Einstein, The Universe, And Learning Leadership

The challenge of trying to motivate people outside your sphere of influence to be your ardent cause leaders is daunting.  Here's Einstein to the rescue. 

By Brent Filson - 11/08

Authority is a poor excuse for leadership. For learning leaders, this is more than just an abstract concept but a living imperative.

After all, your job entails persuading people who do not report to you (clearly, most people you deal with) to be committed to your leadership.

This challenge raises a question that’s been a driving force in my career ever since I served a hitch in the Marines and saw leaders whom the troops would die for and other leaders whom the troops wanted to have die for them!

How can some leaders persuade people to believe ardently in them and follow them, and other leaders can’t?

If you can’t answer that question, you won’t do well in your job and career.

Over the years, I’ve come to an answer. However, it wasn’t the military that provided it. It was Albert Einstein and his quest for the unified field theory of the universe.

So if this article helps you in this matter, thank Mr. Einstein.

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 to find the single, fundamental force that drives all the forces of the universe. He called it the "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.

In short, we can have a "unified field theory of leadership." And when you know what it is, it can boost your effectiveness in many ways.

The Unified Field Theory of Leadership Success is expressed as a series of five propositions.

1) Persuasion is leadership. In persuading people to take action for your cause, you’re a leader. You may be talking to your boss or a colleague or a person you hardly know in another function of your company, you may be engaged with one person or many people, but that moment of engagement is a leadership moment, your leadership moment. If you don’t see the leadership dimensions and opportunities in the moment, you diminish your ability to get results.

 2) Business success happens when people get results. This may seem like a blinding-flash-of-the-obvious, but leaders who must persuade people not reporting to them to be their cause leaders often stumble with this proposition.

That’s because they focus on the results they themselves must get, not the results their potential cause leaders must get.

If you want people to march to the beat of your drummer, not theirs, you must precisely identify the results you’re BOTH aiming for.

For instance, I helped learning leaders in General Electric motivate the stakeholders in the push for six sigma a decade ago.

The learning leaders wanted the stakeholders to be excited about six sigma. After all, Jack Welch wanted it to happen.

But the stakeholders, middle level managers and first line supervisors, were not reporting to the learning leaders. They were not reporting directly to Mr. Welch. They had their own results to get, and the way they saw it, those results weren’t connected to six sigma.

Only when the learning leaders focused not just on their results but on the results the stakeholders needed to achieve –- the quarterly numbers they had to make as line leaders in their respective functions – did those stakeholders begin to be receptive to what the learning leaders wanted them to do.

This getting people to become as ardently committed to your aims as they are I call, "the Critical Convergence."

(In the December issue, I’ll detail a process for learning leaders to consistently achieve Critical Convergence.)

3) Leaders do nothing more important than have people get results. That word "have" may seem rather passive. But in truth, in terms of the leadership you must exhibit, it is positive. As a learning leader, you cannot get results by yourself. You need others to help get those results. Today, with speed, flexibility, and teamwork driving competitiveness, the best leader is that leader who can build and motivate teams to get results. As a learning leader, be the master of "have."

4) The best way to have people get results is not to order them but to motivate them to take action. Leaders often misunderstand motivation. Here are the four "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 must communicate, but 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. 

5) We lead well only when the people we lead are leading well. To best meet the challenges of motivating people who don’t necessarily report to you, you must discard an old concept of leadership.

That concepts is based on the idea of "followership," i.e., good leaders get followers. Clearly, people with whom you interact, within and without your function, will not automatically sign up to follow you. They have their own agendas.

You need another objective. That objective is to win over not followers but "cause leaders." Since leadership is not position but performance, every one of the people with whom you wish to engage, whatever their rank or function, have the potential to be your "cause leader." Aim to inspire them to make that choice. (Important: It is their choice, not yours.) Here’s process to gain their commitment to you.

Those are the propositions of the Unified Field Theory of Leadership Success. Though Einstein failed in his quest for a unified field theory, the success or failure of this Unified Field Theory of Leadership Success rests with you. When you’re guided by the propositions, you’ll start tackling what is your most important and difficult challenge: motivating people in all ranks and functions of your company to take action that gets great results, your results.

2008 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Note From Brent Filson:  The difference between learning leaders is simply leadership. Over the years, I have taught many learning leaders how to become more effective leaders, how to get people who don’t necessarily report to them to be their ardent cause leaders. Please call, and let’s talk about how I can help you and your clients seize those opportunities in comprehensive, systematic ways.

Copyright © 2008, The Filson Leadership Group, Inc.

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Brent Filson
Brent Filson