Tensions are going to exist in any organization of human beings, from the marriage of two individuals all the way up to the social contract of a nation. The most successful leaders use that inherent tension and struggle to creatively further the organization—whether it's a spouse gently challenging the other to become the person they aspire to be, a corporate leader fomenting healthy disagreement on strategy to find a better approach, or a civil rights leader confronting an unjust, societal status quo to improve living conditions. It is when we try to suppress those struggles and ignore the tension that we ultimately fail to move forward.
At the heart of our argument is the counterintuitive, hard-to-swallow insight that a certain amount of healthy struggle is good for organizations and for individuals. ...As the Gift of Gab once said, "The struggle is the blessing."
The concept of creative tension is not new. It's in the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita. It's been written about in the lives of artists, musicians, and scientists who have created breakthroughs that have changed the world. The U.S. Constitution depends on it, and we call on it as a motivating force every time we go out to vote. All successful treaties between nations—not to mention all successful relationships between people—work because it is not only possible but empowering to release in creative ways the energy inherent in tension.
It follows then that a key aspect of a leader's job is to create the right battles and to make sure they are fought right. Right fights unleash the creative, productive potential of teams, organizations, and communities. Right fights make for better possibilities. Right fights lead to better results.