What does Entropy have to do with Leadership? *hint – everything*

Ok, yes, this is a little geeky.  I’ll get to the point.

I started life as an engineer and soon realized that the key to my success had everything to do with leading people.  Not managing, but truly leading. I learned about leadership by failing at it, learning quickly, and trying again.

As a CEO in one of my startups, I found was that people on my team were working hard, but not producing meaningful results.  This was Entropy!  The scientific definition is the amount of energy which is unavailable to do work.  Think of it as the energy that is there but can’t be applied to the work because of chaos, uncertainty, or randomness. Yes, that was it, we had a lot of entropy.  So, I charged out to fix it.

My goal was to find ways for all this stored energy on my team to be applied to productive tasks that aligned with our objectives. I became a micromanager fighting to get back the time lost doing the “wrong” things.  That didn’t work – lesson learned.  How could I fix the entropy in the system?

Knowing there is always going to be some uncertainty, my next experiment was to just make things move faster.  With a fast-moving team my thought was that there wouldn’t be enough available time to pursue unproductive tasks.  Wrong again!   All I did was increase our centripetal velocity. We were chasing our tails.  All I was doing was pushing the merry-go-round faster and faster and making people sick.

I was exhausted. But knew I could not leave this alone because the chaos would increase, and we would be left without the energy to get the right things done. I checked in with my business coach on this.  During our conversation what I realized is that leadership was the source of perpetual energy for my team.

I had to overcome my own fears and frustrations. I had to rise above it and lead. I had to create an environment where entropy could not exist.  My attitude was contagious, and my frustration was causing the entropy epidemic.  Once I began leading our business started growing again; and we did it without adding more people.  We had all the energy we needed.

In many ways the secret sauce was empathy.  Understanding and being sensitive to experiences of others makes leading easy.  When you apply empathy to the 3 E’s of leadership (See my article about empowerment, enablement, and ennobling) then you can truly free people to do the work.

There is so much to share about my leader’s journey, and I will be writing more. Meanwhile I would be delighted to talk with you about it if you send me a note at dougm@lucidly.org.

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