#23 The Tension is Good

Notes from Catalyst Conference 2010
The Tension is Good

 The Opposable Leader: Why Organizational tension is essential to progress by Andy Stanley


  1. Every organization has problems that shouldn’t be solved and tensions that shouldn’t be resolved.
    1. For example: What’s more important?
    2. If you “resolve” any of those tensions, you will create new tension.
    3. If you resolve any of those tensions, you create a barrier to progress.
    4. Progress depends not on the resolution of those tensions, but on the successful management of those tensions.

      i.     Examples of tension between…

  1. Fulfilling all responsibilities at work vs home
  2. Excellence vs careful stewardship
  3. Research & development vs sales
  4. Management vs leadership
  5. Attracting the unchurched vs nurturing your church
  6. Numeric growth vs maturity
  7. All theology vs no application
  8. Spirit lead church services with no end vs preschool/daycare hours
  1. To distinguish between problems to solve and tensions to manage, ask the following:
    1. Does this problem or tension keep resurfacing?  If yes, it is probably a tension that needs to be leveraged for your organization’s success.
    2. Are there mature advocates for both sides?
    3. Are the two sides really interdependent?  (ie: home vs. work)
  1. The role of leadership is to leverage the tension for the benefit of the organization.
    1. Identify the tensions to be managed in your organization.  Identify ones that won’t and those that shouldn’t go away or be solved.
    2. Create terminology.  “This is a tension we have to manage.”
    3. Inform your core.
    4. Continually give value to both sides.
    5. Don’t weigh too heavily based on your personal biases.  As a leader, your words weigh a thousand pounds.  Don’t allow strong personalities to win the day.
    6. Don’t think in terms of balance.  Think rhythm.  Not every department needs equal money or time, etc.  There are times when you need more music, or speaking, or stewardship.  It’s like art.  There’s a season for everything.  Not for the balance.  Don’t try to be a “fair” leader.  Listen to the rhythm.

i.     You have a bias in every conflict.  As leader, your goal is not always to resolve or win, but create and maintain the visibility of necessary tensions.  Be able to verbalize the downside to “your” side, too.  As leader, make sure nobody wins and that the tension remains.

“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 and problems that need to be solved.”

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