Nursing LeadershipPractice MattersProfessional DevelopmentWorkplace Management

Quantum leadership: Upside down


Organizations are surprisingly complex structures that function as living, nonlinear, dynamic systems. They illustrate quantum principles that don’t lend themselves to observable phenomena. But if they are followed, organizations as we know them are transformed. Today’s professionals no longer see themselves, if they ever did, as simply obedient agents of a hierarchical organization. Rather, they see themselves as interconnected and interacting participants in the healthcare endeavor, all of whom form a morphogenic field—an invisible, intangible, inaudible, tasteless, and odorless connection.

In the quantum context, it’s easy to see the healthcare endeavor as a microcosm of a world in flux. The breaking down of our “old” healthcare system and the breaking through of the “new” one mirrors the broader context. No longer is the healthcare endeavor served by individualism, patriarchy, a scarcity mentality, or competition. In her presidential address at the 2012 assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr. Pat Farrell said, “The world is outgrowing the dualistic constructs of superior/inferior, win/lose, good/bad, and domination/submission. Breaking through in their place are equality, communion, collaboration, synchronicity, expansiveness, abundance, wholeness, mutuality, intuitive knowing, and love. This shift, while painful, is good news. It heralds a hopeful future for our world.”

Traditional management theorists see groups as systems through which goals are accomplished and, as such, they tend toward hierarchy. The quantum view sees an organization and its members as interconnected energetic beings, enhanced by collaboration and interaction. These connections are nonlinear and nonhierarchical. This view is supported by new sciences, such
as quantum physics, which suggest a different set of metaphors. The quantum paradigm holds that nothing is fixed, events are not predictable, control is an illusion, and change is continuous. Older management
traditions focus on parts of a whole. Their central thesis is that systems tend toward order and stability (homeo-stasis), with disorder kept at bay by clearly defining boundaries and roles; change occurs through redefinition of boundaries and roles.

Traditional leadership paradigms emphasize delimiting roles and controlling boundaries. Causality is linear; an organization’s internal dynamic affects members, but only leaders are seen as affecting the internal dynamic. The quantum perspective, on the other hand, emphasizes free-flowing interaction and co-determination; members influence the internal dynamic as much as the internal dynamic influences members. All organizations consist of a world of connections, interactions, relationships, and forces. They are not fixed entities. The quantum perspective makes it clear that the only meaningful change comes from within and occurs first among various members.

With all that said, it’s still important for leaders to avoid the trap of thinking the quantum paradigm will or should replace the venerable traditional paradigm. Instead, leaders need to appreciate that each addresses different phases of organizational life, and they would be wise to become adept at accommodating both approaches. The traditional approach lends itself to situations that are predictable and subject to control. The quantum paradigm is useful for understanding unfamiliar events in complex living systems in changing environments. It lends itself to situations that arise during turbulent times—when there are strong pressures to change, events seem chaotic, objectives have become ambiguous, and order seems to emerge of its own accord and in its own time. This describes today’s environment perfectly.

The fundamental requirements of quantum leadership include:

  • acting with moral purpose to make a positive difference in the lives of organizational members and society as a whole
  • building relationships that nurture both individuals and organizations
  • making truly informed decisions by acquiring knowledge through listening to and empowering members.

Quantum physicist David Bohm defined human beings as intentionally directed energy. Indeed—and leadership offers direction and purpose to that intentionality.

Visit for a complete list of references.

Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN
Executive Editor, Professional Outreach
American Nurse Today


  • John: That’s so 2013 thinking and exactly the binary thinking that Quantum Leadership seeks to avoid. Moreover, I posit that mathematics represents the natural order of the universe. As such, quantum isn’t so “theoretical” anymore – and so to your point the multi-state, seeming chaotic nature of our leadership realm can be readily and effectively addressed through quantum principles.

  • I totally relate to the quantum nurse. There has to be more than what we’ve got.

  • I do not believe that
    quantum physics, which is as closer to pure theoretical physics than any other science, can in any way, at any time, relate to human phenomena. In short Dr. Curtin, I think this whole quantum series of your is nothing more than a basic misunderstanding of theoretical physics. I am sorry, but mathematical constructs do not relate to humans and human relationships.

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