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Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Quantum Physics Can Teach Us About Leadership

What Quantum Physics Can Teach Us About Leadership

By Russ Simnick
Senior Director of State Advocacy
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

For decades, organizations have largely focused on selecting the right leaders with the right attributes who work optimally with others. They consider leadership to be the key factor in an organization’s success. 

Northouse (2012) and other contemporary leadership writers have encouraged us to consider the following theories upon which leadership selection has been based:

Trait Theory – Selecting those with the right attributes for the situation.
Skills Theory – Selecting those with the right skills with tasks, people, and concepts.
Style Theory – Selecting those with a democratic, autocratic, or laissez faire approach.
Situational Theory – Selecting those who can adapt to different circumstances.
Contingency Theory – Selecting those whose styles match given contexts.
Leader-Member Exchange Theory– Selecting those who facilitate reciprocity.

Even notions of Transactional Leadership, Transformational Leadership, and Servant Leadership include, by definition, notions of leaders’ pulling the right levers to get employees to perform. It’s an action/reaction type of thing.  We have long been taught that the proper motivation (or conversely, punishment), said differently … the perfect blend of sticks and carrots, will accomplish our goals.

However, if leadership, or even followership, can be reduced to a playbook, why hasn’t a single approach, or even a blend of the best approaches recorded, “cracked the code,” providing leaders with a playbook that works equally well in myriad settings?

We would contend it is become something else might be going on – and further, that the subject is far more complex, necessitating a deeper understanding of what is actually occurring in organizational dynamics.

Just as quantum physics revealed a new world not previously explainable by Newtonian explanations, perhaps a quantum view is called for to gain a deeper understanding of leadership in contemporary organizations – certainly in schools.

Those who suggest that organizational excellence can be attained through sticks and carrots, or even “fierce conversations” and “heightened accountability measures,” are living in the Newtonian world at best, and further, not seeing the entire picture.  In the real world, actions do not always produce their intended result, even when they make sense, as we would expect in a mechanical, cause-effect system. In our real world of K-12 education, the questions we ask toward the answers we need are still phrased in a mechanical paradigm.

Physicist David Bohm theorized an “enfolded” universe comprised of what we see and experience and an “unfolded” universe, a state of awareness or higher consciousness less discernable.  If Bohm is right, as we focus our efforts each day on no more than what we see and experience, the reality of what occurs professionally and personally is that our lives are impacted more by that which we can neither see nor fathom.

If this higher-order universal consciousness exists within and around us, what can we learn as educational leaders?

The first thing, of course, is that much of what we perceive that we’re doing to promote excellence might be, in fact, wrong.  The sad part is that we’re teaching it to others, as if it were reality.  In Blink, Gladwell notes that highly effective leaders do not know why they are effective, and often make a false attribution. This seems to indicate that even the best leaders have no idea what leads to their success.

Yet we teach it. 

We profess that it works. 

And we might not even have a clue, while being effective and in the short term, while beating the odds and receiving distinction as “models.”

Quantum physicist Dr. David Hawkins has leaned upon the pioneering work of Dr. George Goodheart and Dr. David Diamond in applying kinesiology to psychiatric studies. He has used kinesiology to “test” consciousness and postulates that all things are interconnected and that “truth” can be tested through kinesiology.

Hawkins has developed a scale that calibrates all thoughts and emotions; it then orders them on their inherent levels of goodness and truth (what he calls, consciousness). Further, Hawkins claims that goodness (things that calibrate high) wins over ideas, emotions, tactics or people that calibrate lower on his scale. In other words, goodness has power.  He explains this by contrasting leaders who use “power” (that which comes from higher consciousness) and those who use “force” (that which comes from imposing will on others).

Consider Mahatma Gandi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln on the one end of the continuum, and Adolph Hitler, Nero, and Idi Amin on the other.

Could it be, as Hawkins suggests, that all people and energy are interconnected and that leaders acting with good motivations will always find greater and more lasting success than those acting in the lower order?  He noted, “It is a scientific fact that what is good for you is good for me.”  This is a difficult concept to understand as we strive to value and cherish diversity in our world, organizations, and certainly our K-12 schools, where many perspectives are relativistic and one’s good often comes at the expense of another’s.  However, delving a bit deeper into the realm of quantum existence, there seems to be more potential for a universal “good.”

It might very well be that our best K-12 leaders who invite in others a higher level of performance than they are capable of on their own, are motivated by higher-order good and further, their results are greater and will be longer-lasting than those in the mainstream who act as follows:

Leaders who use force to impose will (i.e. “Pass the test, or you’ll receive a failing grade and may need to go to summer school”);

Leaders who pass along the force that is being thrust upon them (i.e. “If your children do not pass the test, your job may be in jeopardy”).

History is replete with examples of powerful leaders and nations who acted against the interests of humanity. They rarely succeed. However, those such as Gandhi and Jesus who acted on behalf of the good of all mankind are (and will be) remembered for all of time.

For whom do we act on behalf of with our current focus in education?

To date, countless studies have tried to show a cause-and-effect theory to explain effective leadership. While they may sell many books, none has served as a complete explanation, let alone adequate, for cross-contextual circumstances that confront us in K-12 education each day.

Possibly, we are looking in the wrong place and should start looking to Bohm’s unfolded universe and, as Hawkins would advise, begin tapping into a consciousness that is ever-present in order to be truly transformative.


Bohm, D. (1982). The Holographic Paradigm: Interview by Ken Walker.

Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York, NY: Back Bay Books. 

Hawkins, D. (2012). Power vs. Force. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

Northouse, P. (2012). Introduction to leadership: Concepts and practices (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.


Russ Simnick and Ryan Donlan enjoy deep conversations that involve turning-their-minds.  They encourage comment and feedback and can be reached at  or at 

1 comment:

  1. Quantum physics like every other science is valuable in that it teaches that there is a cause for every effect. And like everything else in this universe, there is a science of people, very good reasons why they react the way they do to what their leaders (management) do and don't do.

    The science is that all people have the same values and from those values the same needs, and that ~95% of us are conformists, some more and some less. This science tells us exactly what leadership is, what actions will lead people to be highly motivated, committed and fully engaged, what actions will lead people to be demotivated, demoralized, and not engaged, and why those actions have the results they do.

    In my 30+ years of managing people, I proved that people are at least four times more capable that we think. I did not start there, but where most do start essentially creating through my leadership too many demotivated people who had a lot of performance problems. But eventually, I began to learn the science of people by listening to what they said and analyzing that. The more I learned from them, the more I was able to act in such a way to cause them to unleash more and more of their native capabilities eventually getting to the 4 times more capable point. That was real nirvana for myself and my people.