Dialog on Leadership

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In February 1999, Michael Jung, Peter Senge, and I met in Lech, a little town in Austria. Over a leisurely dinner, we talked about our experiences in various organizations and how the role of leadership and business was changing in the world. We agreed that the field of leadership and management was approaching an inflection point, and that a deeper and more comprehensive approach to leading change in larger systems was about to emerge. We wondered how we could help these new ways of thinking, leading, and working together to advance. What would it take?

We realized that it would take, among other things, a place where thought leaders and practitioners could engage in ongoing conversation about and inquiry into the deeper foundations of leadership and change in an increasingly confusing and volatile world. We decided to ask Ikujiro Nonaka to join our core group in planning this initiative. When I met him two weeks later in Tokyo, he immediately agreed to do anything he could to help it succeed.

I then set out on the next step: to interview twenty-five of today's leading thinkers on knowledge and leadership–inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists, academics. The results of these interviews were stimulating beyond my highest imagination and are the central feature of this website.

What resulted from these interviews and from various meetings in which our extended core group (see below) reflected on emerging themes, is a new view of knowledge and leadership. It is a view that emphasizes the quality of awareness and attention as the primary driver for high performance and creativity within and around social systems. As Brian Arthur puts it: "What counts is where you are coming from in your inner self." Or as the former CEO of Hanover Insurance Bill O’Brien once told us: "The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor." Our effectiveness as leaders depends not only on what we do and how we do it, but also on the inner place from where we operate, both individually and collectively. The need to pay attention to this inner place has largely been a blind spot in leadership research and is the single most important theme that has emerged from this investigation to date .

This site documents some initial results of this ongoing inquiry–our first attempts to embrace a perspective on leadership and social change that is based on the capacity of humans to illuminate the blind spot. The website includes:

  • the interviews with thought leaders (free pdf downloads) and
  • an initial set of papers, including one that reflects on the themes that emerged in the first round of interviews (co-authored by B. Arthur, J. Day, J. Jaworski, M. Jung, I. Nonaka, O. Scharmer, P. Senge).

We hope that this material will inspire you in your own work, and we invite you to participate in our ongoing online conversation.

After the tragic events of September 11, we feel that the purpose of this initiative is now even more relevant than before: to develop a deeper view and practical method of leading change that enables people to reinvent the foundations of our global institutional ecologies such that the world becomes a healthier and better place. What’s missing today are not noble intent and strong values. What’s missing is the social technology (or maybe social-aesthetic technology) that would enable groups and globally distributed systems to shift the (inner) place from which they operate and thereby tap the sources of their collective intelligence and common will.

I thank McKinsey & Company and The Society for Organizational Learning for sponsoring and co-creating this work. I also want to express my deep gratitude to all of the interviewees, who generously share their thoughts, reflections, and deep questions about their own work and how it relates to where we are heading as a global social-ecological system.

Claus Otto Scharmer

(for the current core group of the initiative: W. B. Arthur, J. Day, J. Jaworski, M. Jung, I. Nonaka, C. O. Scharmer, P. Senge)

Cambridge, Mass., October 1st, 2001



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