One of the many tasks of leadership is to identify the underlying tensions in one’s organization and create balance between these tensions.
For example, one of the most pronounced tensions in higher education is that of the need to compete for students and the need to retain academic excellence. A recent article in the University of Western Ontario News explains this tension in detail. Students want to get the highest grades with the least work possible. They will choose the program or university which they believe will make this possible. However, over time, this degrades the quality of the degree, and employers begin to judge the degree differently. The long-term impact is a deterioration of the “brand” in the eyes of future students, employers and the general public.
The short-term (attracting and retaining students) and the long-term (maintaining the quality of the product, impacting the long-term ability to retain and attract students) must be balanced.
These tensions have multiple implications. For example, university administrators are responsible for attraction and retention of students, while faculty have accountability for the quality of education. Polite conflict often ensues as administrators try to offer what students want, while faculty try to retain some control over the content and delivery of education.
The role of a leader? To help her team become aware of the tensions within the organization, and to work together to find a balancing point between these two tensions. We can’t eliminate these tensions, we can only manage them.
What are the tensions within your organization?