Wheatley’s Leadership

Margaret J. Wheatley Leadership and the New Science: discovering order in a chaotic world Berrett-Koehler 3rd Ed. 2006

Wheatley rightly points out that much management practice is conditioned by old-style (‘Newtonian’) science. The new ‘complexity’ sciences, including quantum mechanics, chaos and self-organising systems are reviewed as a source of appropriate management and leadership insights into organisations viewed as systems. It largely builds on the approach of Capra (Turning Point / Web)  and refers to Meadows and Prigogine.

We … have been hooked on manipulation. For three centuries, we’ve been planning, predicting, and analysing the world. We’ve held on to an intense belief in cause and effect. We’ve raised planning to the highest of priestcrafts and imbued numbers with absolute power. We look to number sot describe our economic health, our productivity, our physical well-being. We’ve developed graphs and charts and plans to take us into the future … . (p 28)

In organisations, we focused attention on structure and organizational design, on gathering extensive numerical data, and on making decisions using sophisticated mathematical formulas. …We have reduced and described and separated things into cause and effect, and drawn the world in lines and boxes. (p 29)

Analysis narrows our field of awareness and actually prevents us from seeing the total system. (p 140)

In all of these struggles, it is being human that creates the problem. (p 164)

“People need to be free to do what needs to be done.”
What emerges from this freedom is a globally stable system. (p 167)

Wheatley uses ‘the new science’ as a source of analogies, and imagines that from suitably enlightened and motivated  teams and communities will emerge solutions.


As with some insurgents or Germany after the Great War, what emerges may not be very good. As in Iraq following the US-led invasion, what ’emerges’ may be continual strife, resembling chaos. So I would see this as an invaluable corrective to those who think the old style is the only style, but not a silver bullet.

Dave Marsay

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