The Triangle of Tensions

Holding the tension is the art of leadership.

As a leader you need to cope – indeed struggle – with three separate, but simultaneous, dimensions.

  • Your Individual Identity – who you really are. Here lies the ‘engine’ of your motivation. It is rooted in your past. It is also rooted in your emotions – your hopes, aspirations, fears and prejudices. Self-knowledge is, therefore, key to your success as a leader. It is a journey of discovery, never completed.
  • Your Canned Role – other people’s expectations of you. You are expected to behave and perform in a stereotypical way, with all the trappings, expectations, responsibilities and clichés of leadership. Because your Canned Role is about what the organisation is trying to achieve, it is associated with the future.
  • The Emergent Reality – the messy process of what’s really happening. Here, interests converge and clash. Compromises are made. Chance events happen. Decisions are taken. And your individual identity meets your canned role head-on. Welcome to the present – in all its messy reality.

Each aspect of the triangle is critical. It is destructive if one dimension is consistently emphasised. Leaders must be able to see all three, but have the wisdom to know which to emphasise at any one time.