CEO Coaching: Tension or Slack? 

An upcoming trip to fly-fish on a tributary on the Amazon caused me to buy some heavier equipment (i.e., rod, reel, fly line, and flies). The fish down there are river monsters. A trip to the park to try out said gear was humbling. My casting is pretty good, but with that heavy gear I was struggling. You don’t want to end up with a large hook in the back of your head, or worse, in your boatmate.

One way to cure the problem is to keep constant tension of the fly with a Belgian cast. If you don’t, you create slack in the line on your back cast and get whacked in the head on your forward cast.

Hmmm, I thought after getting whacked a few times. Is there a metaphor here? (Perhaps I was concussed and not thinking clearly!)

Without healthy tension in a business, things go slack, and bad things happen. You can ruin good people by putting them where they just tread water. Just like some shark species, forward motion is required for life to continue. 

This applies to individuals, teams, and companies. Enough tension to keep things moving forward (extreme tension or stress can cause breakage). Enough tension that goals are challenging but attainable; people have productive discussions and speak their mind; and companies strive for an above average return on capital and work environment.

The right amount of tension in the workplace also eliminates entitled people. It causes folks to speak the truth. It attracts individuals who want to add value. And it can and should coexist with joy. 

To be a successful leader, you must be comfortable with (and create) some level of tension. You must build a culture of accountability and healthy conflict. You must understand the difference between nice and kind. And yes, it can still be fun!

I’ve seen some owners and executives try to coast rather than reach for something better, and it never goes well. I’ve seen others run from conflict. Slackers in a business are like slack in a fly line. You’re going to get whacked!

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