Tensions of Leadership, Episode One Transcript

Todd: Good morning and welcome to another exciting season of our special edition series, Leadership on the Ground. And, as always, I’m joined by my friend and colleague Erica Peitler. Wow, Erica, season 4. Great to be back in studio with you.

Erica: Happy to be here with you. I can’t believe it’s time to record our next season already.

Todd: Season 4. I mean, we’ve got a deep archive of amazing stuff and this next season
promises to be very, very exciting. Oh, by the way, happy new year to you.

Erica: Happy new year to you. 2017.

Todd: Absolutely. So season 4 of Leadership on the Ground, the tensions of leadership. What do we mean by the tensions of leadership, Erica? I mean, in seasons 1 through 3, we were laying the foundation for being a better leader of yourself, a better leader of teams, and of course, a better leader of an organization, but this idea of tensions of leadership—where are we going to go with this idea of tension?

Erica: Yeah, this is really going to be an exciting season for us because we’ve been engaging in this ongoing dialogue regarding leadership being a skilled profession. So it requires conscious discipline, it requires practice, and it’s all in this pursuit of performance and productivity. So in season 1, we really laid down some skills about how do you become a consciously competent leader? What do you need to do? How do you do it and why do you do it? And then we advanced in seasons 2 and 3 and we started to talk about practices of leadership. How do you practice in real-time? How do you establish rhythm for working at the speed of business and putting some macros in place? In season 4, Todd, we’re going to change it up again and we’re going to look at these tensions that leaders face as they progress in advancing their leadership practice, and these tensions are stresses, they’re pulls, they’re triggers, and they’re things that leaders must raise, wrestle with, and resolve, or else they’re going to struggle, they’re going to get stuck, and they’re going to stagnate themselves and their businesses. So the stakes are really high in season 4.

Todd: Okay, well this is where it seems to me the rubber hits the road on your leadership development. This is going to be a very, very exciting season. So getting into this now, how would I know that I’m facing a tension? What questions present themselves to indicate that I’m facing tension?

Erica: That’s a great question because when you have a tension, you’re actually being promoted to either take action or not take action, so the things that are running through your head is, “What do I do now? How do I do it? What do I want? What’s expected of me? Is this worth it? Is the risk and the reward worth it?” You start to get these questions that are coming up and you have to ask yourself, “What do I do? Or do I do nothing?” One of the things we have to think about is when these tensions and these triggers come, are we willing to take an action? That’s something that we’re going to talk a little bit more about.

Todd: Well, I think it’s important to talk about because when I first began to think about the season, I thought, “Tension, is that a negative thing?” And I think it’s really important to clarify here that—well, it can be, I suppose, if you don’t take any action, as you just said—but I believe it’s important for the audience to understand that when you’re facing a tension, isn’t that symbolic of the fact that, here is an opportunity to do something powerful to advance your leadership career? I mean, is that what this is all about?

Erica: Exactly. We talked about this in one of the previous seasons: the entry point. What do you want to do with this? This tension is here, these questions are running through your head. One of the things I talk about in my leadership coaching and practice is there’s nothing we can’t talk about. So when you’re facing a tension and you know that you have a tension that’s kind of triggering you, lean into it. It could be a very positive thing. It doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. What is negative is if you choose to have inaction and you don’t take it a step further, but is could be a eustress, meaning a positive stress, or it could be a distress, and it’s really a question of how are you going to choose to embrace it. So it can be very positive for you as a leader.

Todd: So if you’re not facing tensions, then I think there’s something missing. Tensions here, in this context, are a good thing, and I think down the road, we’re going to talk about choices that come. A tension is a sign that there is an opportunity present there. So what causes these tensions?

Erica: Great question. Tensions can be coming from a variety of different places. It could be that there’s an expectation of you that’s different from your readiness to deal with it. Think about it: your father, your boss starts putting pressure on you, “Hey, when are you going to get a promotion, what about that bigger position? We have our eye on you for that.” You may be not quite ready but yet the expectations are higher. Tension, what do I do, is the timing right? It could be the priorities are not aligned. You right now may see your family as a big part of your priority but there’s some huge opportunities that are happening in the workplace for you as a team leader, or as an organizational leader, maybe an expat assignment. Do you choose your family, do you choose your career? What are the priorities that you’re dealing with? It could also just be, we talked about this volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous world. There are times in our lives when we just want to be in job mode perhaps, and we may just want to be consolidating or solidifying some of our skills. We may not be at the stage where we’re ready to take a risk or take a challenge on that’s bigger than what we currently have. So there could be a lot of reasons why you have the tension. The question you really have to think about is you don’t want the tension to turn into a pain thing. You don’t want it to be uncomfortable; you don’t want it to be heavy. You want it to be that positive piece and you want to be able to communicate around it and deal, and talk to the people who are involved in it so you can appropriately come to a good resolution.

Todd: Okay. Erica and I will return after this short break. We’ll be right back.

Todd: All right. Todd Schnick back with Erica Peitler. We just talked about what causes tension. Now that you have a tension, what does a leader do about it?

Erica: Yeah, so here’s the moment of choice, right? This moment of deflection or an inflection point. Are you going to take action or are you going to choose to not take action? By the way, as a leader, it’s okay to do either, as long as you do it with conscious discipline, and choice, and you explain why you’re doing it. When you decide to not take action and not communicate it to other people, that’s the place when the tension can become a pain point, and it can become a disappointment, and it can go the wrong way and cause stress. If you have an inaction, or a choice that you’re not willing to make, just clarify that and let people know where you currently stand because for you to advance as a leader, you’re going to face these tensions over and over again. What you have to do is you have to resolve them. So you have to be ready to raise the issue, wrestle it down, and then resolve it, as we said at the top of the show.

Todd: So the key here is that when you’re facing a tension, you do have to resolve it. What I think a lot of people out there are struggling with is they face these tensions and they bury them, and they don’t deal with them, and therein lies when you hate getting up to work on Monday morning, because you’re dealing with those kinds of things and you’re frustrated, and you’re stressed, and you’re not feeling good. So this, again, what we were talking about earlier, a tension is an opportunity because if you address it head on, boom then this thing begins to get some momentum and then it gets exciting, right?

Erica: You nailed it. It’s that emotional piece that can become a mood killer and a momentum killer for you if you don’t deal with it and you just let it weigh heavily on your mind. If you have negative tension, it becomes a pain point, it becomes stress, you decrease your productivity, you decrease your creativity. So we want to be able to embrace and deal with these stresses and tensions so that we can actually move forward. We have choices here but there are some things that we have to go through and some of them are internal and some of them are external. So when we think about it, from an internal standpoint, you have to decide that you’re willing to overcome your own personal resistance to something, that you’re able to take a risk, and that you’re ready to be vulnerable. Because sometimes you have to have a difficult conversation around some of these tensions and it may not be as straightforward and simple. So you have to be willing to clear the air on something or you have to be able to have a difficult conversation with someone and communicate where you stand. That internal dimension is really important.

Todd: So being willing, able, and ready, to overcome resistance, to take risks, to being vulnerable, which is freaky and scary for a lot of people, you, in today’s business world, cannot be a leader if you are not willing to overcome resistance, take risks, and be vulnerable, right?

Erica: No question. This is like the new reality of leadership. You have to be able to do that. And if that internal piece is in place, that kind of gives you permission to play then and move forward with the resolution of a tension. So let’s talk about how do we resolve these tensions? There’s resolution in a couple of ways and three that I’d really liked to capture and think about. The first one is you can make a choice, “I’m going to do this or that,” and it’s pretty clear, it’s pretty straightforward. I’m going to move, I’m not going to move; I’m going to take the job, I’m going to not take the job. So choice is the first way that we could resolve the tension. The second way that we could resolve the tension is we can integrate things. We can say, “First I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.” So there may be different things that I want to do. I may move my family and take this job or I may take on this new position and decide that I’m still going to have work-life balance. I’m going to integrate two of my thoughts but I’m going to be very clear with myself. How am I going to resolve this tension? I’m going to do this and that and I’m going to make an integration play. The third way we can resolve a tension is we’re going to decide to sequence things, “I’m going to do this and then that.” So I may choose to really go full throttle on my career for a period of time, and then I’m going to really invest in maybe building my family, if I’m a woman and I want to drop out of the workforce for a period of time and put my emphasis there. Or maybe I want to do that now and then come back and build my career later. So choice, integration, and sequencing—how we decide to play the tension out and how we decide to move forward with that is critical, as is explaining why we’re doing that so that we have that clear resolution.

Todd: I hear you talk about choice and integration and sequencing, and sequencing requires good judgement and instincts. I mean, this goes back to what we’ve said from season 1 when you talked about this is a skilled profession and that’s why the building blocks of seasons 1, 2, and 3 become so critical here, as you’re figuring out how to resolve a tension. Those are the lessons that you need to learn and understand before you can deal with those three ways to resolve tension. All right, so what are the actual, specific tensions that we’re going to deal with and take a look at in season 4 here?

Erica: Yeah, this is exciting. Leadership rigor were in those three different areas of leading yourself, leading teams, and leading organizations, and each of them has a macro tension that we’re going to deal with. In leading yourself, the big tension that we have to deal with is are you willing to cross the knowing/doing gap? Now, we talked about this in some of our earlier seasons, about putting some of your skills on the ground, putting them on the ground in real time. Now we’re going to really talk about taking personal action and taking personal action by establishing and utilizing your voice, making your choices, making yourself heard, making yourself seen and felt in the room, and that tension of moving from a passenger to a participant is really what we’re going to deal with in the next two episodes. Then we’re going to advance to the tensions that are around leading teams, and here it becomes really interesting because when you become a team leader, and you’re in the team leadership mode, you have to make a shift and become both a practitioner of the technical skills that you’re acquiring, but you also have to become a philosopher and start to realize that, “I have to develop the bench, I have to develop other people, and you have to recalibrate yourself for this new team leadership role, and you have to make the shift from me-ology-based of, “What do I need to do to really get my work done?” to this we-ology-based lens, which says, “How do I help my team and this group of people get their work done?” We’ll wrap up the season with the two last episodes that is going to focus on leading at the organizational level. And here’s something that I think is just such a great challenge for today’s leaders—and I do a lot of work in this area—which is, are you going to be either an entrepreneurial leader or an enterprise leader? And this is a critical, foundational question for CEOs and for leadership teams because it cuts right to the heart of how are you going to ensure the scalability and the sustainability of your firm? So it’s a really action packed season.

Todd: It certainly is, but hearing you talk about those three macro tensions that we’re going to deal with, I can understand why there’s a lot of leaders out there that struggle and why they get put into positions where they can’t thrive and survive. It makes a lot of sense. I really feel like this is the first season where you have real choices here, and everything we talked about in seasons 1, 2, and 3 enable you to make the right choice, right?

Erica: Absolutely. It all comes together now and these tensions allow for these important resolutions that really speak to the heart of your leadership practice.

Todd: All right. Well, that’s all the time we have for today. It’s going to be a very exciting season. Erica, should anyone have any questions, how can they contact you and learn more?

Erica: Yeah, thanks for asking. So you can reach me at EricaPeitler is my website or you can e-mail me. I would love to interchange with you, answer any questions you may have. You can reach me at Erica@EricaPeitler.com and my Twitter handle is @Erica Peitler.

Todd: All right. Thank you for that. So join us next week for, and to really kick things off with episode 2, the tension in leading yourself and crossing the knowing/doing gap part 1: establishing your leadership voice. So until then, and on behalf of myself and my co-host Erica Peitler, thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next week on Leadership on the Ground, season 4.