Leveraging Creative Tension by Diane Nettifee

Values and Purpose in Action Leadership Series is a community of leadership teams committed to putting words into action.  On May 6th Lee Wallace, Queen Bean of Peace Coffee led the presentation and discussion on “Leveraging Creative Tension.”

Webster defines creative tension as: a situation where competing needs ultimately gives rise to better ideas or outcomes.

Tension is normal and needed for leaders to live out their commitment to living true to their identity. The needs of employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and communities are all important and often produce a tension that leads to better outcomes for everyone.

When I asked Lee Wallace what prepared her for this role she responded, “I have been preparing for this my whole life.” From the time she can recall she had a passion for creating a space to sit in the middle of complex situations and create conversations. “I knew I wasn’t here to save the world – just make the street corner I am on really nice.”

Lee shared stories and well-worn advice on how to create ‘healthy tension’ instead of tension that divides and pits us against each other. She shared four things that guide her:

  1. Seeing and Naming

“As a leader I find it important to remember I don’t need to have the answers. People put a lot of pressure of themselves to be right. What we need to do is see and name things from the internal and external perspectives and help people live the questions.”

  1. Provide Clarity:

“Being clear about where we are going and what’s expected of people is critical. When people are invested in the mission they become passionate. Being clear helps harness this passion and focus it in alignment with the bigger picture.

It’s important to be clear on what decisions are theirs to make and what decisions are outside their scope. When I provide good clarity it frees people up to focus on what is most needed…. At Peace Coffee or somewhere else.”

  1. Pay attention to the organization as a whole:

“To balance the needs of all the stakeholders it’s important to keep the big picture in mind and think about the short term AND long term impact of our actions and decisions. I find this takes discipline and commitment to personal development and growth.”

  1. Take care of yourself and your people:

“The organization is bigger than any one of us. What does the organization need from me at this time? Am I willing to commit to learning and developing what is needed and help my people do the same?”

“To tend to all the stakeholders and leverage creative tension means we are always growing towards excellence, in ourselves and those around us. If we do this, we will find surprising outcomes that we cannot imagine from our current place of thinking.

While it’s not easy, it is worth the journey!”

What are the tensions you see in your organization at this time? What are the competing needs within the tension?