Two letters can make a big difference. Consider leaders who create an intense work climate versus those who produce a tense environment. The best leaders strive for intensity to challenge people to excel; however, they eschew the kind of tension that undermines performance. Walking the fine line between creating intense or tense is not always obvious.
Intensity creates the energy that allows people to push through the obstacles and challenges that stand in the way of great performance. When we experience intensity, issues come into sharper focus and the urgency to achieve becomes elevated. We rise to the occasion, as they say. Leaders who get the best out of people create intensity on purpose by setting high expectations and then giving workers the responsibility, control, and autonomy to excel. They keep milestones and metrics highlighting progress in clear view and pitch in with their own high energy to keep things on track.
Leaders who simply attempt to turn up the pressure miss the important distinction between these two ideas. When a leader’s energy is aimed at evaluation, judgment, and the critical importance of the work outcome, people feel tension. The anxiety and stress created by tension undermine performance and destroy the confidence needed to excel. People run for cover and wait. They don’t dive in and tackle what needs to be done. Instead, they wait to be told what to do and overthink how they are performing to the detriment of execution.
The best leaders are intense and convey that intensity to others by the way they lead. The imperative to perform starts with them. The passion and expectation they hold for themselves seep into everything a team experiences. When that same leader sets a high bar and accompanies those expectations with the autonomy for others to decide how to achieve great outcomes, teams perform to their highest potential. As they like to say in one well-known organization, “Intensity builds immensity.”