Public Enemy Number Two
Isaac Newtons contributions to
science helped pave the way for the technology we use today,
even if he didnt realize the shape of things to come. Little
did Sir Isaac know that his most famous contribution to
science, in the form of the laws of motion, also qualified him
to become an elected or appointed official in local
He was reputedly conked on the head
by a falling apple, helping him achieve the "flash of
insight," which is one way to define a discovery. However, the
apple could just as easily have been the gavel convening a
Commission or Board of Supervisors meeting. It could also
have been the result of the impact of a flying paperclip in
the office of an appointed director, supervisor or manager. In
any event, we have a huge amount to learn about how
organizations and individuals behave from a quick review of
Newtonian Motion Theory as it applies to public
To set the stage, regular readers of
the HR Doctor are likely aware that the HR Doctor has
identified "Public Enemy Number One" when it comes to harm
done to local government, its employees and family members,
and the citizens we serve. In fact, this number-one problem
"disease" has much broader nationwide or worldwide
implications in explaining why achieving our goals and making
our personal and professional dreams come true can be impeded,
delayed, or totally defeated. That number-one enemy is
arrogant pride. The Greeks would say hubris. You are cordially
and, of course, humbly invited to read that article at http://www.hrdr.net/.
Vying strongly for second place in
any diagnosis of organizational or personal failure is the
central property defined by Newton 350 years ago. The first
Law of Motion defines the property called inertia. Inertia
refers to the tendency of a body in motion to remain in that
constant state of motion unless acted on by an outside force.
The body involved could be an individual person, a work unit,
a department and entire local government or a larger
Inertia is synonymous with
resistance to change, with unwillingness to try something new,
and with an inability to recognize the symptoms of problems,
which require timely intervention and action. In other words,
inertia in public service can refer to an individuals or an
agencys unwillingness or inability to see the need to
accomplish something and to get on with the job.
How many opportunities go by in our
personal lives and our work lives where, if we had only acted,
if we had only taken one more step or seen the problem coming,
the outcome could have been changed for the better? If only
they had worn their seat belt or motorcycle helmet before the
accident. If only the invitation to go back to school to get
the bachelors degree had been seized a few years ago ... If
only! If only! If only!
The difference between the "if only"
and the successful local government leaders who create a
vision and rally others to active support is that these
leaders recognize and have learned to overcome the effects of
inertia. They have developed the "counter inertia"
That remedy is to substitute a
compelling sense of urgency for inertia to get on with the
business of making things better. This treatment applies
equally to each of us individually, to our families, our
workplaces, and in the community.
Inertia takes over all too often.
When individuals lack or appear to lack a compelling sense of
the need or opportunity to move forward without being asked, a
need to show initiative without being micro-managed and to
value bringing new ideas forward, they have fallen prey to the
inertia syndrome. Conversely, the behavioral markers of a
person whose career and whose personal life will be successful
and happy include a sense of the urgency of getting on with
decisions and positive change, even if there are reasonable
What is the treatment for acute
exposure to the inertia syndrome in public administration?
Learning to be conscious of the effects of the syndrome and
how to overcome its symptoms comes first.
The actual treatment is rather
simple! Any of us can overcome some of inertias effects by
committing to take specific action on a specific project in a
measurable way. Make a commitment to accomplish a task. Make
it a simple one at first and use the technique of the
diplomatic corps employ small confidence-building
measures. Success with a small step can be built upon to set
another measurable goal. Succeed in it and celebrate! The HR
Doctor recommends a chocolate treat as an appropriate reward.
Keep to the method of "one small step" and watch big
results emerge. Walt Disney called it
Start small. Finish that memo thats
been on your desk. Complete the overdue performance
evaluation. Return that call from last week! Soon you will be
routinely acting more and procrastinating less! The treatment
to overcome inertia is simple. It is action! Now, not later.
Today, not next week.
For a leader in government and the
community, there is an additional element. The leader must
convey to others the need to get on with doing their part
toward achieving a group, department, agency or community
goal. The leader has to be a cheerleader in holding others
accountable for their part in the larger success. That very
definitely includes recognizing and appreciating the work of
others in contributing to overall success.
Imagine letting inertia seep into
your personal life and your family life. Waiting to spend some
time with the little child in your life can cost you dearly.
Soon you will procrastinate yourself into realizing that the
little child is no longer little, perhaps not living at home
any more! Immediately after reading this article ... go do
The HR Doctorhttp://www.hrdr.net/