“It’s my way or the highway, the cause of most workplace tension”

Balancing tension is high on the agenda of every great leader. Every organization has tension. Left alone it quickly dissipates productive energy and sinks team morale through internal conflict.

Among the tensions leaders deal with, two stand out:

First, great leaders know how to generate an internal competitive urge without creating an internal combative spirit. They also know how to channel this energy into productive activities that energize and benefit everyone on the team.

T.E. Lawrence, a British officer, played by Peter O’Toole in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” was sent to the Middle East in 1916-18 to enlist the Bedouin tribes to fight against the Ottoman Turks controlling the Arabian Peninsula. However, these tribes were as eager to attack each other as they were to fight the Turks.

Lawrence earned his reputation by successfully redirecting the tensions dividing the tribes into a unified fighting force with one goal, defeating the Islamic Turk’s desire to control the Middle East and Europe. Redirecting negative energy into productive channels is a daily task for all leaders, but not many do it well.

The second tension leaders must balance is group decision-making versus decisiveness. Shared decision-making is nothing new. Great generals, kings and CEO’s have sought the counsel of trusted advisors for centuries. The challenge is, does it mitigate your authority and influence as a leader? It can, and in many cases leads to everyone’s second choice and not the best choice.

Poor leaders are often defensive about their decision-making rights. Emotionally mature leaders on the other hand recognize the benefit of seeking wise counsel, having their assumptions challenged and hearing alternatives. Mature and experienced leaders maximize group input instead of demanding the team accept their edicts without question.

Great leaders don’t go it alone, they challenge the team to address unresolved issues. Instead of saying; “Here are the cuts that must be made,” they say, “Our task today is determining the best way to balance the budget, given our present reality. Tell me your thoughts, the facts that support them and their likely consequences.”

Still, there are times decisions must be made by a process rather than group consensus. Especially in times of crisis or a time crunch. Unilateral decisions by a trusted leader are accepted and supported by even the most critical team members if they are rare and not a way of life.

Great leaders constantly work on balancing the “tension of two truths.” Meaning, for every truth there is an opposite and equal truth that keeps them both in tension. For every decision you made there were probably a hundred others you could have made.

With poor leaders it’s, “My way or the highway!” With great leaders it’s, “Let’s find the best way!” If your team could vote anonymously about your decision-making style and skill, how would they vote? Are you sure? Why not ask them?