Theory U: What is Presencing?

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What is presencing? How might presencing help leaders operate from the future seeking to emerge, instead of learning from the past?

Presencing is the act of connecting to the source of inspiration and will. It allows for the individual or group to go to the place of silence and allow the inner knowing to emerge. Leaders who practice the art of presencing are creating the proper mental environment conducive to creativity and profound insight while sensing the hidden sources of idea generation (MIT Sloan School of Management, 2005).

Scharmer (2009) defined presencing as, “Requires the tuning of three instruments: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will. This opening process is not passive but an active “sensing” together as a group. While an open heart allows us to see a situation from the whole, the open will enables us to begin to act from the emerging whole. Presencing is the capacity to connect to the deepest source of self and will allows the future to emerge from the whole rather than from a smaller part or special interest group” (p. 62).

Presencing may help leaders operate from the future that is seeking to emerge, instead of learning from the past through the shifting structure of attention (Scharmer, 2009). That is, for leaders to shift from the inner place from which they operate. This shift can be done individually or collectively (Scharmer, 2009). Listening is a big part of the presencing dynamic. The four types of listening include downloading, factual listening, empathetic listening, and generative listening (Scharmer, 2009). At the presencing level, generative listening involves focus on getting the old self out of the way through clearing an open space for the emerging, authentic self (Scharmer, 2009). This process creates a subtle yet powerful change in the individual. Scharmer (2009) calls it “grace or communing” (p. 13) with the inner (deeper) source in the expereince called Source dimension (Scharmer, 2009).

Barely Civilized (2012) posited that presencing is sort of a mash-up of the Buddhist be-here-now practice of being present and a Bohmian-dialog-thinking-together kind of awareness that is broader than oneself and is sensing the future as it is emerging in the ‘space’ between us. In Theory U, the three levels of organizational change are structure, process, and thought. If one can change the structure of the organization without changing the processes, the change will not be effective. If one can help to change the processes without changing thinking, and it will only be moderately effective. But if you can change thinking, and look to the future instead of the past, change can be profound (Barely Civilized, 2012). This teaching is similar to the Religious Science philosophy which says that “one’s thought creates one’s world” (Holmes, 1966).


Brown, E. (2005). Otto Scharmer:Theory-U: Presencing emerging futures.

           Retrieved from


Barely Civilized. (2012). What is Presencing? Retrieved from


Holmes, E. (1966). Science of mind: A philosophy, a faith, a way of life.

           New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc.

Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges.

           San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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