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Margaret Wheatley

Margaret Wheatley

Title:  Co-founder and President emerita
Company:  Berkana Institute


University of Rochester
University College London

Huntsman School Interactions

Guest Speaker - October 3, 2011


I have always found my attention drawn to many different disciplines: science, history, literature, systems thinking, organizational behavior, social policy, cosmology and theology. I value what I’ve learned from each of these different fields, because no one discipline, institution, or specialization can answer the questions that now confront us. We all must draw from many different perspectives to reweave the world.

I had an excellent liberal arts education at the University of Rochester and University College London. In the mid-sixties, I spent two years in the Peace Corps in Korea, teaching high school English. On returning to the U.S., I taught junior and senior high school, then became an educational administrator of programs for children and adults who were economically poor and denied traditional educational opportunities. I received a Master of Arts degree from New York University in systems thinking. My doctorate is from Harvard’s program in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy, with a focus on organizational behavior and change.

I have been a consultant and speaker since 1973, and have worked, I believe, with almost all types of organizations and people. They range from the head of the U.S. Army to twelve year old Girl Scouts, from CEOs to small town ministers. This diversity includes Fortune 100 corporations, government agencies, healthcare institutions, foundations, public schools, colleges, major church denominations, professional associations, and monasteries. I have also been privileged to work on all continents. Every organization is wrestling with a similar dilemma—how to maintain its integrity, direction, and effectiveness as it copes with relentless turbulence and change. But there is another similarity I’m hopeful to report: A common human desire for peace, to live together more
harmoniously, more humanely.

I have served as full-time graduate management faculty at two institutions, Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and The Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. I have served in a formal advisory capacity for leadership
programs in England, Croatia, Denmark, Australia and the United States, and through my work in Berkana, with leadership initiatives in India, Senegal, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and Europe.

I am co-founder and President emerita of The Berkana Institute, a global charitable foundation founded in 1991. Berkana works in partnership with a rich diversity of people around the world who strengthen their communities by working with the wisdom and wealth
already present in their people, traditions and environment. Berkana has worked in dozens of countries, mostly in the developing world, supporting local initiatives committed to strengthening a community's leadership capacity and self-reliance. We also connect these local initiatives as a global learning community. Berkana has discovered that the world is blessed with tens of thousands of courageous leaders. They are young and old, in all countries, working in all types of organizations and communities.

My newest book, coauthored with Deborah Frieze, is Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey Into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now (2011). Deborah succeeded me as Berkana’s president, and this book details the experiences of seven communities with whom we have partnered for many years. We use lively prose and over 100 color photographs to take you vividly inside communities in India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Greece, Mexico, Brazil and Columbus Ohio. In each of these places, people walked out of limiting beliefs and assumptions and walked on to create healthy and resilient communities. These Walk Outs who Walk On use
their ingenuity and caring to figure out how to work with what they have to create what they need. In every case, they challenge our assumptions about what’s possible and provide us with truly hopeful examples of how a shift in beliefs makes it possible to solve seemingly intractable problems.

I published Perseverance in 2010. For many years, I’ve observed people persevering through tragedies and harsh circumstances I hope never to encounter. And I’ve observed friends, family and colleagues struggling to persevere through this time of uncertainty, difficulty and occasional insanity. This book is my offering to those who seek to persevere, to those who hope that their work and life contribute to making things better, not worse, for the people, issues and places they love.

Leadership and the New Science was first published in 1992, with new editions in 1999 and 2006. Each edition contains new material describing where the ideas of new science are evident in the world. This book is credited with establishing a fundamentally new approach to how we think about organizations. It has been translated into 18 languages and won many awards, including “Best Management Book of 1992” in Industry Week, Top Ten Business Books of the 1990s by CIO Magazine, and Top Ten Business books of all time by Xerox Corporation. The video of Leadership and the New Science, produced by CRM films, has also won several film awards.

In 1996, I co-authored A Simpler Way (with Myron Kellner-Rogers). A Simpler Way explores the question: Could we organize human endeavor differently if we understood how Life organizes? Through photos, poetry, and prose, the book contemplates self-organization, and the conditions that nurture life and organizations.

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future (2002 and an expanded edition in 2009, in 7 languages) is written from the belief that we can change the world if we just begin listening to one another again. Great social change movements always begin from the simple act of friends talking to each other about their fears and dreams. This book contains twelve  conversation starters as well as guidance about how to host good conversations.

Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time (2005, in 3 languages) is a collection of my practice-focused articles, where I apply themes addressed throughout my career to detail the organizational practices and behaviors that bring them to life. These pieces represent more than two decades of work, of how I took the ideas in my earlier books and applied them in practice in many different situations. However, this is more than a collection of articles. I updated, revised or substantially added to the original content of each one. In this way, everything written here are presents my most current views on these subjects. My articles appear in a wide range of professional publications and magazines, and can be downloaded free from my website, On the website, you will also see a number of videos, CDs and DVDs that I’ve produced on different organizational and leadership topics.

I was raised on the East Coast of the U.S., first in the New York City area, and then in Boston. In 1989, my family and I moved west to the mountains and red rocks of Utah. I have two adult sons, five stepchildren, and nineteen grandchildren. My family, friends and my work bring me great joy, and so does the time I spend with my horses, hiking, and being in the true quiet of wilderness.