Leadership Summit 2010 | Andy Stanley – The Upside of Tension

Posted on August 5, 2010


“Develop a healthy intolerance for those things that have the potential to impede your progress toward what could be and should be—those things God has put in your heart to do.”


RESOURCE: Andy Stanley Amazon Page

One of the myths I came to regarding leadership was the issue of problems or tensions and if you have the same problems, or if you have tensions over and over again, then you’re not a good leader; clearly, you’ve got a leadership issue.

The reality, however, is that leaders know how to leverage those problems and tensions in a way that causes them to never go away, but rather so that they become a growth engines for the organization.

If you can touch your digits to your opposable thumb, then you’re a primate. This is an example of pressure, and tension. You are illustrating something that happens every day in your organization, and if you leverage it correctly, it will allow you grow faster and further in your leadership.

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

A. For example: What’s more important? When you think about the family life tension between work and family. How do you solve that? That’s not a problem that you solve. It’s not a tension you resolve. It’s something that you manage.

By the way, these are often industry specific tensions. Q?: What are the problems that we shouldn’t solve, and what are the tensions we shouldn’t resolve?

A couple others:

Management & Leadership
Systems & Flexibility
Allowing the preacher to be led by the Spirit, & getting out on time so the children’s ministry team won’t quit.
Attracting & Involving
Nurturing & Admonishing
Leading & Shepherding.
Numeric growth, & Maturity.

B. If you “resolve” any of those  you will create new tension.

What if you opt for excellence at the absence of sound financial principle? What if you’re all theology and no application? [you’re Presbyterian.] What if you’re all application and no theology? [you’re Baptist.]

Note, however that if you lose your thumb, you know it immediately. Organizationally, if you lose the tension you don’t know it right away.

C. If you resolve you always create a barrier to progress.

D. Progress depends not on the resolution of those tensions but on the successful management of those tensions.

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

  1. Does this problem/tension keep resurfacing.
  2. Are there mature advocates on both sides?
  3. Are the two sides really interdependent?

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

  1. Identify the tension to be managed in your organization.
  2. Create terminology. By doing this, you create for your entire team a third category. When you get two strong personalities on opposing sides of an issue, if there is no third category, it becomes “win-lose” and someone inevitably wins, which means someone inevitably loses.
  3. Inform your core. Once you decide this is a reality, make sure your key players understand this principle.
  4. Continually give value to both sides.
  5. Don’t weigh in too heavily based on your personal biases. Understand the up-side of the opposite side and the downside of your side.
  6. Don’t allow strong personalities to win the day. We need passionate people who will champion their side, but who are also mature enough to understand this reality.
  7. Don’t think in terms of balance, think in terms of rhythm. When you think about the two opposing sides, there is a tendency to look at two people you love, and figure out how to be fair. As a leader, don’t try to be fair. Rhythm; there is a time to weigh in heavily in, and a season to weigh heavily away.

CONCLUSION: 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.

— VIA —

Stanley continues to bring excellent insights. Over the past several years, I’ve been collecting thoughts in a document entitled “Living In The Tension.” I’ll list my additional thoughts below for consideration.

1. This tension has existed from the very beginning. All creation myths, from Babylonian, to Chinese, to Biblical, all involve a tension between two apparently opposites (hot and cold, light and dark, wet and dry, land and sea, male and female, yin and yang, storm and peace, etc.) I think this wide and broad perspective is helpful in understanding the idea of tension and may give us insight into what truly is real about our existence. Which leads to #2.

2. This tension results in the realities of paradox, how two opposite things must exist simultaneously. This paradox is extremely important in understanding our ideas about the world, and the conversations we have with people, who are apparently “on our team,” yet hold quite opposing view points. Perhaps, both are right, and they must co-exist in order to maintain a true sense of humanity. If one were to “win-out” as Stanley communicated to us, then we just create a whole other set of problems. May we engage in conversations that exacerbate the paradox and humble our biases.

3. The two analogies I’ve been using for this tension are a swing-set and rubberbands. On a swing-set, you must do two things simultaneously in order for you to swing: kick-forward while leaning back. On the upswing, you then must reverse, kick-back while leaning forward. It is this tension between those two opposites that allow you to swing. The same is true for these ideas and practices. We must be able to do both well, and never really resolve them. In addition, perhaps it is wise for us to reverse our opinions once in while (or more frequent than that), so we can continue to move the conversation forward. I’ve had too many conversations with people who only want one side, who only see the truth through their interpretive lens, and you can just feel in the conversation, we’re not getting anywhere. Regarding rubberbands, as you progress out on your ideas, your opinions, on one side of the tension, the further you go, the more pressure and tension you’ll feel. And, you strain your relationship with the other side. If you do not recognize this dance between one side and the other, that the tension is good, and you keep going, you will eventually break the rubberband, thus breaking any relationship or conversation you may have with people who truly are “on our team.” It alienates you from the conversation, and it hurts the body of Christ. Those who understand tension are left to patch the rubberband again, this time, one brother/sister short. This, in my estimation, is a travesty.

4. Additional tensions:

Heart & Skill
Strong & Meek
Objectivity & Subjectivity
Excellence & Opulence
Community & Individual
Traditions & Innovation
Ritual & Relevance
Vision & Flexibility
Data & Guts
Executive & Legislative
Personal ego & Personal humility
Loving self & Denying self
History & Contemporary (Foreign & Familiar)
Study & Delivery