Chris Laszlo, PhD, is the Char and Chuck Fowler Professor of Business as an Agent of World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, where he is the Faculty Executive Director of the Fowler Center. He is currently working on a new book, Quantum Leadership: New Consciousness in Business, forthcoming from Stanford University Press.
We each have a story about who we are and the world we live in. We urgently need a new one to replace neoliberalism with its plotlines of profit maximization, endless growth, material consumption, ruthless competition, and increasing disregard for nature and future generations.
Here I want to point to consciousness as a powerful root cause of who we are, how we behave toward others and nature, and why we act the way we do. Transforming our consciousness is the most effective tool we have for unlocking local and global change. This is what Donella Meadows wrote in her article, Places to Intervene in a System(1997). The highest leverage point to intervene in a system, she said, was “the mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises”.
Scientists define consciousness as the awareness by the mind of itself and the world around it. So what form does this awareness take?
Currently two very different forms exist. Now, more than ever, they are at war with each other:
1. In the last three hundred years the natural and social sciences have led us to see ourselves as separate, selfish, utility maximizing individuals who are spiritless and existentially alone, born into a cold mechanical universe composed of clumps of matter subject to gravitational and electromagnetic forces driving us toward meaningless extinction. Such a narrative has a long and distinguished pedigree in Newtonian physics, Cartesian dualism, the biological evolution of Darwinism, the utility theory of Mills and the mathematical laws of economic behavior expounded by Jevons.
2. An emerging consciousness of connectedness is being fueled by new findings in the natural and social sciences. Instead of seeing ourselves as separate and selfish, interested only in maximizing our own gain, we can now see ourselves as deeply connected to one another, not only metaphorically, but in science-based terms of energy and information fields. Quantum physics reveals properties of entanglement and non-locality at the finest scale of reality, quantum biology and epigenetics show this interconnectedness extends to the scale of life, and a growing body of research suggests that consciousness may be a field property of the universe rather than a localized result of brain activity.
So is this only about competing science? Or is there something leaders can do to embrace one form of consciousness over another?
A growing body of research suggests that there are everyday practices that can help leaders and organizations shift their consciousness from one of separateness and selfishness to one of connectedness and caring. From meditation to walking in nature, from music to exercise and prayer, such practices help quiet our five senses and slow the analytic cognition of the brain. They help to cultivate broader perception and greater awareness of how our actions impact others and future generations.
Having a consciousness of connectedness changes how we think and act. We become more empathetic and compassionate. When we see ourselves as an integral part of the natural world rather than separate from it, we become more attuned to how our actions affect not only people but all life on earth.
From Plotinus to Lao Tzu, from Jesus to the Buddha, from the Vedic scholars of India to the Native Americans, many spiritual and cultural traditions have advocated living a life of Oneness with “All That Is”. Science is now converging on these perennial intuitions or beliefs about the essential unity of mind and matter.
The path to Quantum Leadership is above all an experiential one. It is not achieved through conceptual learning alone. Mindfulness, which engages the heart-body-spirit and not only the mind, is the gateway to awakening an experience of wholeness. Leaders who successfully pursue it find greater purpose and meaning through the pursuit of positive social impact.
The point is that our consciousness, influenced by both science and beliefs, and shaped by our daily practices, is the foundation for the stories we tell about who we are and the nature of the world we live. These stories in turn determine the actions we take in business as in life.
 Waddock, S. (2016). Foundational Memes for a New Narrative about the Role of Business in Society. Humanistic Management Journal, online 2016, DOI: 10.1007/s41463–016–0012–4.
 Meadows, D. H. (1997), “Places to Intervene in a System”. Whole Earth Winter 1997
 Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2005). Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting With Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
 Laszlo, C. (2016). “The Quantum Leadership Project: Accelerating Globally Responsible Business”. Global Responsibility: The GRLI Partner Magazine, Issue 15. http://www.grli.org/resources/global-responsibility-magazine-issue-15/