Theory U is a change philosophy and process co-created by Otto Scharmer and his colleagues at the Presencing Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Building upon two decades of action research at MIT, the process shows how individuals, teams, organisations and large systems can build the essential leadership capacities needed to address the root causes of today’s social, environmental, and spiritual challenges. It differs from most change methodologies because it does not predetermine the endpoint.

It uses a human-centred approach to letting go of ego and embracing eco. This just means making it about the whole system and not just about you or your part of the system. This way of engaging with change considers disconnects and blind-spots across the system as well as mining potential and opportunity.

Everything we are learning with Covid-19 is reinforcing just how critical this kind of approach is and what can happen when we forget about the wider impact.

The journey through the U requires leadership from everyone, not just hierarchical leaders: everyone acting as leaders for the whole system.

This requires specific leadership behaviours which Otto describes as 7 Leadership Capacities:

  • Holding the Space of Listening: to self and to others, suspending judgment and the call to action
  • Observing: looking with fresh eyes
  • Sensing: seeing the system from the edges by seeking out the views and experiences you don’t have
  • Presencing: connecting deeply to self and the system
  • Crystallising: creating shared purpose, energy and intention
  • Prototyping: manifesting all of the thinking, emotion and ideas visibly, testing change
  • Co-evolving: roadmap to scaling change and embedding new thinking and behaving