Take a Leadership Cue From Nature: Entropy

by | Feb 22, 2019 | Blog Series, Development, Leadership, Management, Reflection, Self-awareness, Self-Care |

This is the third installment in an eight-week series called Take a Leadership Cue From Nature, using naturally occurring phenomena from the world around to illustrate how—if we’re not careful—we can let circumstances undermine our leadership effectiveness.
Maybe that thing we’re sensing may not be so strange after all…

Entropy is a word many people recognize but (my guess is) few understand. It’s a part of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the energy of a system always moves toward equilibrium. Entropy (as a part of the equilibrium process) is the concept of energy in a system always moving from order to disorder unless additional energy is applied.

A simplified, practical result: Chaos reigns, unless we intentionally dethrone it.

And Your Point Is…?

In a leadership context, without an intervention the people and efforts you lead will always—always—slide toward chaos and disorder.

So What?

There is no “set it and forget it,” even with the best of leadership efforts.

Vision drift is real. People will have bad days; they’ll lose motivation, get discouraged, distracted. Sometimes even your best people will resist your leadership (this is not always entropy, though: Sometimes it’s their honest input or feedback and should be embraced).

Without an intervention the people and efforts you lead will always—always—slide toward chaos and disorder.

Initiatives you kick off will lose their impact over time, as situations and conditions change and unforeseen outcomes occur. You’ll realize that the assumptions you made going in, though strong, weren’t 100% accurate and the strategy needs to be adjusted.

This is not just about situations and environments changing, this is about a natural degradation and loss of energy in your leadership efforts.

There is no “set it and forget it,” even with the best of leadership efforts.

The Big Picture

When you experience these realities, it’s easy to get disappointed in your team (or even yourself). The fact that there are things like mission creep, friction, lost motivation, distraction, resistance, competing ideas or attitudes, fatigue, etc. is not (necessarily) a reflection on them—or you.

Don’t get frustrated with it, expect it. Lean into leadership entropy and see it as the opportunity it is, rather than the frustration or disappointment it might feel like.

Perhaps the most strategic thing you can do is anticipate it. Look for early warning signs. Examine your team and your processes and operations to look for vulnerabilities. Do periodic, entropy-focused “flyover” SWAT analyses on your team and how it’s functioning to assess how you need to show up differently as a leader to intervene.

Don’t get frustrated with it, expect it. Lean into leadership entropy and see it as the opportunity it is.

Your Next Step

Take 10 minutes at the end of each week to make space to reflect and get new perspective. Then ask yourself: “Where will entropy most likely show up in the people and efforts I lead?”

And never underestimate entropy in your own life and leadership. What parts of your leadership are drifting toward disorder and should be adjusted?

Want more leadership insights?
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