#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.”

Urgent vs. Important: Executing Your Most Important Goals

Urgent vs. Important
Urgent vs. Important – Prioritize your goals and calendar to deal with both.

hat do you see? think? wonder?

I wrestle with balancing the urgent vs. important items on my ‘to do’ list. I love the image above so much that it is framed and hanging on the wall in my office. The whirlwind is all around is and it is powerful enough to dominate every minute our days. The girl with the camera is focused on what’s important, not what is urgent. It seems illogical and dangerous. What is so important that she is willing to ignore the impending whirlwind? What is so important in your life that you should ignore the whirlwind, too?

From the 4 Disciplines of Execution:
“The whirlwind is urgent and it acts on you and everyone working with you for every minute of every day. It robs from you the focus required to move your team forward. Executing in spite of the whirlwind means overcoming  not only its powerful distraction, but also the inertia of “the way it’s always been done.”

“We’re not saying the whirlwind is bad. It isn’t. It keeps your organization alive and you can’t ignore it. If you ignore the urgent, it can kill you today. It’s also true, however, that if you ignore the important, it can kill you tomorrow. The challenge is executing your most important goals in the midst of the urgent!”

#20 Bringing My Heart

One of the best books I’ve read this summer is Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. In fact, it’s so good, I’m not finished yet.

I’m fascinated by the ideas Dr. Cloud writes about leading so brains can work.

“In brain terminology, executive functions are needed to achieve any kind of purposeful activity – such as reaching a goal, driving a vision forward, conquering an objective. Whether driving a car or making and selling cars, the brain relies on three essential processes:

Attend to important data: the ability to focus on relevant stimuli. Know your speed, what lane you are in, which turn is next, etc.

Inhibit what is irrelevant or destructive (ie – you cannot text and drive)

Use working memory: You have to remember where you are in the flow. What was the last turn you made? What have you passed already?”

“If leadership is operating in a way that makes any of those brain functions unable to perform, or creates a team or culture in which they cannot work, results will be weakened and the vision damaged.”

“When a leader’s executive functioning as an executive mirrors and ignites the executive functions of his people’s brains, things get better – sometimes really fast.” 

“Leadership is not dog training. It is the creation of the kinds of conditions in which people can bring their brains, gifts, hearts, talents, and energy to the realization of a vision.”

boundaries for leaders

#19 Shipping and Wrapping

Reflecting on yesterday’s administrative retreat, my mind is full of good things. Shipping and wrapping is the first to come to mind.

Shipping our ideas – Seth Godin has a booklet called “Ship It” designed to help launch your ideas. We all have ideas. Fear keeps us from taking action and implementing them. The goal is to lose the fear of failure and launch them. Learn from them.

Wrapping our decisionsThe Heath brothers new book “Decisive” was on our team’s summer reading list. The premise revolves around how truly bad we are, as human beings, at making the wise/right decisions. There are four guards or filters we can apply to help improve our decision making process.

Widen your options.

Reality test your assumptions

Attain distance

Prepare to be wrong

The challenge is to intentionally practice this process until it becomes natural and internalized.

What ideas are you ready to ship?

#18 The Challenge Resumes

So, I unplugged from technology for vacation and a new baby. Now the 60 Day Blog Challenge resumes, albeit with an extended pause, but continues nonetheless. That’s why we call it a ‘challenge.’ It’s not supposed to be easy. But it is fun.

Thanks to all of the dear friends who have brought food and sent gifts. Your thoughtfulness and generosity means more than you know. We are grateful for you and your influence in our lives. We feel loved.

“Roll your windows down the summer’s nearly gone.” – Time is a Runaway by The Alternate Routes

I’m looking forward to the upcoming school year and excited about the possibilities and the people. I’m bringing my heart.

Before it’s over, here are a few highlights from our family…

photo (24)
Got his first job this summer!

photo (23)
Both boys caught their first fish with Papa!

photo (22)
 We welcome a new member to our family!


#17 Private versus Public Schooling

I don’t want this post to be controversial. I was raised in public schools and taught in public schools from 1999 -2010. I taught in several great public schools with great teachers and administrators, with many of whom I am still connected. This will be my fourth year in independent schooling.

Here are a few comparisons I’ve noticed …

1. Smaller class sizes  – @MVPSchool the student teacher ratio is approximately 18:1. At CHS, I taught AP classes with 29, but also with 18. It is possible to have smaller classes in public schools with Gifted and AP teachers, but it places a greater burden on colleagues who must teacher 30+ students. In my opinion, there is a tipping point around 25 students where the teacher’s focus tilts more towards classroom management rather than learning.

2. Stronger sense of connection – In a smaller community, people are more likely to know one another and they are more closely-knit. There is greater parent involvement. Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” Actually, I’ve felt a strong sense of connection at most schools. As an educator, I feel a greater partnership with the parents  @MVPSchool.

3. Greater opportunity for innovation – Less red tape. In particular, at Mount Vernon educators are encouraged to ask “How might we?” You are not likely to hear, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” While there are more obstacles to innovation in many public schools, I still believe a resourceful and motivated teacher will not wait for permission from above to be innovative nor allow a culture of test-driven expectations interfere with inspiring his/her students.


We are currently working on ways to partner with public schools. It shouldn’t be an “either or” proposition, but rather a ‘both and.” What are some ways public and private schools can partner for the benefit of students in all schools?


#16 Thoughts on Digital Citizenship

Students have the power to make decisions in the realm of social media where the consequences can stick around for a long time. Educators must model and instruct the proper use of these tools. Parents should closely monitor their student’s activity while the student gradually earns trust by their consistent actions. All three stakeholders should discuss and agree on guardrails that allow students to utilize the latest technology while simultaneously maintaining responsible digital citizenship. Not an easy task.

1. Be informed and involved with your student’s social media life. They know more than you do in this realm. How will you guard against being green? Trust and verify. Spend time and talk with your children.

2. Partner with educators. Read the resources they share with you. Share resources with them. Participate in offerings such as Parent University where external experts are brought in to discuss specific topics such as social media.

1. Commit to being a responsible digital citizen. Be trustworthy in all that you do. Online and offline.

2. Make wise choices. Learn this skill at an early age and it will take you far in life. I recommend reading Andy Stanley’s book Principal of the Path and The Best Question Ever.

Professional Educators…
1. Engage the students daily about what digital citizenship means and how to practice it. Infuse lessons on digital citizenship into your regularly scheduled programming. Be intentional.

2. Be the best in your field. Seek out new and innovative technologies to use in the classroom that will prepare students to be globally competitive. Seek out how to develop responsible digital citizens. Lead future leaders.

3. Partner with parents. Equip them. Share with them. Work together for the good of the students.

Here are some excellent resources to get started…
Cybraryman’s Resources

Why Digital Citizenship Must Be Taught in Schools

Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

6 Must Read Posts on the Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship

Teaching Integrity in an Age of Cynicism

Search Twitter using hashtag #digcit
What resources have you found to be helpful regarding digital citizenship?

I Became a Teacher Because…


Social Studies Teacher at Dunwoody High School
Social Studies Teacher at Dunwoody High – 2001

I became a teacher because…

1. Growing up in my neighborhood, I was the oldest kid of “our gang.” I enjoyed being the leader. In contrast, in my own grade level, I was a late bloomer and one of the youngest which often meant I felt behind my peers. Comparing these two groups and my status in each one led me to enjoy leading and teaching others.

2. One of my first jobs as a swim coach helped me realize how much I enjoyed teaching others. Swimming was one thing I was really good at and it was fulfilling to have a unique knowledge/skill that I could lead others to develop in themselves.

3. I always enjoyed history (that’s my ‘context’ strength) and usually made “A’s”. History is fun for me. Teaching history forced me to learn far more than I ever did as a student. I feel like I have a fairly solid concept of human history and that context helps me to interpret the world today. Studying the relationships and events of the past reveals clues about relationships and events in my own life. Despite thousands of years, human nature is essentially the same. (If they say, why? why? Tell ’em that it’s human nature)

4. I started out as an International Business major, but hated Accounting 1 & 2. It wasn’t Sister PJ’s fault. I just didn’t enjoy it. Eventually, it led me to change my major to education. This led me back to Georgia.

5. After much soul searching in my freshman year, I realized that while my grand goal as an 18 year old of being a millionaire by age 30, driving a black BMW with leather seats, and living in a castle in Germany was not as motivating as I once thought. I discovered I was much more motivated by leading and influencing others to be their best.

Why did you become a teacher? I want every teacher reading this to know that I hope you will respond in the comments section. I really am interested to learn what led you to become a teacher/educator, too.

#14 What Are Your Strengths?

What stands out when you look at this report card…?

Math                 A+
Science            A
Composition    A-
Literature         A
History              F
Music               A+

If you noticed five “As” then congratulations! Your default is to look for strengths. Why is it that we are drawn to the “F” despite all of the positive?

It raises a larger question – is it better to focus on shoring up our weaknesses or exploiting our strengths in life? Our time and energy is limited. The decision of where to focus our efforts will have a great impact.

A few years ago, I read Strengths Finder for work and I still go back to it. Below I have highlighted a few of the descriptors that really resonated with me. I encourage you to take the survey and discover your strengths, too.

(according to Strength Finder 2.0)

You recognize that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Probe your friends and coworkers about actions that might have contributed to their current successes so you can help them make better choices in the future. 

Compare historical antecedents and situations to your current challenge. Identifying commonalities may lead you to a new perspective or an answer to your problems.

Select jobs that allow you to have the leeway to work as hard as you want and in which you are encouraged to measure your own productivity. You will feel challenged and alive in these environments.

As an achiever, you relish the feeling of being busy, yet you also need to know when you are “done.” Attach timelines and measurement to goals so that effort leads to defined progress and tangible outcomes.

Remember to build celebration and recognition into your life. Achievers tend to move on to the next challenge without acknowledging their successes. Counter this impulse by creating regular opportunities to enjoy your progress and accomplishments.
You do not require much motivation from others. Take advantage of your self-motivation by setting challenging goals. Set a more demanding goal every time you finish a project.

You probably will excel in any role in which you are paid to highlight the positive. A teaching role, a sales role, an entrepreneurial role, or a leadership role will make the most of your ability to make things dramatic.


You tend to be more enthusiastic and energetic than most people. When others become discouraged or are reluctant to take risks, your attitude will provide the impetus to keep them moving. Over time, others will start to look to you for this “lift.”

Explain that your enthusiasm is not simple naivety. You know that bad things can happen; you simply prefer to focus on the good things.


You may get your greatest joy by encouraging people. Freely show your appreciation of others, and make sure that the praise is not vague. Consistently seek to translate your feelings into specific, tangible, and personal expressions of gratitude and recognition.


Avoid negative people. They will bring you down. Instead, seek people who find the same kind of drama and humor in the world that you do. You will energize each other.

Consider roles in which you listen and counsel. You can become adept at helping other people see connection and purpose in everyday occurrences.

Within your organization, help your colleagues understand how their efforts fit in the larger picture. You can be a leader in building teams and helping people feel important.
You are aware of the boundaries and borders created within organizations and communities, but you treat these as seamless and fluid. Use your Connectedness talents to break down silos that prevent shared knowledge.

Refine how you learn. For example, you might learn best by teaching; if so, seek out opportunities to present to others. You might learn best through quiet reflection; if so, find this quiet time.

Be a catalyst for change. Others might be intimidated by new rules, new skills, or new circumstances. Your willingness to soak up this newness can calm their fears and spur them to action. Take this responsibility seriously.

As far as possible, shift your career toward a field with constantly changing technologies or regulations. You will be energized by the challenge of keeping up.

Time disappears and your attention intensifies when you are immersed in studying or learning. Allow yourself to “follow the trail” by scheduling learning sessions during periods of time that will not be interrupted by pressing engagements.