The Physics of Leadership

'The Physics Of Leadership' by Richard Shrapnel

Is someone who really wants to be a leader actually the wrong person for leadership because of that desire? Understanding the physics of leadership will provide the answer.


Active Knowledge Questions:

Where do you look in your business to find leaders?

And how do you discern whether they are the best person for the role?


There is a centripetal force that underpins leadership authority and influence. And the nature of that influence, good or bad, is determined by the motive which one brings to their leadership role. Failure to understand this dynamic may result in attracting people to leadership roles who are not suited, and prospective leaders focusing on the wrong areas in lifting their leadership skills to the forefront.

Too Much Talk

There is so much written and spoken about leadership that anyone seeking to get a handle on the topic could spend a lifetime reading about it, and still not be any the wiser. And I’m not sure that reading about it actually helps someone be a better leader.

So it’s a fair to ask then why I too am writing an article on leadership. Well, I think the topic is so clouded in information that we actually may have missed the quintessential nature of leadership and misdirected people. And, unfortunately, to de-cloud it, we need to challenge current thinking and, therefore, require more words on leadership.

A recent article on Forbes titled, ‘15 Questions To Ask As Part Of Your Own Leadership Audit’, prompted me to further reflect on leadership. It captured the thoughts members of the Forbes Coaches Council (a group of top business and career coaches) had on leadership.

A few points from its opening paragraph:

  • Being a leader takes great skill.
  • Some of the greatest leaders assess their skills and activity using a leadership audit.
  • Having the responsibilities of a leader doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader.
  • Leadership can be learned.

What Is The Cornerstone Of Leadership?

I totally agree that anyone who finds themselves in a leadership role can and should continually review their personal performance and seek to improve. But it also made me reflect on what the cornerstone of leadership actually is. What is the foundation against which one should measure their leadership performance?

Below is the list of 15 points raised in the Forbes article. These are questions the Forbes Coaches said leaders should ask themselves.

  1. When did I last look in the mirror?
  2. Where are my blind spots?
  3. Am I being the change I want to see?
  4. What are my reactive triggers?
  5. Who do I need to get feedback from?
  6. What don’t l know that l need to know?
  7. How well do I listen and connect with others?
  8. Have I made an impact?
  9. Am l focused on my number one goal?
  10. Am l growing as a leader?
  11. Is my axe sharpened?
  12. How do unconscious biases impact my decisions?
  13. What do I get paid to do?
  14. What fears am l not facing?
  15. Am l pushing or pulling?

What do you think of the list? If you are a leader, are these the questions you should be asking yourself?

All the 15 points raised above are good points. They are all aspects of performance but they all circle around a missing central question.

For me, this central question is ‘Why do I want to be a leader?’. This is a question of motive and the answer to that, I believe, will determine the quality of anyone’s leadership.

‘Motive’ is my personal reason for seeking or accepting a leadership position. Am I principally in it for my personal gain, learning and advancement, or some other reason? And how may my motive impact my leadership?

The Physics Of Leadership

As I have written previously, there exists a physics of leadership that underpins its strength, nature and dynamics. The following explanation of the ‘physics of leadership’ is drawn from my doctoral research.

‘Companies are a community of people. Humans are irreducibly communal and drawn by centripetal force. Authority overlays this communal relationship and extends its influence symmetrically around its own axis. Leadership resides at the centre and derives its influence from the centripetal force. The strength of the force determines the degree and extent of leadership influence. Exemplary leaders form a beacon that attracts but they are visible to everyone and should they err all will know and be affected.

The purpose of the exemplary leader is to achieve harmony within their field of influence as it is only through harmony that competitiveness may flourish. The strength of competitiveness is determined by the strength of harmony. Harmony is achieved by following the right path.

An exemplary leader is not determined by the technical competencies they possess but by their personal strengths and weaknesses. It is the quality of character that companies must seek in their leaders. It is the quality of character that will determine the strength of harmony and competitiveness.’

The ability of a leader to attract the centripetal force underpinning anyone’s leadership, and to achieve the harmony that determines the quality of their influence, turns upon their motive in being a leader.

My motive for taking up a leadership role will directly impact the way I act as a leader. In very simple terms – is this leadership role about my personal gain and advancement or something else?

The right motive will naturally create harmony and give rise to a strong centripetal energy, and therefore leadership influence.

It is for this reason that the question of ‘Why do you want to be a leader?’ is so important as it speaks to motive.

Great Business Leaders And Motive

In a previous article, ‘Choosing Worthy Leaders’, I wrote about the selection of leaders, the following is a brief extract:

‘When you come to choose leaders for your business, wherein lies their worth? Is it in their personal success? Or that of the businesses they have led and the success of the many people who worked with them in those businesses?

Author John Maxwell, in his book 5 Levels of Leadership, describes the highest level of leadership (the pinnacle) as being held by someone who ‘people follow because of who they are and what they represent’. 

While leadership authority and author Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, describes the highest level of leadership (the executive level) as being held by someone who ‘builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will’.

In both of these references, the authors note the ‘character of the individual’ as being the measure of their likely success as a leader – who they are, what they represent, personal humility, and professional will.

I personally believe ‘humility’ is the core of great success.’

Humility reflected through leadership is the holding of power in the service of others. Humility breeds the right motive.

As noted in the Forbes article, ‘Simply being in a leadership position does not make you a good leader but anyone can learn to be a good leader’.

If humility is the core of great leadership, can it be learnt? Humility is a fundamental character trait and people can change, so I suppose you can learn to be humble, but it may be challenging for many.

The question this raises for me is – if I put my hand up for a leadership position is that consistent with the trait of humility? By selecting people who are chasing promotions into leadership roles are we by default not selecting the best person for the position?

There is certainly truth in the Forbes statement but care must be taken with the use of ‘anyone’, as not anyone can learn to be humble and not everyone will necessary seek promotions for, what I would describe, as the ‘right motive’.

Why Do I Want To Be A Leader?

'Your Leadership Performance Journey' by Richard Shrapnel
‘Your Leadership Performance Journey’ by Richard Shrapnel

In today’s world of self-advancement, the narrative is about opportunity and setting a path that will deliver the outcomes you as an individual want. And if the position you are in does not provide you with the best opportunity, then you should move on. Seeking promotions and the opportunity to move into leadership positions is part of this narrative. There is a strong pressure amongst our young leaders, and society generally, that drives this narrative.

But this narrative potentially challenges the entire underpinning of exemplary leadership. If motive and humility are key attributes that will determine the quality of leadership of an individual, then if they are seeking the position for their own individual advancement, how can they be the first choice?

There is a second element to the physics of leadership that I did not unpack above. The energy generated by your individual centripetal authority is not unlimited and it does weaken the further a person is away from its source (you). There will be a distance at which you must appoint another leader to extend your influence. A CEO appoints key leaders to exercise their influence, who in turn also appoint other leaders, thereby spreading their influence throughout a business.

But if you appoint someone who is not worthy of leadership, for example, if their motive is not right, then your influence breaks. And may well be reversed.

A few points for thought that come to mind for your consideration:

  1. Are the most worthy leaders people who are not first to put their hands up but wait to be called to serve?
  2. In searching out leaders in your business, do you simply look at those who apply, being those who are always present with you seeking your favour?
  3. Or do you step away from all that noise and ask who is the most humble and serving choice that everyone respects?
  4. Do you seek out the person whose motive may simply be to see the business succeed?
  5. If you are an aspiring leader, if you truly want to be an exemplary leader, then you must step forward in humility and with the motive of serving others. To seek advancement for your own personal gain is to undermine your chances of being a good leader.


Worthy leadership is the number one determinant of a business’s success and, therefore, it requires strong discipline in selecting only the right leaders for your business.


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel