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Four Tensions a Leader Must Face

Being a leader isn’t an easy task. The greatest leaders in history are those who have learned to work around, embrace and resolve tension. While many people enjoy the responsibility of making decisions, choosing a direction or having people work for you, there is significant weight associated with being a leader because tension is inevitable.

A leader is someone who is open to criticism that is fueled by the mismanagement of the different tensions they endure.

Here are four tensions that every leader faces:

1. Physical Tension – respect and honor for other leaders
There is a natural default human tendency to define our self-worth based on who we are in comparison to others. Leadership is no different. We might look at a leader from another environment and evaluate ourselves to be better than or worse than what we see based on a set of identified or inferred criteria.

Every leader will be faced with the tension to consider him or her self to be of better quality than another leader. Learning to value other leaders for who they are, while leaving room to disagree with process, philosophy or methodology will help you to stay focused on developing into the leader God has created you to be.

2. Emotional Tension – hope vs. pessimism or cynicism
Leaders are often faced with the tension of creating a sense of hope or a sense of impending doom. Facilitating hope creates and sustains vision. Consistent pessimism or cynicism leads only to peril.

Leading from a hope-filled perspective doesn’t make a leader naïve, but instead helps the leader to process, refine and redirect vision as necessary. Leaders need to be honest about their current reality, admitting when things are darker than they had hoped, and brighter then they could have imagined. Hope may not disappoint, but pessimism and cynicism always do.

3. Intellectual Tension – being teachable vs. being arrogance
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. This is often the difference between creating momentum or chaos. Leaders who are willing to learn from everyone and every situation will begin to develop intrinsic momentum within their organizations by valuing creativity and innovation over proper procedure and/or productivity.

4. Spiritual Tension – love or legalism
There is a leadership tension between valuing tradition over outcome. A loving leader celebrates diversity while a legalistic leader demands conformity. The values of an organization are its social conscience. Violation of values leads to a culture that is more cumbersome than hopeful, depleting the leader’s ability to inspire, manage, create or stimulate growth. Leadership is learning to balance the tension between a legalistic carnal response and loving spiritual intuitiveness.

Tension is a necessary experience for growth and development as a leader. While this is not an exhaustive list of leadership tensions, it points out the reality that tension exists and it cannot be avoided. What do you agree or disagree with? What other leadership tensions do leaders face? What tension are you facing most prominently right now?

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