As a leader, have you ever found yourself trying to solve any of these problems?
- Being optimistic vs. being realistic
- Embracing change vs. preserving stability
- Being profit focused vs. purpose driven
- Having expectations vs. extending grace
- Caring for others vs. caring for yourself
- Building confidence vs. remaining humble
What if the real problem is assuming these situations are solvable in the first place? Great leaders know that the secret to both resilience and results is recognizing that these are not problems to solve, but instead, tensions to manage.
How do you skillfully manage a tension? It’s not as hard as you think. Here are the five truths about tension that every leader needs to understand in order to succeed:
1. Tensions are Unsolvable
Although the problem solver in you is going to want to find the right answer and make the tension disappear, don’t be fooled! Successful leaders know that there are no five Habits, seven steps, or silver-bullet ideas that will solve the dilemma. It will be something you have to deal with as long as you are leading.
The question is not, “Have I solved this?” Instead, it is, “Is this healthy or unhealthy?” Think of the metaphor of breathing, which requires the ongoing back and forth between inhaling and exhaling. This will never be “solved” until the day you die, yet the tension between inhaling and exhaling is a healthy one.
2. Choosing One Side Won’t Work for Long
Again, although the problem solver in you yearns to choose a side and move on, this will backfire —every time. That’s because the two sides of a tension are interdependent, meaning one side requires the other in order to be healthy.
Successful leaders know that focusing on one side of a tension to the neglect of the other side will always undermine their vision and values. For example, over-focusing on change to the neglect of stability will result in chaos and confusion. Over-focusing on stability to the neglect of change will result in becoming stagnated and outdated.
3. There’s Wisdom in Resistance
The problem solver in you will dislike resistance by default. It assumes that if people resist your thoughts, ideas, or values, they simply don’t understand — or worse they’re against you. Successful leaders know, however, that when you’re holding things in tension, someone who sees the situation from a different point of view has a perspective you need. Knowing that our blind spots can lead to vulnerable or even dangerous decision-making, the best way to move from seeing things from our limited point of view to understanding the whole truth is through the challenge, resistance, and push-back of others.
4. It’s Not About Compromise
A problem-solving approach is all about winning, losing, or if necessary, compromising. However, compromising assumes you have to give up something on both sides and meet somewhere in the middle, resulting in a lesser, watered-down version of each side’s values. Successful leaders don’t settle for compromise but instead find a way to gain all the positive results of both sides over time. It is worth noting that, although healthy tension is not about compromise, it does require a spirit of cooperation.
5. Lead with AND
Problem solvers love to use the word “but” (and if you’re a polite Canadian like me, “however” is the same thing). This means that when someone sees things from an opposite perspective that challenges our ideas, “but” is likely the first word out of our mouth.
Unfortunately, the word “but” is one of the most polarizing words in the English language; it can push people away and make them feel like you are against them. Successful leaders choose to use the word “and” instead. Leading with “and” forces you to slow down your thinking, helps others realize you’re not against them, and builds a bridge in your conversation instead of a wall.
Rise above polarity, division, and conflicting values. Move beyond the traditional “either/or” approach to solving problems and embrace the transformational power of “both/and” thinking. Join effective leaders from around the world who have the courage to lead with “AND”.
Tim Arnold has spent over two decades helping leaders manage complexity, increase resilience, and deliver results. Past clients have included the United Nations, Compassion International, Royal Bank of Canada, Allstate Insurance, and Siemens.
His work focuses on helping leaders unleash the superpower of Both/And thinking in an Either/Or world — a concept explored in his forthcoming book Lead with AND: The Secret to Resilience and Results in a Polarized World, coming February 2022.
Interested in learning more about Tim and what he can bring to your next event as a keynote speaker? Email us at [email protected].