The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy tells us that “A towel is just about the most massively useful thing any interstellar hitchhiker can carry. Partly it has great practical value…. more importantly, a towel has immense psychological value.”
We just got new towels. New towels are marvelous things. They are soft, fluffy and luxurious. The colors are vivid, and the edges are neat and tidy. Funny how you don’t notice incremental creep until you are faced with the sum total of the change. My old towel was terrible, and I didn’t even know it.
Entropy is the measure of the molecular disorder, or randomness, of a system. It is also the term used to describe a gradual decline into disorder. In physics and particularly thermodynamics, it is generally observed that without energy being added to a system, the system declines into greater and greater molecular disorder. This means there is less thermal energy available for work. By observation, this appears to apply to the universe in general.
Whether you call it entropy or incremental creep, we all intuitively know that if we don’t add energy to the systems in our lives, things decay.
If we don’t clean our homes, things get dirtier and dirtier. If we don’t maintain our cars they eventually break down. If we take relationships for granted, they deteriorate and fall away. Really, any system you can think of requires the addition of energy for it to be maintained, or else things decay, break and come unraveled.
We can add energy in many different ways. There’s good old-fashioned work. In the case of cleaning house or maintaining a car it just takes effort. We can change the system. This is a form of adding energy that results in a new system with a higher energy level than the previous one. Sometimes the “work” is not physical or mechanical in nature, it is applied attention. In relationships it is often just focusing on the other person that increases the energy and slows or prevents the creep.
For us to fight entropy we must first acknowledge it exists and is occurring in every area of our lives. Second, we must know what kind of energy to apply and how to apply it. For leaders who agree that our responsibility is to serve the people on our team (that’s all of you, right?) we can do several things to add energy to the system of our team.
When we ask our team members how they are doing, and then listen to their response, we are communicating that we care and we are adding energy to that relationship. I know you are busy, and so do your team members. When you take time to pay attention to someone’s well-being it demonstrates that you care more about them than getting one more thing checked off your to-do list.
Speaking of listening, do it. Listen to your team members ideas, thoughts and concerns. If they aren’t talking, ask specific questions and then shut up so they can speak. Remember that it is difficult and scary to put your own thoughts and opinions out into the room. As a leader, it is not enough to claim you are available to hear what people need to say. You must actively seek people’s input and criticism. Great leaders are humble enough to learn from everyone.
I know you all encourage those you lead to engage and accomplish the work that our team needs. That is necessary and important. What is also important is for you to encourage those you are serving to pursue their interests and passions away from work. Find out what the people on your team do when they are not at work and support them in those pusuits.
A great leader recognizes that big wins are built on many small wins. We should be celebrating small and incremental wins in the lives of our team members at work and at home. We need to always remember that what is a small win in our minds may be a big win in someone else’s.
In my experience, when people aren’t doing what I want them to, I usually haven’t communicated what I want, or they don’t understand how to do it. While it is sometimes necessary to discipline someone, usually what people need is for us as leaders to slow down long enough to teach what is necessary for everyone on the team to be successful together.
An effective leader walks the walk. The most effective way to lead is by example. When we do what we are preaching as much or more than we preach it, our instructions become rooted in the day-to-day example of our lives. People will follow someone, but they rarely put up with being pushed. You have to be in front.
Invest in your team members and co-workers. Give people the opportunities they need to learn, grow, and ultimately become successful. Great leaders lift others up and help them achieve their goals, not just the goals of the organization. When the people on our team are experiencing success in their personal lives, they bring that success to the team and become encouragers too. We get what we give.
Cleaning our homes is easier if we do it regularly. Things get dirty, that’s entropy, and the longer we go between cleaning up, the harder it gets. The same thing is true about relationships and our teams. While it takes effort and requires that we be intentional on a daily basis, making small investments of time and attention in our team members is actually easier than waiting until we have a huge mess to clean up.
It is kind of fun to get new towels and experience the sudden “upgrade” in comfort and looks, but relationships aren’t towels. We need to be intentional and keep our relationships renewed and vibrant by fighting the inevitable incremental creep.
Don’t Panic. Like a towel is to an interstellar hitchhiker, investing in our relationships has great practical value and immense psychological value….more importantly, it is the Kimray Way.