Kinetic vs. Potential Leadership

As is often the case, my mind looks at leadership from a variety of perspectives.  My original formal education is in the area of engineering physics from Murray State and I can never fully abandon the models this education provides for my view of the world.  Potential and Kinetic energy are two of the staples I learned about when studying the sciences and I believe they have great applicability to the world of leadership also.  Let’s take a peak at how the Kinetic vs. Potential model will apply to leaders and the work they do.

The energy model below comes from

Kinetic Energy vs. Potential Energy
Kinetic Potential
Definition The energy of a body or a system with respect to the motion of the body or of the particles in the system. Potential Energy is the stored energy in an object or system because of its position or configuration.
Relationship to Environment Kinetic energy of an object is relative to other moving and stationary objects in its immediate environment. Potential energy is not relative to the environment of an object.
Transferability Kinetic energy can be transferred from one moving object to another, say, in collisions. Potential energy cannot be transferred.
Examples Flowing water, such as when falling from a waterfall. Water at the top of a waterfall, before the precipice.
Unit of Measurement Joule (J) Joule (J)
Determining Factors Speed/velocity and mass Height or distance and mass

Let’s make a similar comparison for Kinetic vs. Potential Leadership:


Kinetic Potential
Definition Inspiring, motivating and aligning human capital assets in the workplace Devising and forming strategy to promote the changes needed in the workplace
Environmental influence Change is essential for growth and Kinetic leadership provides the catalyst for this change Failing to plan means planning to fail.  Even if the plans do change, a strategy needs to exist for the emphasis and direction of the change considered
Transference Kinetic leaders “infect” their followers with the same types of enthusiasm and direction they possess.  They also model the behavior necessary for success. Potential leadership is also essential to provide the planning and guidance for Kinetic leadership to be successful.
Example A leader works with a group to explain and lead an effort to grow or change a business unit or team.  This Kinetic leader uses a variety of tools and methods in order to bring action to the change. Potential leadership is exhibited by planning and providing a strategy and direction for an effort.  Potential leadership is essential for Kinetic leadership to be successful.
Measurement method Many measure can be used including profit, sales growth, employee engagement and reduction in turnover. Potential leadership may be more difficult to measure.  The success of the plan after implementation can be viewed in conjunction with the original direction and strategy.

There are some strong similarities between energy and leadership when looking at both through the Kinetic and Potential lens.

What actions have you taken or are you taking to employ both Potential and Kinetic leadership in your work and your life?