To understand who people really are, start a fire. When everything is going fine, you see only the safest parts of people’s character. It’s only when something is burning that you find out who people really are. – Scott Berkun
Last year, I was in Chicago at the time that Nik Wallenda, the famous tightrope walker, was preparing to cross the Chicago River by wire without a safety net or tether. While in the city, I got really lucky to see them put up the wire and go through the process of taking the slack out.
When they first put up the wire, it had a lot of bow in it. As it got closer and closer to time for this famous daredevil to make his walk, they began to tighten the wire. Because I’m no expert in tightrope walking, I immediately pulled out my phone to Google what they were doing. That’s when I discovered that in order for the walk to be successful, there must be a perfect tension to the wire.
You have to have enough slack in the wire that it has some “give” to it, allowing the rhythm of the body to match the rhythm of the wire with each step. If the wire was perfectly taut, you wouldn’t be able to walk across it. And if it had too much slack, you wouldn’t be able to balance. You have to find the perfect tension.
What does this have to do with leadership? If you asked most people, they would likely say that they don’t like to operate in an environment that has tension because it can feel confrontational or negative. But, we have to remember that you can’t cross a highwire without tension.
As leaders, it is our job to tune the tension in our organization constantly to make sure that we have the proper amount of slack and tension to enable our stars to metaphorically walk across the wire and get from one side of a goal to the other. That’s a tough thing for a leader to do. It won’t always be comfortable. It won’t always be popular. But it is critical that we get the tension right if we want our best people to succeed.
Get comfortable with tension. It is the intangible factor that can both keep you safe and allow your organization to accomplish extraordinary things.
Question: Have you analyzed the tension levels in your organization lately? How can you tune them to find the perfect balance?