[serialposts]Call Me Glinda: Tension and Relief for Successful Work Teams

This past weekend I saw the broadway show Wicked. It was a hilarious re-envisioning of the Oz story, centered on the bond between two unlikely friends: Elphaba and Glinda.

They couldn’t have been more different. Elphaba was unpopular, brunette, and analytical. She had a thing about granting monkeys freedom of speech. Glinda was popular, blond, and politically sensitive. She had a thing about traveling by bubble.

This morning, thinking about my role as a Manager, I am suddenly aware that though I am a petite brunette with a strong sense of drive, I have a laugh as big as Glinda’s (and I’m just now digging through my family tree to see if my ancestors were blond).

Before you think I’m trying to claim attractive curls, heavy-duty hairspray, and popularity status, let me put that thought aside. What I’m getting at is the role I play in the issue of creative tension, as it relates to forwarding workplace vision.

At The High Calling, where I am Managing Editor, we have a large vision. As C. J. Alvarado notes in Creative Matters, tension always follows vision (like the monkeys followed Elphaba): Predictably.

Tension comes because we know we’re not “there yet.” This creates pressure. And there are two ways to relieve it, says Alvarado. We can lower our vision and “bring it back toward reality” or we can “move reality toward the vision.”

The risk? That we’ll quit along the way because we want to relieve the pressure, and end up staying with our current reality.

Just yesterday, I had occasion to think about this issue. Another leader on my Team was feeling a sense of discontent with where we are. As we talked, I thought, “This is what I love about him. He’s always reaching.” In other words, I thought of my colleague not as “a nuisance and a roadblock,” but rather a “source of energy.”

This is a critical nuance. Because when tension arises, we are only one step away from letting it become emotional and draining, rather than creative and energizing. On this point, Alvarado warns…

When it becomes emotional, people respond in a variety of ways. They may get angry, they go into protective mode, they may become tempted to abandon ship. If you work with teams and it turns emotional, the pressure grows exponentially. You may feel like people become more focused on themselves or distance themselves from you, losing sight of the vision.

To keep it creative instead of emotional, Alvarado suggests a magic charm of sorts: “Use the power of language to help people understand that this tension is part of achieving greatness.”

I strongly agree. However, I also think emotion is a source of energy. This is a subtle point, but one worth making. The key for partners and teams is not to simply adopt a new slogan: “Keep it creative, Dude,” but to validate emotions along the way and invite them to be part of the problem-solving process.

Validation can come in simple forms. Listening to an emotion, putting it on the table for the other person (“you seem frustrated, can you tell me about that?”), and responding with a collaboratively-created staged plan to address the vision-tension. (Staged plans give a sense that we can “get there,” because people are able to find markers along the way.)

Of course, the truth is that we will never get there, because in a vital organization the “there” will keep moving. But we don’t need to always focus on that. We can and should celebrate real accomplishments, ignoring the reality of tension if only for a while. We should travel by bubble before we pop it again. And we should find time for hilarity.

“So your job is to lie to people?” Elphaba says to Glinda at one point.

“My job is to encourage them,” Glinda replies.

Elphaba is right of course. We aren’t “there yet.” But a little Glindification will help us go a long way.

[creative matters] chapter four: resisting resistance

by L.L. Barkat time to read: 3 min