A Leader’s Quantum Wave
By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
In quantum physics, matter has two forms, comprised either of “… particles, localized points in space; or … waves, energy dispersed over a finite volume” (Wheatley, 1994, p. 35). At the subatomic level, matter changes form and adapts to the world in which it comes in contact; these changes are variable and unpredictable – “temporary states in a network of reactions that go on and on” (Wheatley, 1994, p. 69).
We can neither observe nor measure matter’s dual existence at the same time – that of a particle and the wave. In a constant state of flux, it escapes our desire for a pause or a photograph. This is a different approach to looking at the world than that of Newtonian science, where things are things … where particles travel distances to bump into one another; where things are more either/or than both/and.
Scientists are now seeing larger representations of these quantum-like microscopic phenomena in the world around us, or at least some similar manifestations of their unpredictable, interactional behavior. I, for one, am seeing such when I envision the notion of our leadership, or better said, leaders.
A leader is both a particle and a wave – or said differently, both a thing and the energy dispersed. As I work to get a better understanding of this, I think of the following:
Leaders envision themselves as many things, among them “a boss,” “a servant,” or “a change agent.” I hope not always “a driver of data,” yet that is for another week’s article.
At times, a leader’s colleagues and subordinates see him or her similarly (as a thing); we could call these leaders-as-particles. Leaders are also the energy they disperse, with or without their awareness. To make my own quantum leap here, leader energy influences (or even becomes) the relationship that exists between followers/stakeholders and the organization, an energy that at times is particle-free, by its very duality of definition. This we could call leaders-as-waves.
Consider the following:
At times, we all think of work when we’re home in the evenings. If a person at work with whom we have positive interactions comes to mind, then that person’s representation, or energy exerting an influence upon us, becomes the relationship we have with our work at that moment. In that sense, the relationship is good, influenced and/or embodied by one person’s energy or form of matter, one existing in that moment as a wave.
At other times, we think of work and visualize a person with whom we struggle to get along. With this person in mind, isn’t it true that we might think, “At times, work just stinks.” Our relationship with work is influenced by the energy of the person’s waveform with whom we struggle. That person’s very existence, as it contacts our mind’s eye, personifies the relationship between the work and us.
Another metaphor comes to mind – that of a hologram, where “every part contains enough information, in condensed form, to display the whole” (Wheatley, 1994, p. 112). Any leader is that smaller part of his or her larger organization. Given that in a hologram, “the image of the whole can be reconstructed from any fragment of the original image,” the leader-as-waveform personifies the larger organization for others. “Most organizations acknowledge that when a customer comes in contact with anyone from the organization, no matter his or her position, the customer experiences the total organization, for good or ill” (pp. 112-113).
As leaders, what is the impact that we are having on others’ relationships with their organizations when they are experiencing our waveform? Do we realize what impact we have when we morph beyond our particle’s existence? A leader’s wave energy influences punctuality, absenteeism, proactivity, passion, or anything else within the volume of an organization, that can make either a positive or negative difference in performance, product, or professional reputation.
Wheatley, M. J. (1994). Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Loehler Publishers, Inc.
Dr. Ryan Donlan is continually inspired by students and colleagues in the Department of Educational Leadership in the Bayh College of Education. After a meeting with Ph.D. student Russ Simnick who is well versed in quantum physics, Dr. Donlan visited Dr. Steve Gruenert, Department Chairperson, fellow author, and friend, who lent him a copy of Wheaton’s book. What you have here is Dr. Donlan’s neophytic attempt at putting something together that he has just discovered for himself, with a little help from his friends.