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Einstein, The Universe, And Leadership

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

If corrupt behavior continues, honest people believe they are being taken advantage of, and the weaker ones abandon integrity and begin to look out for themselves dishonestly. Organizational erosion occurs as more and more people join the ranks of marginal cheaters. The self-oriented, careerist model subtly becomes more prevalent and acceptable. The strengths of a once honest organization languish and those members whose integrity remains intact leave. — Major General Richard C. Schulz

Since serving a hitch in the military, I have been nagged by the question hanging around leadership since time immemorial: How can some leaders persuade people to believe in and follow them and others cannot? But the military did not provide me with a framework to answer that question. It was Albert Einstein and his quest for the unified field theory of the universe.

Einstein is well known for his unique and general theories of relativity, two of the crowning intellectual achievements of the 20th century. But he is not so well known for a magnificent quest that he continued for some 30 years ó and ultimately failed in. That was his quest for a unified field theory of the universe, an idea that explains all the forces of the universe. And it was a quest that inspired me, in my small way, to find an answer to the leadership question. 

Einstein's particular theory combined space and time into a single concept known as the space-time continuum. He spent the rest of his life not developing a unified field theory that incorporated gravity into the electromagnetic field. But it was not his trying to solve the physics puzzles that inspired me. He is trying to unify the universe’s grand forces is so compelling.

Just as grand forces are driving the activities of the universe, I am convinced that the great troops are going through the actions of leadership. Whether we are talking about small or large organizations, organizations of butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers, the same leadership forces ó leadership laws, if you will ó apply. Or at least that was my theory; that was my quest: to find leadership rules if they did indeed exist and then show how those laws can be applied in any organizational challenge. In short, we can have a "unified field theory of leadership." 

I will not go into the details of how I came to develop the theory ó, only that after several decades of collaboration with leaders of all stripes, I developed what I call the Unified Field Theory of Leadership Success. I am not unifying such grand concepts as gravity and the electromagnetic field. Still, my theory, in its small way, has helped leaders worldwide raise their leadership effectiveness to much higher levels. 

Here then, is the Unified Field Theory of Leadership Success. It is not magic dust to transform you into a great leader. It is instead a polestar to guide and help you invigorate your leadership and communication efforts.

The UFTLS is expressed as a series of four propositions.

(1) BUSINESS SUCCESS HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE GET RESULTS. This is not some strange, UFO-like concept. Instead, it is a BFO, a Blinding Flash of the Obvious. Yet obvious or not, it is ignored by many leaders. Too many leaders focus on enabling such drivers as quality initiatives, re-engineering projects, and cost-cutting programs at the expense of the people who must animate those drivers. 

For instance, I know of a company engaged in the fourth major restructuring in the past half dozen years. Three initiatives have failed, mainly because they ignored the human/leadership aspect. I propose that the new initiative is doomed to die too. It is obvious why: instead of being driven by a compelling market strategy, robust products, or a vision of marketplace leadership, this new restructuring is caused by a new computer system! 

The officers are restructuring the company primarily to employ that system better, not to better employ people for results to use people for results better. I daresay the light they may perceive at the end of the tunnel will be a search party looking for survivors. 

(2) LEADERS DO NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN GETTING RESULTS—another seemingly obvious statement. Yet when I talk to leaders around the world and ask them, "What is the most important thing you do as a leader?" some 95 percent of them give every answer but this one. This is the correct answer. Understand the power in the seeming passiveness of "have."  Leaders cannot get results by themselves. They need others to help get those results. Today, with speed, flexibility, and teamwork driving competitiveness, the control-freak order-leader who must tyrannize and micromanage cannot compete against the leader who can build and motivate teams to get results. In short, the leader who can "have" others get results.

(3) THE BEST WAY TO HAVE PEOPLE GET RESULTS IS NOT TO ORDER THEM BUT TO MOTIVATE THEM. Like leadership purpose, motivation is another concept that many leaders misunderstand. If we misunderstand the concept of motivation, how can we motivate anybody to do anything in the world? Here are the four "eternal truths" of motivation:  A. Motivation is not something people think or feel but what they PHYSICALLY DO. Only when people take physical action can they be defined as "motivated."  B. Motivation is not something we can do to anyone. We, as leaders, can only communicate. The people we want to motivate must motivate themselves. The "motivate" and the motivator are always the same person. C. Motivation is driven by emotion. Emotion and motivation come from the Latin root, meaning "to move."  When we want to move people and motivate people, to act, we engage their emotions. D. Motivation happens best when it is triggered by face-to-face speech. 

(4) WE LEAD WELL ONLY WHEN THE PEOPLE WE LEAD ARE LEADING WELL. Let us throw out the old concept of leadership. That concept is based on the idea of "followership" ó successful leaders being the ones who get people to follow them. Baloney! Today, the speed and scope of change in the marketplace demand a new vision of leadership that can not only deal with that change but speed it up and make opportunities of it. That vision is this fourth proposition. How often have we heard this seeming praise, "They're such great leaders, they can't be replaced!"  In terms of the new leadership dynamics, those "great, irreplaceable leaders" are poor leaders that should be eliminated! If the leader's function is to have others get results, then the best way is not simply to motivate them but to motivate them to lead others to get those results. When we challenge our leaders to show indeed, we change their world and ours. Only then are we leading well? 

Those are the four propositions of the Unified Field Theory of Leadership Success. Einstein failed in his quest for a unified field theory, but the success or failure of this Theory of Leadership rests with you. Put it into action. Guided by its ideas, develop strategies, processes, and leadership skills. You will start on the road to being a better leader because the four propositions supply defining differences between leaders. Those differences are not as grand as those between gravity and electromagnetic fields. Still, they can help you make that straightforward, down-to-earth thing: your career, that any job, rests on leadership.

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