Leveraging Tension: The Secret to Resilient Leadership

Resilience in leadership isn’t just about recovering from setbacks; it’s the art of navigating complex tensions, such as the wrestling match between focusing on work and life, to foster both personal well-being and professional excellence. In my first book, The Power of Healthy Tension, I demonstrate how these opposing forces can be the foundation of resilience when managed effectively.

When we think of tension, our minds often jump to the negative—stress, conflict, or opposition. However, I suggest that tension, when understood and managed appropriately, is not a pitfall but a potent source of strength. It’s the same principle that allows bridges to stand strong under the burden of passing cars and trucks; it’s the tension in the cable that supports the structure. Similarly, leaders who learn to harness the dynamic forces of opposing ideas can create a bridge to new possibilities.

Consider the tension between work and life—a challenge faced by most leaders. There are no magical formulas to solving this problem; instead, we must engage in an ongoing, dynamic balancing act, respecting both our professional ambition and personal contentment.

Here is a summary of the four steps, outlined in my book, that will allow you to tap into the power of healthy tension:

1. Identify Your “Crux” Tension

As a leader, you’re constantly bombarded with a long list of conflicting values that demand your attention (click here for examples). However, out of all these challenges, there are always one or two that emerge as a “crux” tensions, meaning they are make-it-or-break-it to your overall success. Effectively managing these crux tensions is key to both resilience and results. Neglecting them, or favoring one value over the other, inevitably leads to failure. A prime example of a crux tension is the classic dilemma between work commitments and a thriving personal life, which leaders must consistently monitor and manage in a healthy manner.

2. Mind Your Bias

When dealing with tension, you will often have a natural preference towards one side over the other. The goal of “minding your bias” is not to change who you are but to become an effective version of yourself. This means recognizing your natural tendency and taking proactive steps to ensure it doesn’t create blind spots. For example, if you find yourself leaning heavily towards work, implement systems, structures, and accountabilities to appreciate the rejuvenating aspects of your personal life. Conversely, if personal commitments dominate your attention, establish clear work deliverables and work plans to ensure they are completed efficiently.

3. Learn the Language

Learning to have effective conversations with individuals who hold different viewpoints and offer opposing views is essential for personal and professional growth. The goal is to embrace the wisdom that arises from encountering resistance and to build relational bridges rather than walls. By engaging in these conversations, we gain valuable perspective and insight that we wouldn’t otherwise attain. For instance, in navigating the tension between work and life, it’s crucial to seek out and engage in effective conversations with individuals who lean toward the opposite side of the spectrum. Encouraging them to challenge our biases, assumptions and decisions in a healthy manner helps us see things in a powerful new light.

4. Make Informed Decisions

Understanding our personal biases and preferences, and then engaging in conversations with those who hold different perspectives, allows us to rise above our limited viewpoint and see the bigger picture. We go from seeing things from an overly simplistic, right and wrong perspective, to realizing that we’re dealing with a situation that is both right and right. This shift enables us to move beyond futile and polarizing arguments, and instead rally around what’s best for us collectively. For example, making informed decisions that consider the dynamic balance between work and life, we can achieve more holistic outcomes that prioritize both short-term professional gains and long-term life satisfaction.

Being a resilient leader isn’t just about bouncing back from tough times; it’s about mastering the art of managing competing demands, such as the struggle between work and life, to thrive both personally and professionally. In my book, “The Power of Healthy Tension,” I dive into how these tensions can actually be a leadership superpower when handled well. In a world that is obsessed with Either/Or thinking, become a Both/And leader! Tapping into the power of tensions gives you a significant competitive advantage and is the key to both resilience and results.

A new, revised edition of “The Power of Healthy Tension” is now available, offering even more insights into harnessing the power of tension for resilient leadership. If this article resonates with you, click here to get your copy and explore further strategies to elevate your leadership journey.

Tim Arnold

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