Leaders Are Chemists

Have you ever given much thought to chemistry? I mean really thought about it? You realize that everything you see, touch, hear, smell, and taste involves chemistry, right? If something can be sensed, it’s made up of atoms, molecules, and the like. The fragrant smell of roses? Chemistry. The taste of a medium-rare, bone-in ribeye? Chemistry. The sound of the Beatles? Chemistry. The feel of velvet under your fingers? Chemistry. The beauty of a spectacular sunset? Chemistry.

My experience with chemistry coursework is a mixed bag. I coasted through high school chemistry (and met the girl I took to the Junior Prom). College was a different story. I loved my first chemistry course and hated the second. Perhaps this experience encouraged me to change my major course of study from petroleum engineering. Ironically, upon graduating (without a degree in chemistry or a chemistry-related field) I went to work for a large chemical company where I worked for 15 years and later for a paint/coatings company where I managed analytical labs, chemists, chemical engineers, and chemical factories throughout North America. Go figure.

At the moment, my favorite cup of coffee is made in my own kitchen each morning using a Chemex Coffeemaker. I take my favorite beans, put them in a mill, weigh them into the filter, add hot water using a 15:1 ratio of water to coffee, wait for the bloom, and then finish pouring the hot water. I enjoy the process and it makes an outstanding cup of coffee. And you know what? It’s chemistry at work. Great cup of coffee? Chemistry. You can’t escape it!

Great leaders also understand chemistry. In fact, great leaders are chemists. They know how to build new teams and they know how to modify existing teams. Just like a great chemist knows how to mix elements, liquids, powders, solids, and gases together (under just the right heat, pressure and time conditions) to form plastics, cakes, metals, perfumes, coffee and ultimately Jaguars, iPhones, and Airbus A380s, great leaders know how to mix people together to form great teams.

You probably already knew that the best team isn’t always the one compromised of the best individual players. Often the championship-winning team is a team with good talent, but excellent chemistry. Championship teams? Chemistry.

Great leaders look for how the pieces fit together. They’re concerned with how the sum looks, not just the individual parts. Great parents, coaches, executives, business owners, and heads of state are chemists. They’re constantly looking for people who can serve as a catalyst or bring an organization into a state of equilibrium. Whether or not you truly appreciate classroom/lab chemistry, recognize its value in your life. And recognize, as a leader, the value of chemistry in bringing about the results and vision you want to achieve.

In chemistry, various ingredients under various conditions lead to different end states. The same is true in organizational life. Certain conditions or goals call for a certain type of team, a team that has a unique make-up. As a leader, be deliberate in the team you are assembling, crafting, or forming, and be aware of what you need on the team for it to be successful in its current operating environment. Remember, a team that can succeed in one environment can fail in another.

Are you a chemist? Do you like chemistry? Do you just dump all the ingredients into a pot or do you plan it out? Are you satisfied with the results?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.


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