The role of leadership is to leverage the tension to the benefit of the organization.  That’s your assignment as a leader.  You’ve got to learn through your personality, your position and your gifts to leverage these tensions for the benefit of the organization because these tensions result in progress, progress, progress when properly leveraged. 

Here are seven quick suggestions. 

A.  First, obviously, is to identify the tensions to be managed in your organization, and this isn’t really hard to do. Sit down and work through with your team members, “Hey, what are the tensions that in that aren’t going away?”  And here’s the key.  What are the tensions that shouldn’t go away that we have to learn how to properly manage?  If you don’t identify these tensions, you will spend hours trying to solve problems that can’t be solved and shouldn’t be solved.  And if you are a peacemaker by nature, if you are a conflict-avoider by nature you will lean in the direction of bringing about peace and giving up the tension, which will impede progress, and you will make everybody happy temporarily, but you may undermine the strength of your entire church or organization.  Identify the tensions. 

B. Create terminology.  Create new terminology.  The terminology we use in our organization is simply this.  This is a tension to manage.  I’m telling you, in the midst of conflict, staff conflict, volunteer conflict, all of a sudden it’s bingo!  We’re trying to solve a problem that is actually tension we must learn to leverage.  

C. Inform your core.  I would say to my team, “I’ve discovered something that I think we need to integrate into our culture and we must all learn to speak the same language.”  And I informed our core, all of our leaders.  I said, “There is a third way.  This isn’t about you winning, and this isn’t about you losing, or you winning and you losing.  There are tensions in our organization we must all learn to manage.”  And we created a conversation, and we created a category and we created terminology.  Again, as I said, it’s kind of the third way. 

D. Continually give value to both sides.  Whenever there’s a conflict in your organization, you’re a leader.  You have an opinion, right?  In fact, in many cases we’re the one surfacing the conflict.  We’re the ones calling people in and saying, “Hey, I don’t know about what was going on Sunday,” or “you sure that’s the right way to do this,” or “why are people coming in so late,” or whatever your deal is.  So as a leader, we automatically have an opinion about ever single conflict in our organization. Also, your words as a senior pastor, the youth pastor, whoever you are in authority, your words weigh more.  So consequently we must get in the habit, once we’ve identified what these tensions are, we must get in the habit, regardless of what our opinion is and regardless of where we tend to weigh in, we’ve got to learn to give value or speak value into both sides. 

E. Don’t weigh in too heavily based on your personal biasesYou give value to both sides and you learn not to weigh in too heavily based on your personal biases.  For example, you’re the communicator.  Well, you know what communicators think about how much time communicators should get?  They think they should get more time.  Right?  But you’re the worship leader.  And what does the worship leader think about how much time the worship leader should get?  Well, the worship leader thinks, “Well, I should get more time than I have.”  And then there’s the volunteers.  They’re going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Children’s attention span is about 15 minutes.  We’re giving you a whole hour.  Don’t you dare let the whole thing run over.”  I mean what do you do with that?  As a leader you must decide. “You know what, my goal is not to win, my goal is not to always resolve; my goal is to make sure that the important progress-critical tensions never drop out of sight.”  If you as a leader don’t learn to create, maintain and keep front and center certain tensions, you become an impediment to progress. 

Understand the upside of the opposite side.  Understand the down side of your side.  You need to understand the upside of the opposite side; you need to understand and be able to verbalize the downside of your side.  That means communicators, you must learn to be a champion for worship, and worship leaders have to learn to become a champion for the spoken preached word, and preachers, you’ve got to learn to be a champion for the integrity and the quality of what happens in student ministry and youth ministry, and education directors need to learn to become champions of the spoken word and the worship word.  That if you’re the point person, you must learn to be the champion of every single angle and every single perspective.  Otherwise your words will squash the conflict and you’ll try to erase tension.  And at the end of the day, progress is impeded.  

F. Don’t allow the strong personalities in your group to win the day.  If your education director has a stronger personality than your worship leader and you let them battle it out, and you watch the worship leader just kind of fold up under the pressure of the words of the education director, and it looks like everything is resolved because your worship leader just shut down, that is not a win.  You as a leader have failed to keep a very important tension alive in your staff meetings.  Some people on your team people talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, and there are people who never open their mouth.  And I have learned, and have had to learn, to say, “Thank you.  Kevin, talk.  Talk.  Just talk.  I just want to know.  You’re thinking.  I want those thoughts to come out of your mouth now.  Talk.”  Because you can’t let anybody win.  The tension has got to be out there, and you as leader have got to learn to leverage it.  

You need passionate people who will champion their side. But you need mature people who understand this reality. And if you have somebody that just won’t let it go, and if you have somebody that just can’t embrace this third way, then you may need to move them out of your inner circle because you can’t afford to allow problems that should never be solved to become tensions that are ultimately resolved. 

We must learn to manage tensions.  And once you’ve identified them, leverage them.  Grow from them.  Because in some cases they will be the key to progress in your organization.  


Excerpt from Catalyst West. Used by permission of Catalyst.

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