Brady Wilson

This article is the fifth of a Juice blog series on “fossil fuel” and personal energy in the workplace.

The previous Fossil Fuel blogs (click here to read articles 1, 2 , 3, and 4) have pointed to tension as a source of free energy.

But what is the most common response of leaders to tension? To avoid it.

It’s time to reframe tension. It’s not something negative or toxic to be avoided at all costs: it’s a free pool of renewable energy that can drive the results that matter most in your organization.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 23 years: the best leaders always move toward tension.

Today I share seven reasons why.

#1 - No tension = no energy

Tension is simply stored energy. Consider the following examples:

  • The elastic tension of a slingshot that propels a projectile

  • The gravitational tension of Niagara Falls, which drives the turbines

  • The electric tension inside a battery that powers a forklift 

  • The psychological tension of the gap between an employee’s preferred future and their current reality

If you want to generate energy, you need to learn how to move toward tension.

#2 - No tension = no innovation

Your brain perceives cognitive tension as a fascinating novelty, a puzzle to be solved. It clamors for a solution to resolve the tension.

Cognitive tension is brain fuel. In fact, if you never experience tension, you’ll never come up with a good idea.

Necessity is not the mother of invention; tension is.

#3 - No tension = no trust

Your brain only codes for trust when you have gone through relational tension with someone and come out the other side, having discovered that you hold each other’s interest in high regard.

If you’ve never experienced and resolved tension with someone, your trust is untested, unverified.

#4 - No tension = no esprit de corps

When I ask people about the finest moments of their organization, they always point to moments of intense tension:

  • ​“It was the SARS epidemic. We dropped our silos, came together and achieved things we never thought possible.”         
  • “It was the flood in High River. Everybody pitched in. We were exhausted. We were super-energized.”

Coming through moments of tension together galvanizes collaboration on a team like nothing else can.

#5 - No tension = no flow

When you’re in a “flow state,” you are so thoroughly absorbed in something that you lose track of time.

Superb performance and moments of brilliance are the products of the flow state.

Flow is triggered by tension: the feeling of being stretched by an energizing challenge that is just beyond your current capability.

#6 - No tension = bland meetings

Business writer Pat Lencioni makes a solid point in his book Death By Meeting: just like a good movie, you can’t have a good meeting without some conflict.

The build-up of emotional tension and the resolution lead to more interesting, memorable, productive meetings.

#7 - No tension = no performance

If your team has never “stormed and normed”, then it’s unlikely you’ll perform.

Working through team tensions and harmonizing competing needs releases a solid, reliable kind of performance that politeness and niceness can never match.


Learn more about how tension energizes your workforce. Register for one of Juice’s upcoming free training webinars today!


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Brady Wilson

Brady Wilson

Co-Founder of Juice Inc, Thought Leader & Author

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