Meg Wheatley (born Margaret J. Wheatley in 1944) is an American writer and management consultant who studies organizational behavior. Her approach includes systems thinking, theories of change, chaos theory, leadership and the learning organization: particularly its capacity to self-organize. Her work is often compared to that of Donella Meadows and Dee Hock. Proposing that "real social change comes from the ageless process of people thinking together in conversation," she describes her work as opposing "highly controlled mechanistic systems that only create robotic behaviors."
Born in Yonkers, New York, in 1944, to an English father who was a mechanic running a foreign car service, and a Jewish American mother, Wheatley grew up in the New York City area. Her grandmother was Irma Lindheim, and the first Jewish woman in the Army Corps during World War I. Wheatley graduated from Lincoln High School (Yonkers, New York), in 1962.
From 1966–1968, Wheatley served in the Peace Corps in Cholla Namdo Province, Korea, teaching high school English. She returned from Korea via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and recalled she and her travelling companion were assumed to be CIA agents in the Peace Corps, and were called "thugs wearing peace masks."
She received her M.A. in communications and systems thinking from New York University, advised by Neil Postman. She moved to the Boston, Massachusetts, area when she was 30 years old, to earn her Ed.D. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy in 1979 with a dissertation titled Equal Employment Opportunity Awareness Training: the Influence of Theories of Attitude Change and Adult Learning in the Corporate Setting at Harvard Graduate School of Education.
She married a widower with five children in 1977. They had two more children together, and by 2013 Wheatley had 21 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She and her family have lived in the mountains of Utah since 1989.
Her practice as an organizational consultant and researcher began in 1973. She has worked on every inhabited continent in "virtually every type of organization" and considers herself a global citizen. Since then she has been Associate Professor of Management at the Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University, and Cambridge College, Massachusetts, and served as a professor of management in two graduate programs. She has served in a formal advisory capacity for leadership programs in England, Croatia, Denmark, Australia and the United States, and through her work in Berkana, with leadership initiatives in India, Senegal, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil as well as Europe. She is co-founder and President Emerita of the Berkana Institute, a global charitable leadership foundation.
Wheatley has received multiple awards and honorary doctorates.
In 1992, her first book, Leadership and the New Science, won the award from Industry Week as the best management book, as well as one of CIO Magazine's "Top Ten Business Books of the 1990s," and one of Xerox Corporation's "Top Ten Business Books of all time."
The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) has named her one of five living legends. In May 2003, ASTD awarded her their highest honor: "Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance," with the following citation:
Meg Wheatley gave the world a new way of thinking about organizations with her revolutionary application of the natural sciences to business management. Her concepts have traveled across national boundaries and through all sectors. Her ideas have found welcome homes in the military, not-for-profit organizations, public schools, and churches as well as in corporations. Through the Berkana Institute, a charitable foundation which she started in Provo, Utah, Wheatley is supporting the development of local leaders in over 40 countries to foster societies that tap and evoke the best of human capability. Through her interdisciplinary curiosity, Meg Wheatley provides new insights into the nature of how people interact and inspires us to build better organizations and better societies across the globe.— American Society for Training and Development
She was elected in 2005 to the Leonardo Da Vinci Society for the Study of Thinking.
Margaret Wheatley inspires people. She has worked for more than forty years as a consultant, speaker, writer, teacher, and poet. She has brought a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural perspective to leadership, systems, and organizations—taking an approach that emphasizes relationships and service—one that brings both the head and the heart to bear on a probing examination of the human condition. She says on her website that she has been applying the “lens of living systems theory to organizations and communities” asking the central question “How might we organize differently if we understood how Life organizes?”— Philip Scarpino
The introduction to her interview with staff from the Association for Talent Development notes, "Meg Wheatley writes, teaches, and speaks about radically new practices and ideas for organizing in chaotic times. She works to create organizations of all types where people are known as the blessing, not the problem. Her last book, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, proposes that real social change comes from the ageless process of people thinking together in conversation."
Her books include:
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