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Q&A on the Book Quantum Leadership

Key Takeaways

  • Consciousness in business is a new paradigm needed today
  • Consciousness is the mother of all capital
  • Self-cultivation is needed to shift individual and collective consciousness
  • Practices of connectedness and mindfulness are key to self-cultivation and Transformation of Consciousness
  • Business can Lead This Shift and It Needs to Start from Consciousness of its Leadership

The book Quantum Leadership by Frederick Chavalit Tsao and Chris Laszlo brings to light the power of direct-intuitive practices – such as meditation, nature immersion, art, and exercise – to transform a leader’s consciousness to the highest point of leverage for entrepreneurial creativity that embeds social purpose. By giving people an experience of connectedness that increases their awareness of how their actions impact others and nature, and then reframing that experience through the lens of new paradigm science, Quantum Leadership offers readers a practical pathway to business-led flourishing.

InfoQ readers can download Chapter 1 of Quantum Leadership.

InfoQ interviewed Frederick Chavalit Tsao and Chris Laszlo about Quantum Leadership.

InfoQ: Why did you write this book?

Frederick Chavalit Tsao and Chris Laszlo: The content, style, and timing of this book were shaped by the recognition that many people working at the intersection of business and society perceive corporate leaders unfavorably. The book makes the dual case for redefining the purpose of business as flourishing and for introducing consciousness as a source of capital.

For a business to take the lead in creating flourishing, it will need to catalyze a transformation in the consciousness of its employees and other stakeholders inside and outside the organization to feel, see, and act differently. This book calls for introducing direct-intuitive practices that give people an experience of wholeness and connectedness as a way to cultivate broader perception and a greater awareness of how their actions impact others and the world.  

The idea of consciousness as a form of capital is not in and of itself remarkable. Many theories of leadership and organizational behavior are based on mental models and emotional states of the people involved.  However, our contribution is to suggest that a range of direct-intuitive practices can facilitate the emergence of extraordinary entrepreneurial creativity that embeds social responsibility. Quantum Leaders have greater purpose, compassion for others, and care for future generations, not only because it’s profitable but because that is who they are.

We wrote this book in response to several underlying trends:

  1. The need to re-frame sustainability as flourishing with greater emphasis on "positive impact", which we define as increasing economic prosperity while contributing to healthy environments and improving human well-being.
  2. The realization that many businesses have lost their sense of purpose and passion, and that introducing direct-intuitive practices can provide the opportunity to build a more engaged and innovative workforce both internally and in partnership with external stakeholders.
  3. The absence of a compelling link between flourishing business organizations and the health and wellbeing of individuals, communities, and society.
  4. The appeal of a book written in a learning style that is highly accessible while grounded in evidence-based research.

Tsao: My quest for new consciousness in business has been ongoing for more than a quarter century and my primary goal as 4th generation owner of a family business and founder Family Business Network Asia is to help shape the next generation of business practices. I want to promote a new leadership model that offers those working in for-profit enterprises a powerful guide to a more holistic, life-centered way of being. I tried many Western leadership theories and their gurus, but none of them took hold. I was searching for and wanted business to contribute to economic prosperity in a world in which both people and nature flourish. I was looking for an alternative to traditional management theories that serve short-term profit and don’t cater to pressing human and environmental predicaments.

As integrators of wealth and well-being, leaders need to bring together seemingly disparate roles to harness the collective energy of the organization in service of society. Such integration can come only from a transformation in consciousness — the awareness by the mind of itself and the world — which in turn has the potential to lead to a genuinely new way of being. This is quantum leadership. While I was searching for how to communicate the new consciousness leadership paradigm, I met Chris, who was seeking a business leader who practiced it. We both had similar perspectives on business and synchronistic life experiences.

Laszlo: I started my career on Wall Street, then went back to school to pursue a doctorate in economics before moving to management consulting and academia. I spent five years at Deloitte, followed by nearly a decade in the multinational construction materials company Lafarge, S.A., then co-founded the consultancy Sustainable Value Partners LLC before joining the faculty at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Through it all, I found myself increasingly dwelling on how best to weave social responsibility into corporate life. I believed that social and environmental performance was something that would increasingly have to be recognized as core to the strategy of any business.

In a 2013 interview published in GreenBiz, I articulated several reasons for pursuing Quantum Leadership:

"I have spent the last twelve years developing the business case for sustainability from a strategy, finance, organizational and operations perspective. Having spent all that effort over those years, it really struck me a few years ago that something was missing: most importantly, the way sustainability is typically addressed in most companies is not producing the kind of results either business or society is expecting ... What I’m talking about is [the need for] a completely disruptive approach ... The next wave in sustainability will have to do more to raise the bar from mere survival to economic and environmental prosperity; it will also have to pay more attention to individual well-being. We cannot expect to have a thriving business in a flourishing world without individuals who are also able to experience a greater sense of well-being and connectedness to their self, to others, and to the world around them."

These ideas became the foundation for my collaboration with Fred.

InfoQ: For whom is the book intended?

Tsao and Laszlo: This book is written primarily for business practitioners and those engaged in family-owned enterprises seeking to do well by doing good. Our secondary goal is to support scholars and educators who are teaching undergraduates, MBAs, executives, and PhDs in Management as well as graduate students in non-profit programs. First and foremost, the target audience is thoughtful executives who are in a position to make a significant impact on our shared future.

Practitioner audiences include senior executives, functional heads, middle and upper level managers as well as professionals engaged in executive education, coaching and advisory services.

The goal throughout the writing process was to use accessible and invitational language so that the book brings value to each reader, "meeting them where they are." The goal was to use storytelling and case examples where possible to bring vibrancy to the topic.

InfoQ: In the book, you stated that we have a choice to change the way we see the world. Can you elaborate on how this can work out?


"We are what we think.
All that we are arises from our thoughts.  With our thoughts we make the world.
We do not see the things as they are.  We see them as we are.
Our eyes form the world and the world forms our eyes."

We see the world through our own lenses. Our human construct world is created with our thoughts and conceptualisation, trained with logic and philosophy, creating likes and dislikes, preferences and rejections.  We have a belief system of who we are and get attached to it.  Then we start seeing the world through those lenses that conforms to our own reality creating our own set of behaviours and habits.

To be aware of our belief system, to rewire and reframe ourselves – to realise that we have choices, that is freedom. We can start with embodying mindfulness as a practice, free from our construct, change our lenses and shift consciousness. It is a journey of self-cultivation, taught in the I-Ching and practiced by the sages thousands of years ago.

Laszlo: We each have a story about what it means to be human and the nature of reality. We might see ourselves as spiritless biophysical entities, existentially alone, selfish and competitive, born into a cold mechanical universe composed of clumps of matter subject to forces immutably driving us toward meaningless extinction. Or we might see ourselves as spirit-infused beings living in a world that is alive with meaning, demonstrably interconnected through energy and information flows, with human natures that are essentially compassionate and longing for mutualism and cooperation.

These alternative stories of what it means to be human are no longer only a matter of spiritual or religious beliefs. As we show in the book, they reflect competing paradigms in science. Experiencing our lives as deeply interconnected changes how we think and act. We become more empathetic and compassionate. We begin to see ourselves as one with the world. The direct-intuitive experience of connectedness is the foundation for altering a person’s behavior and decision-making in business as in life.

InfoQ: What made you decide to explore traditional Eastern cultures?

Tsao: As a child, I had been influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures. Born in Hong Kong, with ancestors from Shanghai, then educated and graduated from the United States, I am more west than east.  My interest in Chinese culture was revived in the mid 1990s, when I began to investigate what might be called Cultural Sustainability.  My early life experiences raised questions about the social role of business and life purpose: how to sustain a business that works not only in society but also for society.  

I studied Western leadership practices and management theory and spent the early years of my career reading about and questioning this area, but ultimately found the dominant approaches neither holistic nor particularly effective. As I was unable to find satisfactory answers and solutions for my endeavours from western leadership models, I turned to the teachings of Eastern sages whose wisdom has stood the test of time, measured not in decades or centuries but in millennia. I found myself on an exciting journey of discovery. I was seeking the key to whole-person well-being, looking for a way to flourish in both life and business. You cannot lead a flourishing organization unless you learn to flourish as a person.

That is how I started the exploration of Eastern cultures, which has become a life journey.

Laszlo: A unifying source of "all that is" can be found in the Chinese Tao, the Vedantic Brahma, the Buddhist Sunyata, the Zoroastrian Aša, and the inner mystical realm of Sufism, just as it appears in the Judeo-Christian faith traditions. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2). From this spaceless and timeless void arose all the things that exist in the world. In Taoism, all things originate in the Tao and all things return to the Tao. It is both the source and destination of all things, though not directly observable or even nameable. "Tao cannot be seen by our eyes. Tao cannot be heard by our ears. Tao cannot be touched by our hands." It can be thought of in terms of the veiled quantum-level vibrations that gives rise to the world. Similarly, in Buddhism, the manifest world of space and time as we observe it is only a surface manifestation of the deeper, beyond-space and time reality of Brahman.

In one form or another, the concept of the world as in-formed vibration was recognized in traditional Eastern cultures. It was present in the Sanskrit concept of Akasha and in the Chinese concept of the Tao — the source or root of all things. Living in harmony with the Tao was seen as purifying as it refined the vibration of matter and energy. Like being in tune with music, a harmonious vibration is one that that leads to a flourishing life. The universe is represented as an oscillation of Yin and Yang forces. When they are equally present, all is calm. When one is outweighed by the other, for example as in excessive desire for wealth and power, there is confusion and disarray.

InfoQ: What have you learned for business?

Tsao: Having been in the world of business for more than forty years, I have observed that an enduring business is driven by meaning and purpose that in turn creates a deep understanding and commitment to its role and responsibilities to society. Business has become a powerful interest group driven by capitalism, motivated by people seeking material freedom built up on principles of freedom of ownership and trade protected by contract law.  

Business is also the most efficient institution to deploy resources to add value. It is a gathering of a group of people that has two primary roles, to Serve Mankind; and Generate Wealth. However, business need to be guided by purpose, organised as a living system that is agile to shift to serve the market. In fact, business is an integral part of society (which forms the market) and economics is fundamentally commercial activities that meet human desires.  However, in the age of consumerism and materialism, human desires do not necessarily align with well-being resulting in conflicts.

Business can lead this shift and it needs to start from consciousness of its leadership. We can only be well when everyone and everything around us is well – this is the new era of a well-being economy.

Laszlo: When you look at the sum total of economic activity across all business sectors, you see that corporate sustainability efforts are only decelerating the growth of many social and global problems. Stress and disengagement at work, income inequality, chronic hunger, climate change, and biodiversity loss (species extinction) are getting worse, not better. Business efforts are at best mitigating these trends but not reversing their direction.

The conclusion of any objective observer has to be that the business case approach to sustainability, by itself, is not enough ― and never will be enough as it is currently practiced ― to create prosperity and flourishing. Nor is it sufficient to teach people ethical behavior or to disseminate moral injunctions against irresponsible conduct, even when using sophisticated corporate training programs such as those employing shared vision and values processes.

Our contention is that we need to change leaders at their most fundamental level of being — at the level of their consciousness. Transforming consciousness changes us at the deepest level of our self-identity. It must always be built on a foundation of principled leadership accompanied by a credible and compelling business case for social responsibility. When business leaders have strong guiding values and are able to articulate a persuasive business case for social responsibility, they have the groundwork for a new awareness of how their actions impact others and future generations.

InfoQ: What does the quantum leadership model look like?

Tsao: Einstein had a quote that says that "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." Quantum leadership is a model that leads to a consciousness shift – I believe that consciousness is the mother of all capital. It is fundamentally practices that shift consciousness – in simple terms, to change our lenses by changing our belief system. Then we can find freedom from our own human construct (constraints) and discover our life purpose. This is state of alignment to release the power of creativity within as the new lenses brings more possibilities and choices.

It is important to always emphasize that the new consciousness makes good practical business sense. A quantum leadership approach offers you a better chance of financial success because it improves your entrepreneurial skills. You become less restricted in your thinking. You can see better and more clearly, and you feel more courageous and adventurous. In short, it makes you a better entrepreneur or corporate leader. Conflicts between the short-term goal of keeping your company alive and financially healthy and the longer-term challenge of elevating consciousness and awareness are a matter of balance.

Laszlo: When business leaders have strong guiding values and are able to articulate a persuasive business case for social responsibility, they have the groundwork for a new awareness of how their actions impact others and future generations. The big question is how to shift this consciousness in each of us and ― to transform the role of business in society ― in our places of work. The Quantum Leadership Model (QLM) shows how direct-intuitive practices that connect us to our self, others, and the world are a critical part of the answer.

Introducing such practices in the workplace can help business people see themselves as deeply connected, not just metaphorically, but in the sense of a physical and conscious whole. They enable a direct experience of the physical-biological and consciousness phenomena that science now describes as aspects of the integral map of reality. Here the well-being of the individual becomes inseparable from the wellbeing of others. The implications of seeing the world in these terms are critical to business purpose. It is only through such a consciousness of connectedness that we act with love and compassion. It is only through such a consciousness that we experience a deep sense of care for all living things. Only then will we reflexively make business decisions aimed at flourishing for all life and future generations.

InfoQ: What leadership principles drive organizations that aim to do business as a source for good?

Tsao: If I had to pick one fundamental characteristic for leadership, I would say it is humility. With humility, you are more willing to change yourself, to learn, and to see the environment in a mindful manner.  It is the basis of self-cultivation at the heart of the evolutionary journey.  It is clear to me that organizations can flourish only when their leadership evolves in such a way and managers create this kind of culture. It all begins with self-cultivation: the development of a mindset that is truly open to change, where one is:

  • Constantly shifting consciousness to constantly be connected to purpose
  • Highly self-aware of own human construct to be able to see reality
  • Has practice(s) of connectedness to constantly align within self, with others and the environment

The source for good comes from within a leader and within an organisation (driven by its leadership’s consciousness).  Practice of mindfulness / oneness is the path to connecting with the market, recognising (from unfiltered lenses) needs of market and evolving business models to serve those needs (points of conflicts / gaps of needs). These are my guiding principles.

Laszlo: Caring and compassion are key organizing principles for quantum leaders. The well-being of employees, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders are seen as central to business success. Feelings of empathy for others and the desire to alleviate suffering come not from a sense of separate social identities, but from a place of oneness. This goes beyond principles of servant-leadership. Self-awareness, along with the awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, becomes the foundation for business as a source for good.

InfoQ: How can we practice mindful meditation and what benefits can it bring?

Tsao: Meditation is the practice of bringing one to a mindful state. There are many practices and one can choose what works best for them. In a mindful state, one can go inwards to discover and increase awareness of movements within ourself, our misalignments / conflicts within, bring one to a state of stillness and from that state, a connection to the external environment and creativity can arise.  

Creativity arises from love energy, and today we are constructed mostly from energy of fear. Meditation brings us back to connect with our source, which is basic energy of love. Beyond the calmness and the quieting of the mind that meditation often propagates, it is the state of stillness and connection with heightened awareness with the greater energy force, at the source of our creation, where our power of creativity lies.

Laszlo: Mindful meditation develops our ability to be fully present, discovering the innate perfection of the current moment. Through a mindfulness practice we move toward such a state by systematically developing skillful attention. For various reasons, the techniques used in modern mindful meditation are most commonly derived from those developed in ancient India and China. The aim of mindful meditation is not to quiet the mind or attempt to achieve a state of eternal calm, but rather to cultivate meditative awareness itself, through applied practice. The true benefit of practice can be found in such heightened awareness.

The common theme underlying any mindful meditation technique is skill development. Rather than what the practitioner focuses on (for instance, the breath), the emphasis is on how one focuses. What makes such meditation work is the way it develops one’s attention. Any substantive meditative practice ― whether mindfulness, loving kindness, walking meditation, or any other practice ― develops our capacity for skillful attention.

Practices such as mindful meditation are part of a well-documented upward spiral in lifestyle that increases our positive emotions and strengthens our personal resources, which in turn can lead to increased life satisfaction and an intrinsic inclination to do good for others and the world. Conversely, these practices have been shown to help avoid the downward spiral of decreased well-being and disconnection, which in turn reinforce mistrustful and uncooperative behaviors. They expand our awareness of being one with others and the world, helping us transcend everyday preoccupations which otherwise tend to leave us feeling fearful and alone. They engage the whole person rather than only the rational, analytical, left-brained self.

InfoQ: Why do business leaders connect with nature? What does it bring them?

Tsao: I believe today we exist in an interconnected world which has gone out of sync, nature and environment inclusive. Quantum physics breaks down every matter to nothing more than energy. Everything and everyone that is material is energy vibrating within a bigger universal energy field. This meets eastern practices of oneness. Connecting with nature is part of alignment and inseparable in bringing out the energy of love and creativity. There is an evolutionary hypothesis that nature has healing and restorative power and we have a natural affiliation with nature that is ingrained in our biological heritage.

The quantum leadership approach is about evolving leadership from the inside out. It is about aligning motivation with creative energy, the energy of love. We can only create from energy of love and not fear. I believe that if we do not change the world, then the world will change us — most likely in a direction we do not want.

Laszlo: Exposure to the living world can improve our creativity, enhance our sense of well-being, and increase our sense of civic responsibility.  Numerous empirical studies demonstrate that a sense of connection with nature is important to our happiness and is also a predictor of pro-environmental behavior. The Harvard naturalist E. O. Wilson was one of many scientists to put forward the evolutionary hypothesis that nature has a restorative power.

Some of the benefits that have been highlighted in the contemporary research on nature immersion include overall health improvement; stress relief; reduced negative emotions, for example decreased fear and anger; enhanced positive affect; improvements in mood and increased subjective well-being; feelings of joy and happiness; a sense of reconnection with self; kinship ties in teams; a heightened sense of community, kinship, egalitarianism, and belongingness along with increased empathy; a stronger sense of place; and improved cognitive abilities including creativity, cognitive flow, and mental performance in problem-solving.

InfoQ: How can we explore and amplify strengths with appreciative inquiry?

Tsao and Laszlo: Appreciative Inquiry is a radically different approach to system-level change. It is based on a new way of looking at the world, one that builds on strengths and generative relationships within a whole, rather than reductionist problem-solving using forms of root cause analysis. Appreciative Inquiry is particularly well-suited to complex business challenges with diverse strategic stakeholders.

It focuses on the power of strengths, rather than on shortcomings. It uses an inquiry process that builds cooperative capacity in whole systems, allowing the voices of all key stakeholders to be heard. The Appreciative Inquiry Summit methodology is designed for self-managed groups scalable up to 1,000+ people convened over three or more days.

Appreciative Inquiry is not only a change management methodology, it is a fresh way of seeing the world, one that can infuse all our relationships and communications. It can provide fresh insights into complex multi-stakeholder dynamics, build strong relationships, and stimulate extraordinary levels of creativity by harnessing the collective intelligence of the whole system. Importantly, it enables aligned action even among constituencies who have a history of confrontation and counterproductive relations.

InfoQ: What's your suggestion for leaders who want their company to produce positive outcomes for either businesses or the communities they serve?

Tsao and Laszlo: Start quantum leadership practices. Shift consciousness and make it the mother of all your capital. It is a small step out of our comfort and yet is a giant step towards evolution and a new paradigm towards a transformed world order.

Business leaders who want to inspire others to deal effectively with disruptive change must cultivate the ability to recognize such change and adapt to it in ways that create positive economic, social, and environmental value. At its most fundamental level, this requires a heightened consciousness of connectedness to see the world from an expansive, relational, and loving perspective.

They must be creative and strategic, possess curiosity and open-mindedness, lead and manage change proactively, staying ahead of the market and the competition. It requires the ability to carry out insightful analyses to anticipate change, to develop innovative strategies and business models and to be capable of strategic integration to execute those strategies. Such leaders must be proactive and capable of driving strategic thinking while remaining prudent. They also need to have a "hands-on" frontline presence. To do all this, they must build an organizational culture in which practices of connectedness are part of the company’s "way of doing things".

Whether through Fred’s personal life story and the evolutionary journey of his organization; or the 16 exemplar companies presented as mini-case studies; or the field research supporting the Quantum Leadership Model; or the science of connectedness, readers are shown how everyday direct-intuitive practices can help leaders and organizations shift their consciousness from one of separateness and selfishness to one of connectedness and caring. Such practices enable more pro-social and pro-environmental behaviors that produce positive outcomes for both business and the world.

It is both self and group work; we are a system within a system. Each part needs to be well for the whole to be well. In Fred’s search to elevate his consciousness, he has searched far and wide, and come to create a new business model in response to this need. It is called OCTAVE Institute, a model that integrates quantum science with eastern practices, with one sole mission, to provide a platform for quantum leaders to learn, heal and evolve. OCTAVE Institute is "more than a school of life."

About the Interviewees

Frederick Chavalit Tsao is a fourth-generation family business owner and Chairman of IMC Pan Asian Alliance Group, a conglomerate with a presence in more than 17 countries. He founded OCTAVE Institute, a learning platform dedicated to building 21st century organizations and leaders, with a new level of consciousness and freedom. Fred recognizes the importance of family businesses to the global economy and has served on the board of Family Business Network International, and founded its Asia Chapter.

Chris Laszlo, PhD, is professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University, where he researches and teaches flourishing enterprise. He is the author of Flourishing Enterprise (2014), Embedded Sustainability (2011), and Sustainable Value (2008), all from Stanford University Press. Laszlo is also the managing partner of Sustainable Value Partners, a sustainability strategy consulting firm he co-founded in 2002.

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