Posts Tagged ‘physics’

Achieving Escape Velocity

August 2, 2011 5 comments


grav·i·ty (ˈgravitē) n. The natural force that attracts a body toward the center of any physical body having mass.

Years ago, while traveling in Australia, a SCUBA trip I had planned fell through, so on a whim I found a skydiving school and asked if I could skydive that day.

The bloke across the counter picked up a ball-point pen, held it 18 inches over the sign-in sheet, and let go. As soon as the pen hit the paper he looked up.

“Yup,” he said, “Gravity’s working today.”

The earth’s gravitational pull is so ubiquitous that we hardly even notice it. We don’t think twice about the force that keeps us planted where we are, prevents the air we’re breathing from floating away, and even slings the moon around every month.

So what’s this have to do with leadership?

The earth isn’t the only thing that pulls on you. There are many things that tug on you and those you’re leading. Here are a few things that have a subtle and powerful gravity all their own:

  • The Status Quo. You’ve felt this force before. Whenever you attempt even the slightest change, you are immediately met with a resistance—a gentle tug drawing you back to the way things used to be, the things you know, the way it’s always been before.
  • The Ordinary. Ordinary is easy. It’s where people are nice and performance is fine. Most people mull around here, where their best hope is for a brush with something more. Some emerge for a moment, only to be pulled back down. It’s tough to maintain the extraordinary.
  • Your Self. The gravity of your self is the most faint and ferocious of all. At best, it appears as your need to protect and justify yourself or to be respected. At worst it can collapse into a black hole of addiction that brings everyone around you down as well.

In order to slip the clutches of the earth’s gravity, rockets must reach what’s called escape velocity—the speed at which a projectile will no longer fall back to earth or settle into a closed orbit. Escape velocity is the speed of freedom.

People don’t stumble into outer space. In the same way, people don’t accidentally escape the gravity of the status quo, the ordinary, or themselves. It takes planning, purpose, and courage to break free from the way things have always been, to achieve something truly extraordinary, or to lose yourself in service to others.

That’s where you come in. Your job as a leader is to help people achieve their escape velocity.

What’s pulling you down? How will you achieve escape velocity?

Managing Beliefs

May 16, 2011 3 comments

leadership trust belief“Do you believe there is life on other planets?”

That simple question, asked of me 17 years ago, led to a complete overhaul of how I see myself and others. The question was posed by my Astrophysics Professor during a theological debate after class. My response started something like this:

“I think there’s a possibility that—”

“I didn’t ask what you think,” he interrupted. “I asked what you believe.”

His clarification stopped me in my tracks. What did I believe? Good question. I could tell him what I thought. I could tell him what I felt. Heck, I could even tell him what I said I believed. But how do I know what I truly believe? It occurred to me that the only way to tell what I believed was to look at how I lived my life. I reasoned that if I really believed something—not just claimed to believe something—it would necessarily manifest itself in my choices and consequently my behavior.

Since that day I’ve seen this confirmed over and over: Beliefs drive behavior.

Exceptional leaders leverage this truth to motivate people and set them free. If you want to alter someone’s behavior (i.e.. improve performance, increase productivity, encourage creativity, eliminate bad habits, etc.), don’t just focus on external actions—those are just results. At best that creates a hollow bureaucracy; at worst, mindless automatons.

Focus on building beliefs that will produce the desired behaviors. For instance, improving performance might be achieved by helping someone believe in themselves. Increased productivity might surface the moment someone starts believing in the merits of a reliable filing system. Some people just need to believe they have permission before creativity flows out of them. Often, bad habits can be dismantled by exposing—and replacing—the false beliefs people have bought into.

Belief management is the best solution for achieving true, long-lasting behavioral change. I believe that with everything I’ve got.

However, I still can’t muster a belief in extraterrestrial life.

What role do you think beliefs play in leadership?

Hope on the Winter Solstice

December 21, 2009 2 comments
Winter sun

You’ve got to see the big picture as a leader – it may be the most important thing you bring to those you lead. The solar system is giving us a perfect example today.

Today is the Winter Solstice for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s an astronomical tipping point. At 12:47pm Eastern time this afternoon the sun’s arc reached its lowest point in our sky, appeared to stop, and started moving higher and higher – as it will for the next six months. This is the shortest day of the year; from now til June the days keep getting longer. This is the big picture.

Today is also the first day of winter. You can’t erase months of longer and longer nights in one day. So while our days will start getting longer tomorrow, the next few months will still be very cold! Regardless of the big picture, this is the reality we’ll deal with for weeks.

We see the same thing in our lives. You plant the seed, but have to wait for the flower. You turn on the hot water, but it takes a while to warm up. The numbers tell us the economy is recovering, but our people aren’t feeling it yet. If you understand the bigger picture, you find the courage to stay the course.

Your job as a leader is to remind others of the big picture and to fan their hope into courage. It may not seem like things are improving, but if you’ve set the conditions for success, then have faith – and wait. In a world full of instant gratification it’s good to remember that some things are worth waiting for. Just make sure you’re sharing your perspective with those around you – especially as the weather gets colder!

The Physics of Leadership

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

physics of leadership

phys·ics (fĭz’ĭks) 2. The physical properties, interactions, processes, or laws of something: the physics of plasmas.

I like the way the universe is put together in a consistent way. For example, jump off a 1,000 foot cliff you’ll fall all the way to the bottom – every time. However, if you know the rules that govern the system, you can start to affect your outcomes. For instance, if you jump off a 1,000 foot cliff attached to an airfoil capable of producing enough lift to counter your own weight, all of a sudden you’ve gone from falling to flying!

There are similar “rules” that govern how people influence each other. For instance, if you dole out assignments to your staff based solely on your own needs and wants, then you’re leading your team off a cliff. At the bottom you’ll find mediocre performance, untapped potential, and people jumping ship – every time.

However, if you know the rules – and use them wisely – you can begin to influence outcomes. If you start trying to align your assignments to the individual needs and wants of your staff, you’ll see your team start to take off. Is this always easy? No. (Neither is crafting an airfoil!) Will you succeed every time? Certainly not. Will your staff notice and appreciate the effort on your part? Yes, they will.

How do you learn the physics of leadership? The same way real physicists do: deliberate observation followed by experimentation. Look around! What’s working? Why did it work that time but not this time? Try something new. Become a learning leader by looking for the fundamental fabric behind your positive leadership experiences.

What properties, interactions, processes, or laws of leadership have you seen in action?