Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) is considered by many scholars to be one of the most influential people in history. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (usually called the Principia) described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries.

His theories laid the groundwork for classical mechanics, which describes the motion of objects, from projectiles and parts of machinery to spacecraft, planets, stars and galaxies.

However, Newton’s three laws of motion have relevance beyond the realms of science and engineering.  In a modern organisation, for example, a leader can apply Newtonian physics to become a more effective leader. Let us review how to do this.

First Law: Bodies moves in a straight line with a uniform speed; or remain stationary, unless a force acts to change their speed or direction.

Leadership is all about the art of taking action. Whether it is starting a new project, pushing through a new corporate policy or implementing an initiative, you have to move your people to get the job done successfully.

You have to be the force that acts upon your people to encourage and motivate them to either change their pace or proceed in another direction altogether.  This is the test of your leadership ability.

Perhaps you have to change your speed or direction first to influence your team members to go along with you.

Second Law: Forces produce accelerations that are in proportion to the mass of a body (F = ma).

The formula F = ma illustrates the force needed to accelerate an object which Newton identified as being proportional to the object’s mass. In an organisation, the leader is the force behind the success or failure of organisation. 

The mass represents the people that you lead and the acceleration is your ability as a leader to maximise the potential of all the people you lead. 

You must be the motivating force that will help propel people into action. When you apply the right amount of force, you will be able to get your people to move in the direction that you want.

Once they are certain of what you want, they will be able to deliver that task with speed and efficiency.

Third Law: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

The Third Law means that all forces are interactions between different bodies; thus that there is no such thing as a unidirectional force or a force that acts on only one body.

This is also true of leadership: a bad leader does not merely demoralise or demotivate his team members. They, in turn, fail to give him support, fail to meet his and their goals and eventually move away.

A leader who cannot get his people to work with him to achieve his and the company’s targets will not be a leader for long.

If you want your people to be committed to what you want them to do, it is important that you demonstrate your level of commitment first. 

The more committed you are to the vision, the more committed they become. If you want 100 per cent from them, you have to put in 100 per cent yourself. Action and reaction!

Learn from leaders

There is no one magic theory that will turn you into an effective leader. Leadership is a lifelong learning process and sometimes you may have to look beyond your line of sight to seek the right solution. This will require you to read widely, learn from the practices of known effective leaders and make inferences that will sharpen your leadership ability. 

Sir Isaac Newton observed the moon and at same time saw an apple falling from the tree. He was curious to know why the moon did not fall and yet the apple did.  Both these acts seemed contradictory. 

And yet the answer to both, as he discovered, was the same — gravity.  The same gravity that was keeping the moon in orbit was also making the apple fall. 

As a leader, this is a paradox you need to appreciate. Your leadership is the metaphorical “gravity” of your organisation.

Engage and care for your people, set them realistic targets and make them accountable for achieving them, invest in their development and reward them well and you will keep them “flying high”.

Do the opposite and their performance falls to the ground. Both outcomes are determined by leadership — strong or weak.

Be the force for positive change in your organisation.

Take a cue from Newton who once wrote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”