In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.
Margaret Wheatley (1992), as quoted in 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself (2004) by Steve Chandler, p. 123
Change always involves a dark night when everything falls apart. Yet if this period of dissolution is used to create new meaning, then chaos ends and new order emerges.
Margaret Wheatley, Deborah Frieze (2011) Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. p. 31
Scott London: How did you begin to explore the connection between management and science? Meg Wheatley: I didn't have an interest in the new science. I had a realization that in my profession — which was vaguely labeled "organizational change," "organizational development," or "management consulting" in general — none of us knew how organizations change. When I talked to other consultants, I noticed that if we had an organizational change effort that was successful, it felt like a miracle to us.
I realized with a great start one day that we weren't even geared up for success. It didn't matter that we didn't know how to change organizations. We were all professionals who didn't hope to achieve what we were selling or suggesting to clients. The field was really moribund.
At the same time — and this is the serendipity of life — I had a friend and educator whom I had worked with for many years who said casually one day "Meg, if you're interested in systems thinking, you should be reading quantum physics." He didn't know where I was in my despair over my professional failings. But I said, "Okay, give me a book list." He gave me ten titles. I read eight of those and I was off. I always credit him with that casual, helpful comment that changed my life.
Margaret Wheatley (1992) Leadership and the New Science : Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe
I was reading of chaos that contained order; of information as the primal, creative force; of systems that, by design, fell apart so they could renew themselves; and of invisible forces that structured space and held complex things together. These were compelling, evocative ideas, and they gave me hope, even if they did not reveal immediate solutions.
We have created trouble for ourselves in organizations by confusing control with order. This is no surprise, given that for most of its written history, leadership has been defined in terms of its control functions.
The things we fear most in organizations - fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances - need not be signs ofan impending disorder that will destroy us. Instead, fluctuations are the primary source of creativity.
We will need to become savvy about how to build relationships, how to nurture growing, evolving things. All of us will need better skills in listening, communicating, and facilitating groups, because these are the talents that build strong relationships.
If vision is a field, think about what we could do differently to create one. We would do our best to get it permeating through the entire organization so that we could take advantage of its formative properties. All employees, in any part of the company, who bumped up against the field, would be influenced by it. Their behavior could be shaped as a result of “field meetings”, where their energy would link with the fields form to create behavior congruent with the organizations goals. In the absence of that field, in areas of the organization that hadn’t been reached, we could hold no expectation of desired behaviors. If the field hadn’t extended into that space, there would be nothing there to help behaviors materialize, no invisible geometry working on our behalf
Leadership is always dependent upon the context, but the context is established by the relationships.
Margaret Wheatley (2002) "[It's An Interconnected World]" Shambhala Sun, April 2002
The dense and tangled web of life-the interconnected nature of reality--now reveals itself on a daily basis. Since September 11th, think about how much you've learned about people, nations, and ways of life that previously you'd known nothing about. We've been learning how the lives of those far away affect our own. We're beginning to realize that in order to live peacefully together on this planet, we need to be in new relationships, especially with those far-distant from us.
I believe that our very survival depends upon us becoming better systems thinkers. How can we learn to see the systems we're participating in? How can we act intelligently when things remain fuzzy?
Here are a few principles I've learned. Start something, and see who notices it. It's only after we initiate something in a system that we see the threads that connect. Usually, someone we don't even know suddenly appears, either outraged or helpful.
Margaret J. Wheatley (2002) Turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope to restore hope to the future
Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.
There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
In our daily life, we encounter people who are angry, deceitful, intent only on satisfying their own needs. There is so much anger, distrust, greed, and pettiness that we are losing our capacity to work well together.
Whatever life we have experienced, if we can tell our story to someone who listens, we find it easier to deal with our circumstances.
Finding Our Way: Leadership For an Uncertain Time (2005)
Margaret Wheatley (2005/2010) Finding Our Way: Leadership For an Uncertain Time Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
There is a simpler, finer way to organize human endeavor. I have declared this for many years and seen it to be true in many places. This simpler way is demonstrated to us in daily life, not the life we see on the news with its unending stories of human grief and horror, but what we feel when we experience a sense of life's deep harmony, beauty, and power, of how we feel when we see people helping each other, when we feel creative, when we know we're making a difference, when life feels purposeful.
Over many years of work all over the world, I've lucius allen arned that if we organize in the same way that the rest of life does, we develop the skills we need: we become resilient, adaptive, aware, and creative. We enjoy working together. And life's processes work everywhere, no matter the culture, group, or person, because these are basic dynamics shared by all living beings.
Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. It's amazing to me how much we do, but how little time we spend reflecting on what we just did.
When we can lay down our fear and anger and choose responses other than aggression, we create the conditions for bringing out the best in us humans.
In the past, it was easier to believe in my own effectiveness. If I worked hard, with good colleagues and good ideas, we could make a difference. But now, I sincerely doubt that.
Meg Wheatley was thrown into the public spotlight in 1992 with the publication of Leadership and the New Science, a groundbreaking look at how new discoveries in quantum physics, chaos theory, and biology challenge our standard ways of thinking in organizations. It showed how our reliance on old, mechanistic models stand in the way of innovation and effective leadership.