Navigating the Tensions Every Leader Faces

Leadership is full of competing priorities we must balance.

Being a leader isn’t easy. With every decision a leader makes someone is happy—and someone is not. One often misunderstood reason leadership is challenging is the tension every leader feels when making decisions.

And every leader experiences some of this tension—every single day.

In fact, learning to balance the tensions of leadership may determine the level of success a leader can sustain. If a leader leans too far one direction their leadership effectiveness suffers.

Let me share some examples of these everyday type leadership tensions.


1. Displaying Confidence Without Being Arrogant.

People want to follow a confident leader, but pride is a repulsive trait. I feel this tension especially when I’m leading on a new team or with new people on the team. With several decades of being a senior leader, I’ve learned a few things. I need them to understand there are reasons for them to follow my leadership, but I shouldn’t unpack my resume for them immediately either.

2. Making Bold Decisions While Building Collaboration.

This one I experience most every meeting we have as a team. I can almost always sense the room waiting for my opinion. Many times I realize we won’t move forward until I weigh in on the matter. But good leadership involves collaboration. I’m not the only voice—and many times not the smartest voice in the process. If I have the only answer no one will participate, but if I never have any answers no one will want to follow my leadership.

3. Showing Strength While Displaying Compassion.

People want to follow a leader who generally cares for them as individuals. Compassion for those who can’t help themselves is an attractive leadership quality. The best leaders I know have a concern for others. But no one wants compassion to be translated as weakness. There are times a leader has to stand strong for what they know is the right thing—even when everyone can’t yet fully understand what they are doing or why.

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4. Controlling Energy Toward a Vision but Allowing Individuals to Chart Their Path.

Good leaders create healthy structure which can be managed for effectiveness, but at the same time the best discoveries often come when people are allowed the freedom to create, explore and “break the rules.”

5. Celebrating Victory While Not Resting on Current Success.

Another way to say this one would be: Honoring history while pushing toward the future. This one is hard for me. I’m ready and wired for “next” and like to keep moving. Sitting still is one of my hardest disciplines. I know, however, there are those on our team who can’t adequately move forward until we’ve recognized our current success. They need to celebrate. They need to reflect. Continually balancing this tension is good for the team.

6. Learning From Other Leaders but Being Who You Were Uniquely Wired to Be.

I’m a huge proponent of wisdom seeking. I think we should always have a mentor—and usually more than one. Plus, I try to always be reading, attending conferences and learning from the experiences of others. But there’s a tension in attempting to duplicate another person’s success and being exactly who God has called me to be. God has not called me to preach like Andy Stanley. He’s called me to preach like me. He also has not called me to lead like John Maxwell—but to lead like I would lead. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn from both of these leaders, because I have, but I cannot forget how God has uniquely wired me. By the way, he has uniquely wired you also.

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7. Spending Time With People Versus Completing Tasks.

This may be the most common tension of the ones listed. Leadership always involves people. Without people—without getting to know them, earning their trust, investing in them and showing them we care—leadership will never be effective. But I have work to do also with people I’m not necessarily leading. Also, I have paperwork to do. The real work of a leader is people—and yet the “other” work must get done.

I realize I’ve only exposed the problem without a lot of solutions. And, honestly, your solution will be different from mine. I think the answer isn’t necessarily an easy to define solution for each of these tensions, but recognizing they exist and continually seeking to live within them. And when one side of the tension is getting more attention than the other, fighting to get back to a better balance.

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.