Ohm’s Law and the Movement of Energy Through an Organization

Ron May recently retired from the senior executive ranks at DTE Energy and is now an executive in residence at the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michgian.  He spent a morning in a session that included a discussion about the role of resisters in the process of creating a positive organization.  At lunch, Ron shared a great lesson about electricity positive leadership. I asked him to join me in writing this positive passage.

Ron pointed out that resistance and potential are terms used in Ohm’s Law, which states that the electrical current in a conductor is proportional to the potential difference applied to it, provided the temperature remains the same.  The law uses the following formula: V = I x R.  “V” is voltage or potential difference, “I” is current or energy flow, and “R” is resistance.

Therefore, assuming a person’s potential has always been present but just not realized, we can hold that value constant. As a leader helps the person embrace their potential and reduce the fear of their own growth, resistance inside the person drops, the person begins to act, and energy flow increases. Potential (“V” – a constant value) divided by resistance (“R” – a smaller observed value) equals Energy Flow (“I” – increased energy).

If we move from the individual to the collective, a leader can increase the power of the impact of the collective by increasing energy flow, reducing resistance, or both.  When the leader does both, there is a big jump in the voltage or potential difference or impact.

The culture or shared expectation and belief system is the circuit or electrical line that carries energy.  When the purpose is unclear or unattractive, relationships begin to decay, silos grow, resistance increases and less energy flows.  People lose hope and reduce their efforts.  Resistance goes up, the energy flow goes down and voltage decreases. The potential is not realized.

When there is a higher purpose that is clear, and the leader is authentically and constantly committed to the purpose, people focus their attention on the leader’s unusual selflessness and they begin to sense the value in being a part of something bigger than self.  A few of the more change-ready people embrace the purpose.  They choose to invest their discretionary energy even if disparaged by the resisters. The total resistance is going down.

As this pattern continues, relationships become increasingly trusting and communication becomes more authentic. More information and more energy are flowing.  Belief and hope move like a positive infection across the system.  Outliers or resisters are enticed to become believers.  As commitment and trust go up, resistance further declines.  Silos begin to decay.  Negative peer pressure becomes positive peer pressure and resistance drops close to zero.  High voltage moves through the organization to outside recipients.

Ron sees an analogy between the flow of electrical energy, and the flow of energy within and between people:

“I experienced the huge energy rise within my organization as we created a new group to perform projects to help drive the vision of continuous improvement. Resistance was expressed in their questions of job security and purpose. As these were positively reinforced, first by me and then by others, the group worked with energy to become a world-class project management organization. How energy moves through a wire tells us something about how energy moves through an organization.”



  • How energized is your organization?
  • Is potential being realized?
  • What forms of resistance can be reduced? How?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



One thought on “Ohm’s Law and the Movement of Energy Through an Organization

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s