Margaret Wheatley’s Global Insights Inspire Virtuous Leadership

Who Do We Choose to Be: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity 

Margaret J. Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler Publishing, Copyright 2017, $24.95

Review by Moriah Hope
In times of crisis, noble leaders are essential for traversing our rapidly evolving world. But how do we identify qualified leaders? What type of temperament do they uphold? 

Through a lifetime of diverse personal experience as a global public speaker, consultant, teacher, best-selling author of nine books and formal advisor to leadership programs all over the world, Margaret Wheatley highlights and analyzes the critical qualities of leaders needed for our modern global challenges.

Drawing on over 40 years of working “on every inhabited continent in virtually every type of organization,” her analysis is not only research-based but also resembles a unique type of lifelong field study. 

From earning her doctorate in Administration, Planning and Social Policy at Harvard University to sitting with the Dalai Lama, retreating to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery with her teacher Pema Chödrön, and co-founding the Berkana institute with leadership initiatives around the world, Wheatley is without question an qualified resource for diverse insight on leadership.

  “It is possible to find a path of contribution and meaning if we turn our attention away from issues beyond our control and focus on the people around us… and engage them in work that is within reach.”  

“Who Do We Choose to Be” is broken up into six major sections that weave through time and space. First, Wheatley highlights the natural rise and fall of civilizations throughout time, inferring that seasons of crisis and the need for strong leadership is nothing we haven’t seen before. 

Then she posits that the boom in technology and digitization provides new challenges for humanity that require novel solutions. One of these challenges, she says, is a decline in our ability to learn and think creatively. 

Wheatley also touches on the role of social media in our modern lives. The rise of ‘celebrity culture’ in cyberspace, as Margaret writes, “…breeds narcissism through the projection of manufactured false identities giving rise to popularity over integrity.” 

She certainly doesn’t shy around expressing the issues that are relevant to our current social, economical and political climate. But unlike the effect other books in this genre have had on me, I never felt subdued by the daunting facts she presents. Rather, I felt inspired to embody the character she empowers us to bring forth into a world in dire need.

  “We need leaders who are committed to serving people, who recognize what is being lost in the haste to dominate, ignore, and abuse the human spirit.”

The varied leaders Wheatley has worked alongside each emulate unique characteristics, yet there are common threads she has identified in them all. These threads are the three core values that form the basis and ethos behind her book: generosity, creativity and compassion. 

She holds these three pillars as prerequisites not only for maintaining sustainable change but also to set the stage for truly impactful and regenerative innovation. Entrepreneurs and technological breakthroughs solely focused on ‘taking things to scale’ are the least of Wheatley’s interest. 

Using her background in systems of thinking and organizational behavior, Wheatley asserts that in order to maintain efficient human systems we must be aware of our perceptions, both individually and collectively. These perceptions heavily influence the cultural narratives that have caused division and distracted us from core issues for generations. 

Beyond stories created from limited perception, we can start to recognize our inherent interconnectedness and unity. Then we can finally ask ourselves, “Who do we choose to be?” How do we stand strong and affect change with unshakeable integrity?

Wheatley emphasizes the importance of leadership development in all people, regardless of status and vocation, in steering society in a sustainable direction. She sees self-organized systems and owning your own individual role as crucial components in global change. She is a strong advocate for service to others and, most notably, the need for trusted communities based in sharing and adding value to one another’s lives. 

“Who Do We Choose to Be” is a call to leaders, activists and everyday citizens motivated to empower themselves and claim leadership as what Margaret calls a “noble profession” that contributes to the common good.

  “Now it’s up to us, not as global leaders but as local leaders. We can lead people to create positive changes locally that make life easier and more sustainable, that create possibility in the midst of global decline.”

More on Margaret Wheatley

Margaret ‘Meg’ Wheatley is the author of nine books, from the ground-breaking Leadership and the New Science (1992) to Who Do We Choose To Be? (2017).  Her career spans five decades as a teacher, consultant, advisor, professor, formal leader, and author.  She has worked in nearly every type of organization and since 2015 has dedicated her work to training Warriors for the Human Spirit, now a thriving community spanning 25 countries.

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