The world is facing many challenges—sustainability, globalization, and myriad technological developments that will change everything. Challenges in fact define the direction in which we evolve. Business has a key role to play in overcoming these challenges, and to succeed, business leaders must evolve a new consciousness, one that is collaborative, that better balances “I” and “We.”
Business has become the most powerful institution of the era and with that comes a new role in society aimed at solving the problems facing humankind. Furthermore, as Albert Einstein is believed to have said, “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”1 We can and must evolve in the direction of our perceived challenges.
Consciousness is the mother of all capital, the source of all wealth, and mindfulness is the tool that provides access to it. With mindfulness practices comes an expansion of consciousness that in turn changes our worldview, providing us with a fresh perspective on the challenges we face and granting us the gift of intuition and the intelligence to generate creativity. Creativity in business is the entrepreneur’s true mission, one that is the source of all new capital. We all have the potential for infinite creativity—which in the final analysis is love. “Quantum leadership” is about cultivating consciousness to celebrate the creation of life, and business creativity—entrepreneurial activity—expands the scope of possibilities for humanity.
My quest for new consciousness in business has been ongoing for a quarter of a century. In 1995, I took over as executive owner of IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group (IMC) and was fortunate to be able to grow it during a period when the Asian shipping and real estate markets, although exceptionally turbulent, were brimming with opportunity. Over this period, IMC grew multiple times in size and value. It has been a journey without a final destination but also one that has produced extraordinary rewards of personal struggle and growth along the way.
My primary goal as founder and currently chairman of Family Business Network Asia (FBN Asia) and the FBN Foundation 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.
What we call quantum leadership is the product of elements that are often seen as disparate: family and business, wealth and well-being, scholarship and practice, and Western science and Eastern philosophy. Quantum leaders are stewards who create prosperity rather than only short-term profit. They produce holistic well-being rather than meet only material needs. They contribute to a regenerative natural environment instead of only doing less harm.
There are many stories of business leaders who succeeded in creating their own path with great personal cost and episodic failure, but I believe that the lessons from my own journey have a value during a time when existing corporate practices are failing to produce the desired results either for business or for society. Businesses should be more than places to earn a living. They are a platform to pursue self-actualization, both individually and as a community. When you do it right, embracing the challenges of leadership becomes the best opportunity to evolve your consciousness, and raising your consciousness provides the highest leverage point for meeting today’s business challenges. In other words, business becomes a place where leaders produce economic outcomes that cultivate well-being and promote a culture of stewardship for others and for future generations.
At IMC, we tried many Western leadership theories and their gurus, but none of them took hold. International consultancies were brought in, but ultimately all proved unable to gain the kind of traction I was searching for. I wanted business to contribute to economic prosperity in a world in which both people and nature flourish. I wanted an alternative to traditional management theories that serve short-term profit without attention to pressing human and environmental predicaments.
Social entrepreneurialism, “conscious capitalism,” and similar ideas are steps in the right direction. They embody business as a force for good. They reflect the outer transformation of markets, with business required to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Quantum leaders do all that, but they also go much further—they embrace the inner transformation of business leaders: the global mind shift, the consciousness that we are deeply connected to others and to nature. Such inner transformation brings out from an authentic place our natural tendency toward creating prosperity and flourishing. Business in such a situation becomes a positive institution with leaders who are not choosing to be in service of others as much as they are manifesting a new way of being.
As integrators of wealth and well-being, quantum leaders 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 way of being is also thousands of years old, based on oneness and wholeness, but it must be continuously reimagined for today’s context. Transforming our consciousness to one of wholeness erases the distinction between the person or organization doing good and the person or community who is the recipient of the good. It lessens the tendency to nationalism and tribalism. It helps us avoid the more extreme “us-versus-them” cleavages along political, ethnic, cultural, and national lines that mar human affairs. It enlivens a much earlier mindset in which our ancestors saw themselves, intrinsically and indivisibly, as part of nature.
For some in my management team, this emphasis on transforming consciousness was initially difficult to accept. At best, it seemed to them to be a distraction from pragmatic business realities and, at worst, a waste of time. But eventually it had a profound impact on their lives. Managers who were initially resistant but stayed with it ended up making a huge difference to the success of the business. What surprised me most was to hear how many came back over the years to tell me what a pivotal influence it had on their personal lives.
The Quantum Leadership Model is now drawing adherents around the world. At a recent FBN summit, which I hosted at my company’s Sangha Retreat on Yangcheng Lake in Suzhou, new consciousness in business permeated the summit conversations with nearly six hundred multigenerational business leaders from forty-four countries. There was a major focus on POLARIS, a movement within FBN to foster transformation of family business as a force for global good.
In 2014, as I was contemplating how best to share with others what I was learning about business leadership, I came across the philosophical treatises of Ervin Laszlo, who put me in touch with his son, Chris Laszlo, a noted business academic and author. Although Chris grew up nearly six thousand miles away from me, in Switzerland, it became quickly apparent that we had similar perspectives on business and synchronistic life experiences. While I was searching for how to communicate the new consciousness leadership paradigm, he was seeking a business leader who practiced it. We began weekly conversations over Skype and eventually began traveling between Cleveland, Ohio, and Shanghai, China, to collaborate.
Chris had started his career in merchant banking on Wall Street, then went back to school to pursue a doctorate in economics before moving on to management consulting. He spent five years at Deloitte, followed by nearly a decade in the multinational construction materials company Lafarge, S.A., and then returned to management consultancy. Through it all, he found himself increasingly dwelling on how best to weave social responsibility into corporate life. Social and environmental performance, he believed, was something that would increasingly have to be recognized as core to the strategy of any flourishing business.
Throughout that period, bridges were being built between business and society in ways that paralleled my own evolution in thinking. Chris realized that this was a time to bring together the main two facets of his career: social responsibility and corporate performance. In 2002, he cofounded Sustainable Value Partners, LLC, a management consulting firm helping clients including Bayer, Cisco, Lafarge, L’Oréal, UBS Bank, and Walmart to create competitive advantage by embedding sustainability into their core businesses. He wrote about sustainability for business advantage, first in The Sustainable Company (2003) and then Sustainable Value (2008). But after publishing his third book, Embedded Sustainability (2011), he began to have doubts about the prevailing reliance on a business-case approach to sustainability. It became increasingly clear to him that business could no longer be said to be serving society well, in spite of self-congratulatory reports about corporate social responsibility (CSR). In an interview published by the Rocky Mountain Institute in 2013 and later reprinted in GreenBiz, Chris said,
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.2
I realized then that Chris had a vision of business in society that was closely aligned with my own. A few years later he was given an endowed professorship at Case Western Reserve University and appointed to lead the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. I accepted an invitation to join the Fowler Center’s advisory board and later established the AITIA Quantum Leadership Initiative with help from Chris to advance the scholarship and practice of quantum leadership. Our collaboration brought together a business leader seeking to articulate his vision and a management scholar seeking to demonstrate a new and emerging paradigm of business. This book is the product of that multiyear collaboration.
In the pages ahead you learn that the greatest point of leverage for a new leadership orientation is a transformation in consciousness. This may seem surprising to people who are committed to having a positive social impact and want practical advice on how to do it. Of course, the business case for environmental and social performance remains essential for taking action. Using financial metrics, any business leader can now show that, through the process of innovation, there is no necessary trade-off between economic and social or environmental benefits.3 But in addition to changing what leaders are doing, we need to change who they are being. That is where a shift in consciousness comes in. Evidence from current trends suggests that without such deep-rooted change, businesses are condemned to continue today’s strategies that, at best, reduce social harm or ecological footprints and, at worst, contribute to growing social crises and environmental disaster.
Having a consciousness of connectedness changes how we think and act. We become more empathetic and compassionate. When we see ourselves as an integral part of the natural world rather than separate from it, we become more attuned to how our actions affect not only people but all life on earth. Mindfulness practices—in this book recast as “practices of connectedness” to encompass both Eastern and Western forms—quiet the mind and expand our consciousness so that we are more aware of the truth about our experiences. Through such practices, we connect to the origin of consciousness itself, slowly awakening to holism. From that “We” space, we grow in personal power, we clean up our traumas and trapped emotions from the past, and we discover our gifts and purpose in life.
The inner transformation of business leaders toward wholeness and connectedness and the outer transformation of business toward sustainable value are both needed for a business-led future of global prosperity and flourishing.
The time is now for a new role of business. Quantum leadership has the potential to become widespread. Its tremendous appeal comes from a business leader being able to create economic value consistent with greater purpose and personal well-being. It offers businesspeople everywhere a pathway to a world in which businesses prosper, people flourish, and nature thrives.
Frederick Chavalit Tsao
January 12, 2019
1. See EMRG, “Einstein Enigmatic Quote,” Icarus Falling (blog), June 24, 2009, http://icarus-falling.blogspot.com/2009/06/einstein-enigma.html.
2. Michael Bendenwald, “Sustainability Fatigue, Disruptive Innovation and the Flourishing Enterprise,” GreenBiz, June 20, 2013, https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/06/20/sustainability-fatigue-disruptive-innovation-and-flourishing-enterprise.
3. Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva, Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advantage (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011).