The Circle of Flow

The “Circle of Flow” shows the many-fold, life-long impacts of value-based leadership. The starting as well as the end-point is Csikszentmihalyi’s landmark Flow theory, the inexhaustible fount of outstanding individual and organizational achievements. As we proceed along life’s “circular flow”, a broad new vista emerges. From observers we become decision-makers, who will more and more experience – as we make less and more momentous choices – the weight of leadership responsibility. We will recognize the power of example, how our decisions shape not only our own fate but also the lives of others.


The implementation of Flow-based leadership values requires a new world view today, and increasingly so tomorrow. The key element of the new world view is a recognition that leadership responsibilities today are much broader, much more encompassing, than at any time before in history. A leader’s responsibility today is quantitatively as well as qualitatively different than it was earlier. We live in an increasingly complex “network age”, which means greatly increased interdependence among individuals, organizations, as well as nations; everything is linked to just about everything else.

One consequence of this enhanced interdependence is that although individuals and organizations naturally compete with one another, modern leadership also recognizes the need for rivals to cooperate, whether as members of teams or as parties to strategic alliances. There is a need to cooperate not for altruistic reasons but to make the “system” function well and thereby all parties to be winners. A term often used to call attention to the increased interdependence among individuals and economic units is “ecosystem”. A simple example would be the relationship between major film studios. While competition among them is intense, they also routinely lease to one another their assets, such facilities, sceneries, even specialist personnel.

It is the responsibility of today’s managers and leaders to run a Flow-based organization. This promotes employee engagement and positive attitudes at the workplace. Done well, it helps reduce costs and employee complaints and makes the organization a place that people enjoy being a part of. Flow has the ability to improve the quality of life.

The most important distinguishing trait of effective, visionary leaders is that they believe in a goal that benefits not only themselves, but others as well. People want to work for a cause, not just for a living. We all, but business leaders especially, must have the conviction that our existence serves a useful purpose and has value. Therefore, “sense-making” is largely the responsibility of managers and leaders.

One way to highlight the importance of leaders’ “sense making” responsibilities is this. The first questions a leader should ask and then answer (taking into account of input by the relevant community) is: “Who do we intend to be?” and not “What are we going to do?”

Leadership today has moved beyond a professional running an organization. Increasingly, leadership means taking decision initiatives outside formal organizations. In today’s increasingly complex network society –where entrepreneurs, subcontractors, consultants, and freelancers are slowly outnumbering classical employees of knowledge-based organizations – leadership can require not only the running of a bureaucracy but also the provision of expertise, credibility, and trust – in other words, values – and the professional-human relationships that are formed during one’s career. Leadership in this newer world means confident, value-based decision-making and the acceptance of its consequences.

Decision-making is the highest task of management/leadership. One becomes a leader when one makes decisions with confidence and accepts responsibility for the consequences.