Archive for the ‘Civic Discussion’ Category


What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Leadership and the New Science

September 23, 2009

By  Larry Rowland, Chair of the Indiana Humanities Council’s Board of Directors

It has been said that the only things that will always exist are “death, taxes, and change.”  Our world has seen a tremendous amount of change in the last year; declining stock markets, wars, elections, and the U.S. government taking an active role in bailing out major companies.  It is perhaps the rare and undiscovered individual who predicted all of these changes. The speed of recent change has created a sense of disquiet among many, and who among us would not like to once again see the reasonable predictability of market growth? 

For centuries, we have built our expectations, and our companies, around the precepts of Newtonian physics.  We, and our companies, have worked hard to control our environment, our markets, and our workforce.  Top management’s responsibility in this model has been to set the corporate direction, and demand that the rest of the corporation fall in line in pursuit of the senior leader’s goals. Yet in spite of all of the corporate command and control structures we have built, we have painfully learned that equilibrium does not exist.

Dr. Elizabeth Wheatley, in her book, Leadership and the New Science, suggests that we should be building our companies and our leadership styles using the principles associated with quantum physics.  Quantum physics suggests that there is an interrelatedness of organisms with their environment.  Dr. Wheatley makes the case that leaders should listen to each employee, and develop cooperative teams to focus on the challenges facing their company or organization.  This new focus also encourages the free flow of information throughout the organization rather than using the “top down” strategy used by corporations for decades.  Focusing on the values of the individuals and aligning them with corporate goals, she postulates, can enable an organization to more quickly and flexibly respond to rapid changes occurring in the environment and markets.

Most of us for years have worked for leaders who have taken their leadership cues from Newtonian physics.  What results do you think could be achieved if leaders began listening to their colleagues more, encouraging the free flow of information, and aligning the goals of the individuals with the goals of the company?