Scharmer Lights the Way in Leadership Theory & Practice

Steffie Verstappen
September 3rd, 2010
Article by: Steffie Verstappen
Scharmer Lights the Way in Leadership Theory & Practice

PEOPLE | Otto Scharmer surely is one of our guiding lights at THNK. His theorizing on leadership development explicitly focuses on the rather spiritual aspects of the human psyche and is gaining ground at impressive speed. We think his books are a must-read for all who are interested in the emerging future of leadership theory and practice.


Otto Scharmer is an action researcher that creates profound innovation in learning and leadership in a variety of impressive ways. The common denominators of  his work tend to be their cross-sector focus and their attention to the psychology behind the individual's journey toward truly effective leadership.


Perhaps Scharmer's most well-known achievement is related to the theoretical framework and practice called "presencing" that he presented in his recent book Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges (2007), as well as in Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society (2005), co-authored with Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers. With his colleagues, Scharmer has used presencing to facilitate innovation and change processes both within companies and across societal systems.


The principles of Theory U are to help political leaders, civil servants, and managers break through past unproductive patterns of behavior that prevent them from empathizing with their clients' perspectives and often lock them into ineffective patterns of decision making. According to Scharmer, by way of journeying through the "U", seven essential leadership qualities will arise in the individual, which are directly related to the spiritual self:


  1. Holding the Space: Leaders need to listen to "What Life Calls Them to Do" (i.e. listen to oneself, to others, and make sure that there is space where people can talk)
  2. Observing: Leaders need to "Attend with Their Minds Wide Open" (i.e. observe without your voice of judgment, which basically refers to doing away with past cognitive schema)
  3. Sensing: Leaders need to "Connect with Their Heart" (e.g. facilitate the opening process, focus on interconnected wholes)
  4. Presencing: Leaders need to "Connect to the Deepest Source of Their Selves and Will" (i.e. act from the emerging whole)
  5. Crystallizing: Leaders need to "Access the Power of Intention" (e.g. make sure to find a very small group of key persons commits itself to the purpose and outcomes of the project)
  6. Prototyping: Leaders need to "Integrate Head, Heart, and Hand" (i.e. one should act and not let various sources of paralysis like reactive action and over-analysis interfere in the process)
  7. Performing: Leaders need to "Play the Macro Violin" (e.g. find the right leaders, find good social technology to get a multi-stakeholder project going)


Read more about Otto Scharmer's work on his website and at the Presencing Institute.