The Tension is Real

Published October 6, 2020

Leadership is tension.

  • the past vs. the present
  • the present vs. the future
  • short-term vs. long-term
  • sales vs. profits
  • the economy vs. public safety
  • the means vs. the ends
  • and on and on the list continues

These tensions, and many others have been on full display during our recent challenges as a nation and a planet. In the midst of unprecedented uncertainty, people look to their leaders for answers. However, as with many situations in life, there are often no easy answers.

Wise leaders are keenly aware of the pitfalls of providing simple answers to complex issues.

For many years, I have been talking about one of the tensions that is front and center today: results vs. relationships, or as some like to frame it, the head vs. the heart.

Let me remind you—this is a trap and a false choice.


The best leaders value both head and heart!

Of all the fundamentals of leadership, managing this tension of valuing both results and relationships, is extremely difficult for most leaders.

The conundrum emerges based on our own temperament and personality. Based on unscientific research conducted over several decades, I would suggest that about half the leaders have a natural bias toward results and roughly half lean toward relationships. However, there is a small group of leaders, maybe 5%, who God has blessed with a natural proclivity for both. For all the rest of us, this is really hard work.

Our goal is not to change our natural wiring. My assumption is that God knew what He was doing when he made each one of us.

But don’t miss the point: If you want to lead to your full potential, you need to value both results and relationships—the head and the heart.

I’ve already said this is hard, but there is an answer: Compensate where you are not naturally oriented. Like a pair of prescription glasses, smart leaders dial in the right corrective measures to improve where they are not strong.

Tips for heart-oriented leaders

If your tendency is to focus on the heart (relationships), you can compensate on the head (results) side of the equation with any number of tactical interventions. Here are a few to jumpstart your thinking:

  • Set team and individual goals; share them with others.
  • Be sure you have some men and women on your team with a results bias.
  • Establish a current team scorecard. Review it at every meeting.
  • Establish a team norm of personal accountability.
  • Document your action items from every meeting and review them at the next meeting to ensure accomplishment.


Tips for head-oriented leaders

If, on the other hand, you gravitate more easily to the head (results), you too can compensate as well.

  • Be sure you have leaders on your team who have a heart bias.
  • Focus on listening deeply when talking with people—don’t run ahead in your mind.
  • Set some goals around activities like writing notes of encouragement and appreciation.
  • Build in systems and mechanisms to help facilitate personal interaction (e.g. one-on-one meetings)


My top heart vs. head tip

More than that, here’s my top recommendation for compensating for your heart or head bias. It comes from an experience I had many years ago…

I was asked by the International Bible Society to go to eastern Europe on a photo assignment—yes, in addition to selling chicken, I am a photographer. When I asked the team to provide me with a shot list (the images they hoped I would capture), I was struck by their response:

“Our team will stop twice every day while you are away and ask God to help you see with His eyes. If you see with His eyes, you will know what to photograph.” Wow!

Many years have passed since that trip. Now, I don’t have a team praying this life-altering prayer for me multiple times a day. Today, I pray it for myself, not as a photographer, as a human being and a leader.

God give me your eyes. Let me see every circumstance, every situation, every person, with your eyes.

That’s my prayer for you today.

Regardless of your context, regardless of your natural bias, fully acknowledging the tensions you must resolve and those you must manage, I pray that you will see with God’s eyes and lead based on what you see.

About the Author
Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Vice President of High-Performance Leadership


Mark Miller is a business leader, international best-selling author and storyteller. He currently serves as Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A, Inc. As an author, he now has over one million books in print including The Heart of Leadership, Chess Not Checkers , and his latest, Win Every Day, to be released in March 2020. Over the years, Mark has spoken to countless groups around the world—his message is consistent with his calling: He wants to encourage and equip leaders to change their world. Learn more at