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What Can Newton Teach You About Leadership?

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Natural Laws of Leadership: Motion

Recently I was coaching a senior leader on the topic of operational improvements underway in the organization. There was general frustration that changes and new procedures weren’t being widely adopted by the staff in the department. He asked why people weren’t doing what they were being asked to do. I asked, “What he was doing to motivate a change in their behaviors to ensure people were doing things differently?” He said that he thought that the right solution should be enough to get people to want to adopt it.

While that idealistic thought might work in the fantasy of a Disney movie , it isn’t realistic in real-world leadership.

One reality of leadership is this:

Unless inspired or motivated to do so, people don’t generally possess the desire to do things any differently tomorrow than they did today.

In other words, just because you say something, or present a good idea, or a more efficient way of doing things, it doesn’t mean that people will jump to do it. It requires more than that from the leader. It requires the right amount of force in the right direction.

 

As a leader, your job is to know what direction you want to take your team/organization (have a vision) and to know those whom you are leading well enough to understand the proper amount and type of force to apply in the right place to change the direction (tension) I wrote about this topic in an earlier article.

 

This reminds me of the scientific truth of Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion . There is absolutely a Leadership correlation to those laws. I recently read an article by Vivek Mehrotra where he does a good job of identifying some basic correlations between Newton’s first two laws and leadership. I’ll elaborate on those thoughts here and add perspective to Newton’s Third law as it applies to leadership.

Without a doubt the leadership correlation to each of Newton’s laws are as true as the Laws of Motion themselves.

Newton’s First Law of Motion: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

 

First Law of Leadership: An organization in its current state (status quo) is in an organizational “state of motion.” Things won’t change unless you apply force to cause them to change. Without that leadership force, it will continue to operate along its current path.

 

Newton’s Second Law of Motion: The relationship between an object’s mass (m), its acceleration (a), and the applied force (F) is Force = mass x acceleration.

 

Second Law of Leadership: The force needed to bring change to an organization depends on the size of the organization and the size of the change. If you want to make big changes fast, then you need to apply lots of force. If you don’t mind changes taking lots of time, then smaller but consistently applied force over time will work. The converse of this law is also true. If you expect big changes to come from the part time efforts of a few people, then get used to disappointment.

 

Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

 

Third Law of Leadership: Even when you provide the right direction and motivation, there will be a force that acts to negate the action you are undertaking. So, don’t be surprised when there seems to be resistance to changes you are trying to implement. Particularly in light of the First Law of Leadership, it means that you must continue to exert the right amount of force to continue to make things move until your goals are achieved.

 

Understand for yourself:

What kind of force is required to get your organization to achieve the results you have in your vision?
Are you aware of the reactions to your actions? Do you understand how your actions are driving the reactions of your people?

Always remember the natural laws of leadership.

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Dave Hasenbalg has spent the last 20 years leading, coaching, and consulting businesses to find solutions to real-world challenges by illuminating blind spots, building better teams, and coordinating action that produces results. He has an expertise in developing leaders, bringing about change in organizations of all sizes, and eliminating the impediments to effective execution. His practical background is as a military officer as well as a leader in cutting edge, non-profit, and Fortune 100 companies.

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