Three Wellsprings of Leadership®

John J. (Jack) Long

July 15th, 2015

Leadership That Emanates From Quantum Mechanics… Good Grief!

Periodically, I receive questions about a possible relationship between the art of leadership and theoretical particle physics (“quantum mechanics”). In the words of the physicist Richard P. Feynman: “…I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” If there is a relationship, it is an unknowable relationship, which begs the question: “What is the purpose of trying to advance unknowable principles of leadership?”

In Leadership and the New Science (Wheatley, Margaret, J., 2006) (“LNS”), the author tries to make connections between the art of leadership and quantum mechanics (I shall use the phrase “QM Leadership”). She makes reference to the “quantum leap”, a phrase used to describe the apparently instantaneous jump of an electron from one orbit to another orbit. (LNS, 43-44)

Accordingly, one can deduce that “time” and “distance” do not exist in the quantum world. She believes that based on the new physics, “there is no objective reality” (LNS, 9, 46, 161-162), and states that “My growing sensibility of this quantum world has profoundly affected my practice in organizations… I don’t personally spend time anymore on elaborate plans or time lines… I have given up trying to control anything.” (LNS 45-46)

Consider the following situation. At 8:00 a.m. on June 5, an Executive Assistant was tasked to drive to the corporate Document Center to pick up copies of an analysis of proposed changes to the business plan for Belgium, and to deliver the documents to Headquarters in time for a 2:00 p.m. meeting of the Board of Directors. Applying QM Leadership and Ms. Wheatley’s understanding of the nature of reality, it would be reasonable for the Assistant to assume that he/she did not have to do anything, since time has no meaning (there is a probability that the Board meeting had occurred on June 4 or might occur on July 15), and it would be pointless to drive to the document center, since the idea of distance has no meaning. Further, since there is no objective reality, there is no Document Center, no Board of Directors, no Belgium, etc.

Ms. Wheatley claims that “Quantum imagery challenges so many of our basic assumptions, including our understanding of relationships, connectedness, prediction, and control.” (LNS 33) In The Perils of Romanticizing Physics (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2014), physicist Ira Rothstein notes that “…[t]he temptation is stronger than ever to misapply modern ideas of physics in viewing the world. But we don’t need science to illuminate how we are interconnected – it is our humanity and our shared experiences, our joys and sorrows, not quantum mechanics and relativity, that bind us.” (Ms. Wheatley would deny the reality of shared experiences, etc.)

If Ms. Wheatley’s book exists, her most astute comment may be that “Some believe that there is a danger in playing with science and abstracting its metaphors because, after a certain amount of stretch, the metaphors lose their relationship to the tight scientific theories that gave rise to them.” (LNS 15, 32-33) Artful leadership flows from the Wellsprings of Character (not character traits), Hope (the ability to make hopeful those who anticipate leadership), and Imagination. Leaders are poets, not physicists.

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