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Lesson 4: Lions live in the tension.

Life in a pride of lions is not idyllic. Being part of a pride comes at a price. There is obviously many benefits that balance out the realities of life in a pride. The protection and security that a pride offer is just one of many benefits. There is the communal rearing and raising of the cubs, and the protection of the males that ensure a safe territory to hunt and raise the cubs. But powerful teams often consist of powerful individuals and this reality is often overlooked when we gaze at the king of the jungle and his pride through our binoculars or lenses.
Females normally do 80-90% of the pride’s hunting while the males patrol the territory and protect the pride for which they will take the “lions share” at the kill. When resting, lions seem to enjoy one another’s company and life in the pride is peaceful and relaxed. They also seem to realize that they need one another during the intensity of the hunt, leveraging the unique strengths and experiences of different individuals. Before the hunt, there will be lots of touching, licking and head rubbing. But when it comes to food, these social killers are transformed into self-centered and greedy individuals that look out for themselves. Fighting and conflict at the kill are common with adult males feasting first, followed by the females and then the cubs.
It is a reality of life in the pride. As much as it seems dis-functional, it contributes to the dynamics in the pride. The tension creates energy and hunger is a driving force in nature! The conflict settles the hierarchy and ultimately clarifies roles for life in the pride. The tension is as healthy and vital to a prides success as making the next kill. This tension gives meaning and will never go away as long as they are lions.
Lions live in this tension.

Photo credit:  Neal Cooper (CNP Safaris)

One of the myths of leadership, I believe, is the issue of solving conflict/ problems or tensions and if you have the same problems, or if you have tensions over and over again, then you’re not a good leader; clearly then, you’ve got a leadership issue.
The reality, however, is that leaders should know how to leverage those problems and tensions in a way that causes them to never go away, but rather so that they become part of what your team or business need to remain competitive and sustainable.
Andy Stanley shared this view in a series called“ the upside of tension”

As a leader you should...
Understand that your organisation/team has problems that shouldn’t be solved, and tensions that shouldn’t be resolved
For example conflict between marketing and production, mining and engineering, operations and safety, maintenance and quality management. Think about it, it is not about solving it. Resolving it may just create new tensions. What if you opt for excellence at the absence of sound financial principles?
Trying to resolve might create a barrier to progress. Progress depends not on the resolution but on the successful management of those tensions.

In order to distinguish between problems to solve and tensions to manage, ask the following:

  1. Does this conflict/tension keep resurfacing?
  2. Are there mature advocates on both sides?
  3. Are the two sides really interdependent?
Photo credit:  Neal Cooper (CNP Safaris)

Leverage the tension to the benefit of the organization.
Identify the tension to be managed in your organization. Don’t sweep it under the carpet or hope that it will go away. Ensure that it does not polarize individuals or teams. Don’t allow for strong personalities to win the day. When you get two strong personalities on opposing sides of an issue, it potentially becomes “win-lose” and someone inevitably wins, which means someone inevitably loses.
We need passionate people who will champion their side, but who are also mature enough to understand this reality.
Conclusion: As a leader, one of the most valuable things you can do for your organization or team is to differentiate between tensions your will always need to manage vs. problems that or conflict that need to be solved.
Learn to say, “this is a tension we are going to have to learn to manage. Lets live in it!”

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