A Quantum Influenced Approach to Leadership

Last week, I posted a blog on humility in leadership. This week, I want to explore another area of leadership–what modern physics might teach us. One of factors that underlies the struggles we face in many areas, including leadership, discipleship, and government has to do with the fundamental outlooks on reality that sit behind many of our social and institutional problems.

From Machine to Organism

What is sometimes called the Newtonian world view encourages a view of the world and human beings as essentially machines. There is force and there is matter. Originally, the founders of this world view placed God, in whom they believed, in the position of a Transcendental Watch Maker. God designed the watch. Then, God built the watch. God then left the watch to run itself. Famously, one of the proponents of the world view indicated that if he could no the position of every particle in the universe and the forces on it, the future could be mathematically calculated. No one believes this is true any more.

A Quantum world view encourages us to the the world as more like an organism than a machine. At a fundamental level, the world does not seem to consist of matter and energy. Matter is a form of energy. Even more mysteriously, fundamental particles seem to be ripples on a quantum field. There is both freedom and uncertainty in the emerging world view on both a fundamental level (quantum uncertainty) and everyday level (chaos theory).

Like and organism, the world is constantly changing and evolving: In other words, it is not at all like a watch that is designed once and for all,  built and then runs until it breaks. Instead the world  is constantly evolving in a creative process.

God, on this view, is no distant Divine Architect. God is a loving and wise participant in the ongoing process of an evolving universe. We are not fixed and determined creatures either. Human beings and human society are constantly changing over the course of our lives.

From Determinism to Freedom

As mentioned earlier, the world of Newton was a material world held together by forces. While the everyday world we observe and inhabit does have these kinds of qualities, and the impact of power and force cannot be underestimated in human organizations, underneath this world is a vast world of potentiality and freedom. It is also not “material” in any sense of the word. There is both freedom and order built into the universe. The world, human beings, and human organizations are characterized by both a level of determinism and of freedom. (Or, as I like to put it, I cannot be a professional basketball player, but I can get into shape and play a reasonable game of golf!). We do not have complete freedom in how to organize our lives or our social systems, but we do have freedom.

In addition, this freedom and immateriality that characterizes the subatomic world also characterizes our minds, which seem to operate something like a “quantum computer.” Moreover, the laws of mathematics and physics encourage us to understand that their is “noetic” world of mathematics and physical laws that exist outside of our minds and can be discovered and used by human beings. It is only a short jump from this notion to the notion that the world somehow prefers beauty, truth, goodness, justice and love. We live in a world that has ideal, moral, aesthetic, and ethical potential just as we live in a world with physical potential.

Application to Leadership

I have only a cursory understanding of quantum physics and of the other matters that I have briefly described above, but as a pastor and leader, I have tried to read some of the literature and adapt my teaching and leading to what a lay-person, with no real technical understanding can learn from those with such talents who write for lay-persons.

One night alone in my office pondering a particularly difficult and unpleasant decision, I wrote down the following as a way of guiding my thoughts:

  1. Every leader of an existing organization inherits the organization in an “initial state.” That initial state is comprised of every decision and action taken in the history of that organization and the complex organization that has emerged from that past. The entire past of an organization, the actualized facts of its prior existence, both create opportunities and limitations. Wise leaders do not make decisions or take actions radically unconnected to the past history and tradition of the organization. This is the “Principle of Evolutionary Historicity.”
  2. Past actions and decisions have consequences and provide both opportunities and restrictions on the future, and therefore, on what kind of decisions can or should be made. A wise leader attempts to understand as much of the past as possible, and especially that past which directly or indirectly opens up or limits the potential future. Even in a new organization, there are limits on the future and on the decisions and actions leaders can prudently  take. Humble and wise leaders do not attempt the impossible.  This is the “Principle of Organizational Opportunities and Limits.”
  3. A leader’s decisions or actions are not the only factors controlling the future of an organization. Organizations exist within a complex and interrelated political, social, and economic environment. All decisions and actions by all of the participants in any such complex system impact the future state of an organization or the impact  of an action. The decisions of others in the organization, leaders of related organizations, and a multitude of others can and will impact the future. These factors often dictate the most prudent future route for the organization, and counsel against radical action. This is the “Principle of Opportunities and Limits.”
  4. The future state of an organization involves chance (multiple possible futures and unforeseen events), necessity (those things that are structurally certain or nearly certain to happen), and the relational wholeness the leader intends to achieve (the goal of the leader). Because trhe future is and will be impacted by events over which a leader and organization have little or no control, things over which leaders have control, and the quality of our intentions and actions, there is always uncertainty in decision-making. This is the “Principle of Determinacy and Indeterminacy.”
  5. The potential for organizational wholeness and health is the area in which leaders can make the biggest impact in the organizations they lead. Good leaders inject wisdom, self-giving love (Agape), and peace (Shalom) into the organizations they lead. This is the “Principle of Positive Energy.”  There is a reverse possibility. Leaders that do not care for all participants and act unwisely and unlovingly, causing conflict and chaos inject negative energy into the organization causing decline This is the “Principle of Negative Energy.”
  6. Almost inevitably there are many potential outcomes to a decision or action (i.e., more than one potential future state of the organization). Seldom is there only one positive final state. Often there are many potential positive and negative outcomes. A good leader evaluates as many potential outcomes as possible before choosing a course of action. Of all possible outcomes, good leaders choose that outcome that has the greatest potential to maximize the adaptation of the organization to its environment over the relevant time period. This is the “Principle of Realistic Maximization.”
  7. As indicated above, good leaders inject positive energy (physical, mental, emotional, moral, and spiritual) into an organization as they make decisions, deploy resources, and guide the organization into the future. Positive energy is injected by the decisions made among available options, the character of the leader, and the actions taken. Wise leaders love the organization they lead, care deeply about all the persons and stakeholders of the organization, and wisely seek to see that the health of the organization as a whole is enhanced by any decision or action. Bad leaders can inject negative energy into the organization, which always results in future problems. IN making choices, good leaders choose to encourage factors that are positive for the group. This might be called the “Principle of Leadership Energy Prehension.” [1]
  8. Good leaders also identify and reject negative factors within and without the organization in making decisions. What is rejected as a potential action, decision, or future is just as important as what is decided and done. One duty of a leader is to minimize future negative factors in making any decision. This might be called the “Principle of Negative Leadership Prehension.”
  9. Because each new state of an organization will ultimately degenerate, leaders must constantly inject positive energy, in the form of wise and loving actions and decisions, into the organization in order to prevent decay. This means that leaders must maintain their own level of positive energy, and place limitations on their activities in order to assure that they can continue to function positively. Wise leaders retire from leadership when they can no longer do this. This is the “Principle of Positive Energy Reserve and Limits.”
  10. In order to function positively, leaders need to learn to meditate about problems bringing into consciousness as many of the decisions, facts, relationships, personalities, historic traditions, past actions, systematic responses, and other factors in the organization’s history as possible. One technique is to create a “Mental Matrix” of all the people, organizations, and social systems impacted by a decision or action to. Be taken and the likely response of other actors to the decision or action. This is the “Principle of Meditative Matrix Decision-making.”

Why Think About This?

At the very beginning of the series of blogs I have been writing on political philosophy and theology, I quoted a physicist on the proposition that many if not most people in positions of authority in the church, in private organizations, in government, and in business hold to an outdated world view that underestimates the inter-relatedness of things and the impact of human decisions. He ends saying,

As a consequence of this widely disseminated misinformation, “well informed” officials, administrators, legislators, judges, educators, and medical professionals who guide the development of our society are encouraged to shape our lives in ways predicated on known-to-be-false premises about “nature and nature’s laws”. [2]

I am convinced that the author is correct in these views. In this blog I have tried to seek a means by which leaders can productively use the insights of postmodern science to improve  decision- making and encourage leaders to a better form of decision-making. In the political sphere, which I have been examining recently, leaders need to adopt a strategy for leading our nation that avoids both the polarization and materialistic bias of many current leaders and policies. A more humble, historically and systematic sensitivity would go a long way towards improving both our political climate and the quality of decision-making by our leaders.

Copyright 2021, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] I have used the term “prehension” from the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead instead of “decoherence” which is he actual term for the creation of a final state of a quantum system. My reason has to do with clarity. Whitehead uses the term “prehension” for the way in which an actual occasion incorporates or rejects potential influences in the emergence of an occasion. I think this is clearer. See, A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York, NY: Free Press, 1978).

[2] Henry P. Stapp, “Whitehead, James, and the Ontology of Quantum Theory” Mind & Matter Vol. 5(1) (2007 imprint), at 85.



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