place rich in possibility. Uncharted territory. And when you venture into that territory you’ll discover there are even more unknown frontiers to be explored. Think onion layers…

Williamson goes on to state… “It would be a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, and the economic value creation equation, to believe eliminating conflict and reducing tension is a good thing. It’s quite the opposite. Maximum value is not created in periods of stability, but rather in periods of disruption, when innovation is high, disequilibrium is at its peak and healthy paranoia is an accepted state of mind. In such an environment there is bound to be conflict and tension, so the leader’s job is not to eliminate it, but to tap into it and use it as a source of purposeful energy to drive the organization forward at maximum speed.”

What does it mean to you to tap in?  How well will you be received when you ask your team (insert employees if you’re a business) something beyond what they think they are currently capable of when you are surrounded by circumstances and obstacles that would suggest more isn’t possible?

This is exactly the “transformational tension” necessary to produce the next breakthrough in your leadership. And… it’s often what we don’t like.

We humans naturally seek comfort and comfort doesn’t exist where there’s tension and conflict. You’ve most likely experienced your share of tension and conflict.  If you stop to think for a minute you’ll know exactly your individual response to it, it will be super familiar to you. You might resist it, squash it, quit it, defend it, rationalize it, fight it, silently go along with it and/or avoid it at all costs.

What does this mean for a leader who lacks self-awareness, empathy and the ability to accurately read themselves and those they lead?

Consider that we can’t change what we’re not aware of, so becoming aware of your thoughts, speaking and actions is a great first step. 

Followed by step number two – commit to moving through the uncomfortable and foreign by disrupting the status quo, cultivating innovation, and trusting in the process of transformational tension so that you’ll come out the other side a changed leader.

This all sounds great on paper but in real life these situations might include firing someone, quitting a company that just isn’t aligned with your values, refusing to work till exhaustion, addressing betrayal and speaking to the elephant in the room or navigating through unhealthy communication dynamics. Yikes!

Did I say this process would be easy? Sorry! But here’s the good news this is where you’ll learn to challenge biases, beliefs, judgments and opinions with courage and curiosity.  You’ll be in the exciting work of supporting those you lead to shift their relationship to their circumstances rather than shift the circumstances.

Remember that too much tension can become unmanageable, but the right amount of tension is vital to keep things energized and moving in the right direction. There is no formula to follow other than to work with your own edges, to know and trust yourself. It’s a balancing act that requires attention and, when handled with self awareness, will ensure that your goals are reached and exceeded.

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