Quantum theory resides at the core of modern physics along with the theory of general relativity. General relatively gives us our picture of the very big while quantum gives us our picture of the very small. I am fascinated by quantum theory (otherwise known as quantum physics or quantum mechanics) and have a reasonably sized contingent of people in my life that are actually doing spectacular research in this field. Lucky me. One bizarre aspect of quantum theory that most fascinates me is the concept of superposition. Superposition states that an object can be in more than one state at the same time and can be in more than one place simultaneously. It is only through observation that we are able to give definition to what and where something is. I am not a quantum physicist so it does get more complex than that, but I am sure you get the point.
I’ve been a senior executive in multiple firms. The role of Chief Operating Officer stands out in my mind for this particular discussion. As the COO I had responsibility for both operational delivery and business development. I refer to this as one of my more schizophrenic times as a leader. What I mean by that is that I had to engage in both strategy and tactical implementation simultaneously. As you likely know, there is a real tug and pull relationship between strategy and operations placing great demand on limited resources. In my experience engaging with multiple leaders at many different organizations, large and small (but particularly small) operations (tactics) generally wins out over strategy due to the obvious relationship with revenue and profitability. Yet, we know that we must do both.
So where does quantum theory and superposition fit into this conversation?
We as leaders must recognize that we exist simultaneously in two dominant states: our strategic self and our tactical self. When we are alone in deep thought solving all the world’s problems and putting pieces together, we easily flow between these two states with little to no distinction as to precisely which state we are in. We are performing parallel processing. That’s how the brain works. Stated more simply, a C-level executive always has a lot going on in their head. So, until we act on something and do something to be observed we are everything all at the same time.
It is our actions that lead to observations (made by our team, partners, other stakeholders). Only then do we become the operator concerned about the project schedule and specifications or we become the strategist positioning a new product offering. It is only then we take on a discreet, definable role that allows others to understand and engage with us. It is the grounding of the relationship with our team members that brings meaning and substance to our interactions. When they know what state we are in they know how to engage with us. And once that encounter is complete, we go back to being in all states until we are observed again.
Too far out there for you? Well, this is really about building greater self-awareness to lead to more successful outcomes in our inter-personal relationships.
As we build self-awareness, we learn just how important it is for us to help others understand what state we are in by setting the appropriate context. This is our responsibility as leaders. Things are not going to end well if an employee starts having a tactical discussion when you want to talk about how the business environment is changing and what you should do about it.
We also begin to more closely identify with our more dominant state (strategy or operations) and then manage our career in a way that allows us to weight an increasing amount of our time and energy in one of those areas. That way, we can be less schizophrenic which translates to more joy, satisfaction and success.
Yet another take-a-way is that executives never completely let go of strategy or operations – regardless of where you are in your career. Therefore, you must find a way to effectively engage in both activities.
In my next post, I will outline an approach for how to do this by focusing on what matters.