Einstein, the Universe, and Leadership

Reprinted from the Public Relations Strategist

By Brent Filson -

Every since serving a hitch in the military, I have been nagged by the  question that's been hanging around leadership since time immemorial: How can some leaders persuade people to believe in them and follow them and other leaders can't?  But it wasn't the military that provided 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 special and general theories of relativity, two of the crowning intellectual achievements of the 20th century.  But what he is not so well known for is a magnificent quest that he carried on for some 30 years — and ultimately failed in.  That was his quest for a unified field theory 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 special theory combined space and time into a single concept known as the space-time continuum.  He spent the rest of his life failing to develop a unified field theory that incorporated gravity into the electromagnetic field.  But it wasn't his trying to solve the conundrums of physics that inspired me.  It was his trying to unify the grand forces of the universe that's so compelling.

Just as there are grand forces driving the activities of the universe, I'm convinced that there are grand forces driving the activities of leadership.  Whether we are talking about small or large organizations, organizations of butchers, bakers or candlestick makers, the same leadership forces — leadership laws, if you will — apply.  Or at least that I was my theory, that was my quest: to find the laws of leadership, 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 won't go into the details of how I came to develop the theory — only that after a quest of several decades, working with leaders of all stripes,  I developed what I call the Unified Field Theory of Leadership Success.  I'm certainly not unifying such grand concepts as gravity and the electromagnetic field; but my theory, in its small way, has helped many leaders around the world 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. — Business success happens when people get results.  Clearly, 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.  Too many leaders focus on enabling such drivers as quality initiatives, reengineering projects, and cost-cutting programs — at the expense of the people who must animate those drivers.  For instance, I know of a company that is engaged in the fourth major restructuring in the past half dozen years.  Three of those initiatives have failed, mainly because they ignored the human/leadership aspect.  In fact, I propose that the new initiative is doomed to fail too.  It's obvious why: instead of being driven by a compelling market strategy, strong products, or a vision of marketplace leadership, this new restructuring is being driven by a new computer system!  The officers are restructuring the company primarily to better employ that system, not to better employ people for results.  I daresay the light that they may perceive to be at the end of the tunnel will turn out in truth to be a search party looking for survivors. —Leaders do nothing more important than have people get results.  Another seemingly obvious statement.  Yet when I give talks 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 only right 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 being driving competitiveness, the control-freak order-leader who must tyrannize and micro manage can't compete against the leader who can build and motivate teams to get results.  In short, the leader who can "have" others get results.

—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 is misunderstood by many leaders.  If we misunderstand the concept of motivation, how in the world can we motivate anybody to do anything?  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 in truth 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 motivatee and the motivator are always the same person.  C. Motivation is driven by emotion.  In fact, the words emotion and motivation come from the same Latin root, meaning "to move."  When we want to move people, motivate people, to take action, we engage their emotions.  D. Motivation happens best when it is triggered by face-to-face speech.

—We lead well only when the people we lead are leading well.  Let's throw out the old concept of leadership.  That concept is based on the idea of "followership" — successful leaders being the ones who got people to follow them.  Baloney!  Today, the speed and scope of change in the marketplace demand a new vision of leadership, leadership that can not only deal with that change but actually speed it up and make opportunities of it.  That vision is this fourth proposition.  How many times have we heard this seeming praise, "They're such great leaders, they can't be replaced!"  Within the terms of the new leadership dynamics, those "great, irreplaceable leaders" are in truth poor leaders that should be gotten rid of!  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 truly lead, 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.  When you do, I can't promise that you will develop an e=mc2-like revelation, but you will start on the road to being a better leader.  Because the four propositions do provide defining differences between leaders.  Those differences are not as grand as the differences between gravity and electromagnetic fields, but they can help you do that very simple, down-to-earth thing that your career, that any career, rests on: lead.

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The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"