Entropy and Leadership

Before I start this post I first want to wish each of you a happy and prosperous New Year.  I’ll let you define what happy and prosperous mean, but my intent is that you enjoy 2011 as much, if not even more, that 2010.

Entropy, Leadership, Influence


This post will look strange to many of you and for others who are knowledgable in classical thermodynamics or who have some basic understanding of Entropy you might find this title to be “strange bedfellows” by finding a way to incorporate the concept of entropy into leadership.  I encourage you to read on because it struck me as right on target when I heard one of our pastor’s, Mike Smith at Christ Community Church, talk about entropy.  While he probaly did not realize that he would inspire this post, I have not stopped thinking aabout the relationship between these two for the past 90 minutes.

Before I talk about how Entropy and Leadership interrelate, let me first explain what entropy is.  Entropy, as defined by Wikipedia, is as follows:  The concept of entropy is defined by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of a closed system always increases.  What this also means is that systems will tend to head toward a state of greater randomness unless the system in question is acted upon by other external influences or systems.

Did the light just go on for you?  It didn’t.  Well here is my reason for wanting to try and link the two.

Organizations are systems and they also tend to head toward disorder unless there is some type of influence from within or from an external resource.  Let’s consider the following examples:

You are the supervisor of a call center and you have a team of associates who have worked in their roles for a period of time.  As they continue to work there will be issues that arise that will encourage the associates to find ways to do less or to do the same with less effort.  Nothing bad about this, it is just human nature, especially if you are a believer of the McGregor Theory X.  As time goes by the work will become less efficient and effective and productivity will decrease.  Eventually someone from outside the unit will notice and take some type of action to cause a change.  This action may be as simple as an initial email or phone call, but the external action can have the effect of bringing more order to the system than what had existed.

The basic premise is this; organizations are systems and they constantly need input and adjustment from within and on the periphery in order to keep the aligned and running smoothly.  In other words, business units will tend to increase in Entropy unless there is some type of external influence.  In the business world this external influence is typically known as leadership.  As a leader, did you ever consider that you might be living under the second law of thermodynamics.  I might even call it a law of leadership dynamics.

Entropy example

If you have a headache, I take full responsibility.  I hope this makes sense and I encourage your feedback on this concept.

How are you affecting the entropy in the lives and work of others?  What can you be doing?


About Dan Ryan

Ryan Search & Consulting provides Talent Acquisition, Talent Development and Succession Strategy solutions in the Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Industrial and Healthcare markets. Come learn more about our firm at http://ryansearch.net
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