Coaching Article – How Innovative Leaders are Breaking Newton’s Laws

Everywhere I turn I hear people talking about the need to increase performance via new processes and/or raising employee engagement. Great ideas, but change and growth must start with leaders first, and that’s a nasty proposition for many leaders who have done the same thing for most of their careers.

For the last four decades, my work has focused on teaching, coaching, selecting, and training leaders.  Everyone wants to be successful as a leader, but to grow we must overcome inertia and entropy. Say what?!?

Here’s a common example of what I mean. Pause and think about how successful you’ve been to keep your New Year’s Resolutions. Now you get it. And you know why I’ll always have a job to help leaders and teams grow.

Newton’s Laws of Inertia and Entropy

Newton’s first law says a body at rest will remain at rest until acted on by some outside force—that’s the definition of inertia. In human behavior, that’s what happens when we get set in our ways and say, “That’s just the way I am” or “That’s how I’ve always done it.”

In his landmark book, The Road Less Travelled, psychiatrist Scott Peck took a slightly different but similar angle referring to Newton’s second law that can also be translated and related to human behavior: without an infusion of energy and good management, things go downhill. Entropy occurs which results in decay and falling apart.

“The status quo in work and leadership is fleeting. By law, situations will naturally get worse if we don’t change (grow) to get better.” [Tweet This]

Watch my short 6-minute Leading with Honor coaching clip, and react and comment –


Leadership Application

Now, let’s apply this idea in leadership. It’s only through intentionality and effort that we get better, and that’s the rub—it ain’t easy. In coaching leaders, too often we encounter people who don’t want to grow. They may not say it directly, but their attitudes and mindsets make it clear.

One CEO told me that he had some people in executive roles that just didn’t want to grow. They had made it clear that change is not for them at this point in their life and career, so he recognized that he had to act and give them a choice to grow or leave the company.

So, what do leaders need to do?

Clearly, the change that it takes to overcome inertia and entropy is the battle to conquer the fraternal twins of insecurity—pride and fear. We must choose to believe in ourselves and shift our mindsets to learn and adapt our behaviors. This growth process is best done in community with the leader setting the example.

Though focusing on strengths is great for your early career, over-using them as a leader can become a struggle that undermines your influence.*

“To grow as a leader, work on the balance of using your strengths while being aware of your struggles and learn how to adapt your behaviors in the moment to operate more effectively.” [Tweet This]

In our training and development work, we scientifically focus on natural behavior to help leaders grow. Here are two quick Leadership Behavior DNA examples.

  • The Reflective Thinker Style Group. With strengths of being task focused, organized, detailed, accurate, reserved and working best alone, this leader struggles with engaging and connecting with others, giving positive feedback, coaching their people. Instead they like to come in the office and shut the door so they can do their work.
  • The Engager Style Group. This person is social, enjoys people and loves to share stories and just chat. They are optimistic and enjoy encouraging others. But this leader struggles with staying focused, giving clear direction, finishing projects, meeting deadlines, and holding people accountable.

Respectively, how do each of their natural talents impact workplace energy and morale? You can see that using their strengths more is not going to make things better. They must leverage their strengths to adapt and behave differently. Here’s one of my past leadership coaching examples.

I was coaching a CEO who was a fine man and great at getting results, but he had been with the company for a year and hardly knew his team. He told me, “Being relational is just not me. I don’t do that well.” So, we adapted his strengths to create a spreadsheet to help manage his struggles. We listed all his people across the top and then in column one, listed seven specific things he could do to build a relationship and encourage each one. His job was to get those boxes checked off, and he became more relational by adapting his strengths to manage his struggles.

Here are 7 practical ways to immediately begin to grow –

  1. Believe in yourself. Courageously set aside your doubts and fears and any underlying pride.
  2. Assess to gain self-awareness. Gain insights—use assessments, and objective feedback, so you know what needs work.
  3. Plan. Develop a simple plan on how you will adapt. For example, pick two areas of struggle.
  4. Be humble—go public. Let others know that you are working on these two areas of growth.
  5. Practice. List specific situations in which you will adapt (maybe use a spreadsheet).
  6. Be accountable. Ask for feedback on successes and missed opportunities.
  7. Courageously commit to the long haul. Coach yourself; it will probably never become completely natural.

So, if this journey is so hard, why should you engage in it? Because the payoff will be worth it:

  • higher performance, increased innovation, and a better workplace
  • more positive energy
  • greater trust
  • higher influence
  • greater flexibility
  • better collaboration
  • more effective use of the best talents of others

If you engage in this battle, a little change will give great victories. These are two laws that you will be rewarded for breaking. So, go for it and kick Newton’s butt.


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*The problem of leaders overusing their strengths is historically clear.

In Winston Churchill: A Biography, Piers Brendon expressed it this way:

“Churchill rose to this challenge with incomparable vigor and self-confidence. These characteristics were precisely the ones to which he owed both his failures and his successes as First Lord. [younger days]

For as Admiral Bacon said, ‘Churchill’s vices were simply his virtues in exaggerated form. Dash became rashness. Assurance became cocksureness. Churchill’s overflowing energy was difficult to harness. His overwhelming faith in himself closed his mind to the opinions of others.’”

Famous psychologist Abraham Maslow used this powerful analogy.

“To a man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.”



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