For many of us, red flags go up when we begin to feel tension.
Our first instinct is often to take actions that relieve tension. However, there are times when tension is necessary, even helpful.
Tension implies that individuals or agents, and what they are doing, are somehow connected. It implies that this connection can be stretched and pulled and tested and then, if the connection doesn’t break, it can draw those who share the connection closer. Like a in a metal spring, oscillation along the connection becomes an emergent whole, a resonance that is greater than the sum of its parts. The individuals who are involved begin to focus more energy on making their interaction work. Progress inevitably follows.
At the same time, information about the state of this oscillator is stored within the structure of the system. Order, borne of tension and connection can be recognized, imitated and used by others. More progress follows.
In this way, tension brings with it a certain kind of dynamic order, where energy is stored in the connection, and information is found in predictable motion.
Beth Comstock, a GE executive, has said:
“Leadership is about navigating tension. Tension is actually good. If everybody on the team thinks something is good, it’s probably not that good. Leadership is about understanding that things are never going to be perfectly balanced, and understanding how to use that tension to move forward.”