On the way home from a family reunion, my sister and I stopped to visit the old farm where we were raised. We hadn’t been back to our homestead since my parents sold it in 1984.
What we found was twenty-eight years of neglect. Weeds were growing up to our waist. Pastures and fences were completely neglected. What used to be a beautiful retreat center had deteriorated to a dilapidated, collapsing barely recognizable shack. There had been virtually no upkeep to the property or the trails in the forest for nearly three decades. We knew not to bring expectations into our visit, but what we discovered was unimaginably deplorable. While we left with joy and gratitude from reminiscing about a good upbringing and wonderful memories, we also left with broken hearts.
What was illustrated to us that day was the second law of thermodynamics: anything left to itself will, over time, lose it’s energy and break down until it reaches its most elemental form. Anything that is not intentionally renewed will break down. Neglect your body, and it will deteriorate. Neglect your car, and it will deteriorate. Watch TV every available hour, and your mind will deteriorate. Have you ever met someone who allowed their career, creative self, mind, relationships, house, or health to deteriorate for twenty-eight years?
While there’s no immunity from entropy as everything eventually breaks down and dies, you can interrupt it, bring renewal to potential deterioration, and slow the process. All things need attention and care. “Use it, or lose it,” the maxim goes. And you can’t blame bad bosses, an ailing health care system, or your marriage partner.
In his book, “Leadership is an Art”, Max Depree expresses that one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is the “interception of entropy.” Intercepting entropy around you begins with intercepting entropy within you. Research indicates that when you have a habit of renewing your health, mind, and relationships, you are a better leader.
While rotting wood, broken windows, weeds, and overgrown vegetation are signs of entropy in and around a house, here are some indicators of entropy in an organization:
- A dark tension among people
- No time for celebration and enjoyment or ritual
- People have difficulty with words like “responsibility”, “service” or “trust”
- People see customers as impositions on their time rather than opportunities to serve
- “Getting the job done” takes priority over meeting the needs of people
- Entitlement and self-interest
- Problem-makers outnumber problem-solvers
- Leaders seek to control rather than trust
- Pressures of day-to-day operations push aside the commitment to vision and values
- A loss of confidence in judgment, experience and wisdom
- People forget to say thank you
A leader must be alert to head off entropy by:
- Infusions of outside energy. Bring in new ideas, relationships, and new ways of thinking about your problems.
- Communicating vision in fresh ways.
- Staying in touch with the people you serve: take time to connect, listen, call people by their name, care.
- Expressing recognition and appreciation relentlessly.
- Bringing in passion – for excellence, for people, for the work you do.
- Taking time in your conversations and team meetings to answer these questions: “What is entropy? How might entropy be evident here?” Discuss the idea that “all things need watching, attending to, caring for…”
- Replacing entitlement and self-interest with gratitude and service.
What creative ways have you found to counter entropy, either in your life or your organization? If you aren’t mindful and intentional, the weeds of entropy will begin consuming your energy.