Leaders vs. Entropy

The other day my wife made a funny word association looking at our company’s timesheets. She commented that the category “Misc Management” looked an awful lot like “Mismanagement”. This got me thinking. I should clarify that what I am writing has nothing to do with that particular use of Misc Management, it is an appropriate catch-all category. What it did is point my focus at a common hazard that threatens leaders.

Another very important distinction for the purposes of this article. I am writing this for leaders specifically, not managers. They are very different and valuable roles. If your job is to set direction for a family, group, or organization then this article is for you.

Just like any other highly effective role, successful leaders are dogged by the temptation to be complacent and settle once they achieve a goal. Common signs of this are:

  • Constantly focusing on what has been achieved
  •  Your time is filled with “running” the show
  •  You start managing instead of leading
  •  Defining yourself in terms of what you manage

We have to remember the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which I believe to have spiritual, social, relational, and political implications in addition to physical properties.

bigstock-Old-Window-1676424Second Law of Thermodynamics

The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium.

In Lay terms:

There is a tendency for all matter, systems and energy to decline into a state of inert uniformity and decay.

A Layperson’s Definition of Entropy

Entropy is a measure of randomness/order/disorder

The fallacy that we ever “arrive” as people permeates our society. We falsely believe that if we have a certain job, or reach a certain goal we will have happiness. The irony is that the second law of thermodynamics applies to us just as much as it applies to inanimate systems. We need to continue to grow, continue to learn, continue to develop in order to avoid degradation.

Look at physical fitness. Once someone achieves a high level of fitness, what happens if they stop exercising and sit for a month. It seems obvious that the person will lose that edge. There will still be a high level of fitness but it will not be the same. If the sitting continues for six more months the person will hardly be recognizable. Why would any other aspect of ourselves be different?

If I do not spend time in prayer, my relationship with God deteriorates. If I spend less time focusing on maintenance of my home, it deteriorates. If I spend less time focused on the goals and direction of my business, it deteriorates. I could continue with dozens of other examples.

Leaders can never afford to stop looking towards the future. In my pursuit of being a good leader, I will never arrive. I will always need to labor over the next hurdle and look into the horizon. If I do not, I simply stop being a leader and entropy takes over.

Look at those leaders that you follow. Are they focused on a future objective? Do they focus on what has already occurred? Any person who is trying to lead hits periods of doubt, whether they show it or not. If you see a leader beginning to slide into the grip of entropy, provide encouragement. Often a naturally gifted leader only needs a small bump to get back on track. If someone you are following has been off track for some time, you should probably reconsider your commitment to them. The easiest place to apply this is politics. Focus on candidates with a vision for the future, not those that just pick at their opponents.

If you are a leader, challenge yourself regularly about your future direction. Most people are expected to lead in some aspect of their lives. By keeping a vision for what you are leading today, you will be more likely to become the type of person everyone wants to follow. Do not be afraid of the future, find the vision for something better and set a course to the next horizon.

PEI Bridge

Published by

Michael McNeil

The management principal of Oasis Digital, Michael McNeil drives our organizational priorities and manages our software teams. Michael is also critical to the user experience and UI design at Oasis Digital. Michael writes extensively and is very active in education and local government.