The Words of Leadership: Tension

Leadership is art and science, perhaps more art than science... Many years ago, I watched an interview on TV with the lead guitarist of a famous Italian rock band. One of the questions was, 'What is your definition of Rock?'. I still remember his answer.

[Lorenzo Conti] · 923 words · 5 min read · Dec 4, 2023
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Leadership is a buzzword full of contradictions, it’s everything and nothing, always changing, and there are endless ways to define it or not define it.

There are more books, articles and quotes on leadership available than we can ever hope to read. Just to give you an idea, Amazon lists over 60.000 results when you search for “leadership”.

Leadership is art and science, perhaps more art than science…

Rock is Tension

Many years ago, I watched an interview on TV with tshe lead guitarist of a famous Italian rock band. One of the questions was, “What is your definition of Rock?” I still remember his answer:

“Rock is tension… it’s not about the chords you play;
it’s about how you play and the tension you put into playing those chords.
It’s the result of opposing forces that contribute to creating the magical world of rock ’n’ roll.”

Without aiming to delve into a stylistic analysis of the genre, we could observe that rock music, indeed, thrives on the juxtaposition and integration of contrasting elements in melody, lyrics, rhythm, and emotions.

The heart of rock lies in the intense emotions, the powerful delivery of chords, and the dynamic interplay of contrasting elements, all of which come together to create the unique and enchanting world of rock music.

Leadership is Tension

Similar to rock music, leadership is a tension, a delicate balance between conflicting forces that a leader must navigate. It’s not about issuing commands or dictating every move; instead, it’s the art of managing diverse perspectives, expectations, challenges, requests, and interests.

In his book, “The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership: Embracing the Conflicting Demands of Today’s Workplace”, Tim Elmore outlines eight paradoxes that leaders must embrace to be successful in today’s challenging workplace.

These paradoxes are:

  • Confidence and Humility: inspire others with their confidence, but they also create a safe and supportive environment where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and admitting their mistakes.
  • Having a Vision with Blind Spots: Great leaders have a clear vision for the future, but they also recognize that they don’t have all the answers. They seek out diverse perspectives and are willing to adapt their vision as circumstances change.
  • Visibility and Invisibility: are visible enough to inspire and motivate their team, but they also know when to step back and let others take the spotlight.
  • Stubborn and Open-Minded: Great leaders are stubborn in their commitment to their vision, but they are also open to new ideas and perspectives.
  • Individuality and Collectively: They are personally accountable for their actions, but they also empower their team to take ownership of their work.
  • Teacher and Learner: Great leaders are constantly teaching their team members new things, but they are also always open to learning new things themselves.
  • Having High Standards and Forgiving Graciously: Great leaders have high standards for themselves and their team members, but they are also forgiving when mistakes are made. They create a culture of learning and growth where people feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things.
  • Are timely and timeless: Balancing immediate results with a focus on sustainable growth for the future. Great leaders are able to make quick decisions in the moment, but they are also able to think strategically about the long term.

Some other paradoxes that can be related to the previous ones are worth highlighting:

  • Autonomy and Direction: Balancing team members’ autonomy with clear guidance from the leader.
  • Flexibility and Structure: Adapting to change while maintaining a structured approach to achieve goals.
  • Risk-taking and Caution: Encouraging innovation and calculated risk-taking while minimizing pitfalls.
  • Support and Challenge: Providing support while challenging team members to meet high standards.
  • Transparency and Discretion: Balancing transparent communication with discretion in certain situations.
  • Consistency and Adaptability: Maintaining leadership consistency while being adaptable to changing circumstances and team needs.

Leadership is Rock

When you have a group of people working together, there will always be differences in opinions and ways of doing things.

Embracing the fact that these differences are not a problem but rather a source of energy that helps everyone grow and move forward is essential for success in today’s workplace.

The key is understanding how to handle the tricky balance between opposing ideas by embracing the natural disagreements that pop up in teams, organizations, or groups.

Leaders who can embrace these paradoxes will be able to create a positive and productive work environment that helps their team members to thrive.

These paradoxes are not easy to navigate. Here is some practical advice on how you can apply them in your own work:

  • Start by identifying the paradoxes that you struggle with the most.
  • Once you are aware of the challenges, you can begin to develop strategies for overcoming them.
  • Seek feedback from your team members on how you are doing.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches. The best way to learn how to embrace the paradoxes of leadership is to try new things and see what works.

So, at the heart of leadership, there’s a paradox: being comfortable with things that might seem opposite but are closely connected. This kind of leadership is all about having a mindset that not only accepts these differences but thrives in them.

Are you ready to embrace the tension, standing out and mastering the delicate music of harmonizing opposing forces?

What’s next?

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