The Upside of Tension

Tim Schraeder, one of the bloggers I read regularly, blogs his notes when he attends conferences and seminars...which he does frequently. He recently attended the Global Leadership Summit and although all his notes were worth reading, I was most struck by his notes on Andy Stanley's talk on "The Upside of Tension."

Under the leadership of Andy Stanley, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, has become one of the largest and most innovative churches in the United States. Founded in 1995, the church has grown to three campuses and a weekly attendance of more than 22,000 people. They have also helped plant more than 20 strategic partner churches across North America. Stanley is a dynamic speaker and author whose books include Visioneering, Next Generation Leader, and Communicating for a Change. His latest volume, The Principle of the Path, explores a basic truth that can eliminate regret, as it helps to successfully move people from where they are to where they want to go.

  • I’m not going to try and inspire you.
  • I want to take you back where you began.
  • We began with specific leadership principles.
  • It’s always tempting to look at mature and successful leaders and think they know it all.
  • It’s tempting to look at successful churches and think they have it all together.
  • All of their challenges/problems are just great stories because they are great leaders who know how to solve them.
  • The myth we tend to believe is that if you are a great leader with a well-lead organization that you will solve all of your problems and get rid of all of your tension.
  • The general notion is that problems and tension are a result of poor leadership.
  • Great organization have tensions and problems that are never solved.
  • Leaders learn to leverage the problems that never go away in a way to create progress for the organization.
  • The right amount of tension and pressure at the right moment can lead to extraordinary results.
  • Tension and pressure can lead to progress and can allow us to go farther and faster.
  • We can create a third-category for all of our problems.

Every organization has problems that shouldn’t be solved and tensions that shouldn’t be resolved.

  • Example: The tension between work and family life.
  • It’s not a problem we can solve, it’s a tension we can manage.
  • In business there are many different problems and tensions… but they are VERY specific to individual industries/companies.
    • Marketing/sales
    • Systems/flexibility
    • Led by the Spirit/Led by the Clock
    • Attracting/Nurturing
    • Local/Global
    • Numeric Growth/Maturity
  • If you “resolve” any of those tensions, you create will new tension.
    • What if you opt to commit to excellence without regard to finances?
    • What if you are all theology and no application?
    • What if you let the Spirit lead and neglect your volunteers?
    • If you were to cut off your thumb the results would be immediately recognizable.
    • In organizational life, we cut off our thumbs by solving the wrong problems.
  • If you resolve any of those tensions, you create barriers to progress.
  • Progress depends not on the resolution of those tensions but on the successful management of those tensions.
    • How do you know the difference between problems and tensions?

To distinguish between problems to solve and tensions to manage, ask the following:

  • Does this problem or tension keep resurfacing?
    • If it keeps coming up you have a tension to manage, not a problem to solve.
    • If it resurfaces seasonally, it’s more than likely a tension.
  • Are there mature advocates for both sides?
    • If yes, you’ve stumbled on a problem you can’t solve but a tension you have to manage away.
    • Every single healthy church should have the tension of calling seekers and teaching believers. We must be comfortable living with this tension.
    • We must get comfortable living in the tension.
  • Are the two sides really interdependent?

The role of leadership is to leverage the tension to the benefit of the organization.

  • Identify the tensions to be manage in your organization.
    • What are the problems we need to quit trying to solve and need to learn to manage?
  • Create terminology.
    • When you create terminology you create a third category for your teams.
    • When you get two strong personalities on opposing sides of an issue, if there is no third category it’s only win/lose.
    • Some people shouldn’t win.
    • It gives you an option to say, “this is a tension we are going to have to learn to manage.”
  • Inform your core.
    • Make sure your key players understand this principle.
    • Help create new terminology around the idea.
    • It allows conversations to go better.
    • Don’t try to solve, leverage.
    • Certain tensions are key to progress.
    • If you decide them out of the conversation you miss an opportunity to grow your organization.
  • Continually give value to both sides.
  • Don’t weigh in too heavily based on your personal biases.
    • We have an opinion.
    • We all have personal values.
    • As a leader, if we aren’t careful, we are by personality and the weight of our words, will accidentally take things off the table because we don’t want to talk about them anymore.
    • We can’t afford to weigh in too heavily as leaders.
    • Understand the upside of the opposite side; understand the downside of your side.
    • “Our churches are characterized by something that is a weaknesses for me.”
  • Don’t allow strong personalities to win the day.
    • We need passionate people who will champion their side, but we need mature people who will understand its reality.
    • We need people who are passionate but mature enough to understand there’s a tension we have to learn to live with.
  • Don’t think in terms of balance. Think rhythm.
    • When you think about two opposing sides of an argument, we have a tendency to look at both sides and we try to figure out a way to be fair.
    • Fairness ended in the Garden of Eden.
    • Don’t think in terms of “fair” or “balance.”
    • In the rhythm of your organization there is a time to weigh in heavily and times when you need to lean away.
    • There’s a time in the rhythm of church life where you need do more of something and less of something else.
    • It’s not about balance or fair, it’s about paying attention to the rhythm.
    • Make the call in the light of what’s going on around us.

As a leader, one of the most valuable things you can do for your organization is differentiate between tensions your organization will always need to manage vs. problems that need to be solved.

  • If you’ll identify and leverage them, these problems and tensions will actually become part of your story and part of the progress of your organization.
  • Taking your organization to the next level and keeping it relevant will mean you living with these tensions and problems and managing your team through them.
  • There’s a tension that benefits you and a tension that benefits your organization.
This is the first time in several years that I have not been able to catch any of the Summit, so it was all the more helpful to read Schraeder's synopses. If like me you missed this excellent conference last week, pop over to Tim's blog and "Read all about it!"

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