Can Quantum Physics Help Us Better Understand Leadership?

I’m lucky enough to be spending two weeks on holiday with my wife and six month old son in Sardinia. I’ve learnt many things during the first months of becoming a parent. One thing to emerge from the last couple of weeks, though, is that very little reading can occur on a holiday with a young child in tow.

That said, I have managed to consume an amazing short volume by physicist, Carlo Rovelli, called ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’. If you haven’t already, I urge you to take a look; it’s quick (I managed it in under half a day) and extraordinary. One of the things that particularly struck me was how Rovelli describes ‘quantum loop gravity’. This avenue of physics, seeking to join Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics, sees the units that make up the fabric of space (‘a billion billion times smaller than the smallest atomic nuclei’) as a series of connected loops, linking together like a finely woven mesh.

Relationship at the Centre of Everything

To me the beauty of this is that it places relationship at the very centre of everything. Only by linking together can these ‘quanta of gravity’ create a universe that can contain the stars, the planets, the stunning Sardinian sea, humanity, my wonderful son, the book I’ve just read and the computer I’m writing this article on. If connectedness and relationship is at the heart of the fabric of space and time, then it seems fitting to me that my interest and understanding of leadership is from the perspective of relationship and connectedness.

“We” is Stronger than “I”

I am fascinated by how we choose to relate to each other and how well or badly we achieve this. Time and again I’ve witnessed how people’s ability to land their message fails or succeeds depending on how well they connect to the person they are communicating with. What is it that makes some people able to connect well? Awareness. Plain and simple. How self-aware we are, and how ‘other-aware’ we are in any given interaction determines our ability to be heard as we intend. I’m not suggesting that all leadership starts with good communication (necessarily), but without it there will be no transaction, no sharing of ideas and no resolution to conflict. There would be no personal growth, no personal reward, no development of ideas, no reaching of better outcomes, no creative solutions and no understanding that “we” is stronger than “I”.

This may all be a bit philosophical (the product of reading theoretical physics, no doubt) but it strikes to the heart of the leadership challenge as I see it. How can we find the balance between the perspective of “I” and the needs of “We”? The loneliness of the leader requires an incredibly strong and robust “I” but not at the expense of hearing the voices of the “We”. Ego is a fickle thing and if we don’t remain connected to others, it risks running rampage, acting on its own, often through fear and the sheer overwhelming amount of data we have to process.

If we can remain connected to others, remain in relationship with the people who rely on us and those whom we rely on, then like the quantum loops weaving the fabric of time, perhaps we too can create the seemingly impossible.


Penguin Books: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Charlie Walker-Wise LinkedIn