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TENSION, The Common Denomonator in Life and Leadership

Tension, though common, is unique in perspective when applied to the subject of leadership or management. In numerous situations, many of which will be illustrated throughout this dissertation, it is not a leader’s mental intelligence, emotional intuition, experience, or age that determines success or failure, but how the leader manages tensions personally and corporately. It is the connection between the management of leadership tension and a leader’s success that drew my attention. I observed, throughout decades of serving in professional leadership positions, in various settings, organizations, and with different leaders that tension and the management of leadership tension was one of several common denominators in which no one was exempt. The difference of the success or effectiveness was severely challenged when faced with the tension that is inherent in leading. The personal observation of how a leader acknowledged, addressed, and advanced the tension was directly connected to his or her success. This observation became the basis of interest and investigation that led to the writing of this dissertation. I am aware of other works exploring the effects of leadership stress, conflict, and pain, but in this dissertation, we will be exploring leadership from the particular perspective of how the management of leadership tension can affect a leader and produce growth in a leader.

Tension exists in every part and aspect of our world, presenting itself physically, socially, emotionally, culturally, politically, economically, and even spiritually. Tension not only exists, but it is also a necessary and beneficial part of our lives. Without tension’s presence, we as people and the world we construct and inhabit would not exist. Tony Gaglierd, a faculty member with the Natural Science, Engineering, and Technology Department at Point Park College, explained the essential presence of tension in something as elementary as breathing: “The presence of surfactant in the lungs reduces the surface tension between moist lung surfaces in an air environment. With a reduction in surface tension within the lungs, less pressure (force) is required to inflate the lungs. Surface tension and the resulting capillary action assists the pumping action of your heart to help keep the blood moving in your blood vessels.”[1]

However, when it comes to tension in leadership settings, leaders tend to resist and even deny tension’s existence. In doing so, they not only lose tension’s powerful and constructive benefits, but they also find themselves and the organizations they lead moving in the wrong direction. As with any powerful force in the world, tension can involve inherent dangers and negative side effects. Yet these can be navigated and even used to enhance the power of tension in leaders’ lives and the organizations they lead.


[1] Tony Gaglierd, “Re: How Does Water Surface Tension Relate to Earth and Human Sustainability?” MadSci Network: Environment, December 12, 2000, accessed June 22, 2017,

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