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John Shibley

About me

“all he did was to remember/like the old and be honest like children.”
In Memory of Sigmund Freud, by W. H. Auden

Leading is hard. I suspect it always has been. I also suspect it’s harder now, given how connected everything is and how fast a change in one place creates change everywhere else. 

Popular leadership books promise that leaders can fix everything if they embrace seven habits or learn how to manage in one-minute increments. That’s great for simple problems, and the truth is that most organizations have some problems like that. 

Leaders don’t work on those problems. The people who report to the people who report to leaders work on those problems. 

Leaders get the problems that are left. 

Those problems are messy as hell, full of conflicting agendas and trade-offs and unanticipated consequences. The bad news is that these are usually also the problems central to an organization’s survival and success. 

For nearly 40 years I’ve been in the mess with leaders, trying to help them unravel the complexity of their organizational lives and find an effective and humane path through, remembering like the old and being honest like children. It’s been the bread and butter of my consulting work. 

I’ve been around. I remember like the old. I’ve worked with dozens of amazing leaders and impressive organizations in the profit and non-profit sectors. (If you want a conventional bio, there’s one here.

I’ve seen almost everything at least once, and most things more than once. It helps. I’ve tumbled down just about every pothole in the alley, and I remember how to get out. When I see something enough, I make sense of what I’ve learned and write about it

I have a Master’s degree from Harvard and have worked with giants in my field. I’m smart enough to know that smart is overrated. I like theories because they help me figure out the smart thing to do. I like teaching my clients about them so they can be more effective. 

A COO I worked with said, “John is bookish without being bookish.” 

It’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my work.  

I’m honest like children, or I try to be. I like direct. I’m obstinately curious.  I say shit when I have a mouthful. I am as likely to quote Emily Dickenson as the HBR. And I’m not action oriented. I learned a long time ago that organizations that are action oriented generate a lot of actions. I'd rather get results, and sometimes you have to go slow to go fast - especially in messes. 


Like children, I know that the best solutions not only make sense, they feel right too. Getting what we want means nothing if we crush ourselves and others in the process. Life’s too short. 

If that makes sense and feels right to you, let’s talk.

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