Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 155, Issue 4, pp 931–939 | Cite as

Shaping the Shift: Shamanic Leadership, Memes, and Transformation

  • Sandra WaddockEmail author
Original Paper


The leader as shaman has three central roles: healer, connector, and sensemaker in the service of a better world. This paper argues that today’s leaders acting as shamans could become ‘shapeshifters,’ or more accurately ‘shape the shift,’ that is engage with organizational and systemic change needed to content with major problems like sustainability issues, climate change, and inequality, which business businesses are increasingly being asked to deal with as part of their societal roles. In the role of sensemaker, business leaders can shape shifts towards great sustainability and responsibility by developing new memes that speak to others and resonate across different people and groups. Memes’ roles in change, as core cultural artifacts, on which values, business strategies, and belief systems (among other things) are built, are generally overlooked but are an important element of shamanic leadership.


Memes Sensemaking Sensemaker Values Cultural artifacts 


  1. Ackoff, R. (1975). Redesigning the future. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  2. Alperovitz, G. (2013). What then must we do?: Straight talk about the next American Revolution. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Bazerman, M. H., & Chugh, D. (2006). Decisions without blinders. Harvard Business Review, 84(1), 88.Google Scholar
  4. Bazerman, M. H., & Tenbrunsel, A. E. (2011). Ethical breakdowns. Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 58–65.Google Scholar
  5. Blackmore, S. (2000). The meme machine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Churchman, C. W. (1967). Guest editorial: Wicked problems. Management Science, 14(4), B141-B142.Google Scholar
  7. Corbin, H., & Horine, R. (1976). Mundus Imaginalis, or, the imaginary and the imaginal. Ipswich: Golgonooza Press.Google Scholar
  8. Dawkins, R. (2006). The selfish gene. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Dehler, G. E., & Welsh, M. A. (1994). Spirituality and organizational transformation: Implications for the new management paradigm. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 9(6), 17–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dow, J. (1986). Universal aspects of symbolic healing: A theoretical synthesis. American Anthropologist, 88(1), 56–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Egri, C. P., & Frost, P. J. (1991). Shamanism and change: Bringing back the magic in organizational transformation. Research in Organizational Change and Development, 5, 175–221.Google Scholar
  12. Eliade, M. (1964). Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Willard R. Trask, trans.). New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964) (Vol. 259, pp. 269–274).Google Scholar
  13. Enright, S. (2016). A first look at how companies are responding to the SDGs. BSR. Retrieved June 22, 2016 from
  14. Francis, H. F. (2015). Encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On care for our common home. Rome/The Vatican: The Holy See.
  15. Freeman, R. E. (1994). The politics of stakeholder theory: Some future directions. Business Ethics Quarterly, 409–421.Google Scholar
  16. Freeman, R. E., Harrison, J. S., & Wicks, A. C. (2007). Managing for stakeholders: Survival, reputation, and success. New Heaven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Frost, P. J., & Egri, C. P. (1994). The shamanic perspective on organizational change and development. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 7(1), 7–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gilding, P. (2011). The great disruption: How the climate crisis will transform the global economy. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. Harner, M. (1990). The way of the shaman. New York: HarperOne.Google Scholar
  20. King, S. K. (2009). Urban shaman. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  21. Krippner, S. (2004). Psychology of shamanism. In Shamanism: An encyclopedia of world belief, practices, and culture (pp. 204–221).Google Scholar
  22. Krippner, S. C. (2002). Conflicting perspectives on shamans and shamanism: Points and counterpoints. American Psychologist, 57(11), 962–977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lakoff, G. (2014). The all new don’t think of an elephant! Know your values and frame the debate. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. Laughlin, C. D., & Throop, C. J. (2001). Imagination and reality: On the relations between myth, consciousness, and the quantum sea. Zygon®, 36(4), 709–736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Levin, K., Cashore, B., Bernstein, S., & Auld, G. (2012). Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: Constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change. Policy Sciences, 45(2), 123–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Loeb, E. M. (1929). Shaman and seer. American Anthropologist, 31(1), 60–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lorenz, E. N. (1963). Deterministic nonperiodic flow. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 20(2), 130–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lovelock, J. E. (2009). The vanishing face of Gaia: The final warning. PublicAffairs.Google Scholar
  29. McIntosh, M., Editor (2013). The Necessary transition: The journey towards the sustainable enterprise economy. Sheffield: Greenleaf.Google Scholar
  30. McKibben, B. (2011). Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet. New York: Random House Digital, Inc.Google Scholar
  31. Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system. Harland, VT: The Sustainability Institute.
  32. Mirvis, P. (2008). Executive development through consciousness-raising experiences. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 7(2), 173–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mirvis, P. H., Ayas, K., & Roth, G. (2003). To the desert and back: The story of one of the most dramatic business transformations on record. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  34. Movva, R. (2004). Myths as a vehicle for transforming organizations. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 25(1), 41–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Noll, R. (1985). Mental imagery cultivation as a cultural phenomenon: The role of visions in shamanism. Current Anthropology, 26(4), 443–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Norgaard, R. B., & Baer, P. (2005). Collectively seeing complex systems: The nature of the problem. BioScience, 55(11), 953–960.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Perkins, J. (1997). Shapeshifting: Techniques for global and personal transformation. Rochester: Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.Google Scholar
  38. Randels, G. D. (1998). The contingency of business: Narrative, metaphor, and ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 17(12), 1299–1310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Randers, J. (2012). 2052: A global forecast for the next forty years. Hartford: Chelsea Green Publishing.Google Scholar
  40. Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å, Chapin, F. S., Lambin, E. F., et al., (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(7263), 472–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rockström, J., Steffen, W. L., Noone, K., Persson, Å, Chapin III, F. S., Lambin, E., et al., (2009). Planetary boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology & Society, 14 (2), 32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and science of the learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.Google Scholar
  44. Skapinker, M., & Daneshkhu, S. (2016). Can Unilever’s Paul Polman change the way we do business? Financial Times, Retrieved September 29, 2016 from
  45. Stacey, R. D. (1991). The chaos frontier: Creative strategic control for business. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  46. Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., et al. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), 1259855-1–1249855-10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. (2017). 17 goals to transform our world.
  48. Waddell, S., Waddock, S., Cornell, S., Dentoni, D., McLachlan, M., & Meszoely, G. (2015). Large system change: An emerging field of transformation and transitions. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, June, Issue, 58, 5–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Waddock, S. (2015a). Intellectual shamans: Management academics making a difference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Waddock, S. (2015b). Reflections: Intellectual shamans, sensemaking, and memes in large system change. Journal of Change Management, 15, 259–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Waddock, S., Dentoni, D., Meszoely, G., & Waddell, S. (2015). The complexity of wicked problems in large system change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(6), 993–1012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Waddock, S., & McIntosh, M. (2011). SEE change: Making the transition to a sustainable enterprise economy. Sheffield: Greenleaf.Google Scholar
  53. Walsh, R. (1989). What is a shaman? Definition, origin and distribution. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 21(1), 1–11.Google Scholar
  54. Weick, K. E. (1988). Enacted sensemaking in crisis situations [1]. Journal of Management Studies, 25(4), 305–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly, 628–652.Google Scholar
  56. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Winkelman, M. (2011). Shamanism and the evolutionary origins of spirituality and healing. NeuroQuantology, 9(1), 54–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Boston CollegeChestnutUSA

Personalised recommendations