Nancy Southern, Organizational Systems

Photograph of Nancy Southern

Nancy Southern

Organizational Systems Faculty

"What I found out in my career as a manager," says Nancy Southern, "was this: if I can create the kind of culture where people engage creatively, and feel they're doing meaningful work, then problems get solved. Organizations flourish."

"And," she adds, "people are happier."

A consultant to governments, non-profits, and businesses since 1989, Nancy has dedicated herself to bringing a humanistic perspective to organizations: helping them find better ways to support both their missions and their members.

In that time she's worked locally and globally, studying and teaching about transformational leadership; working with executive teams in city governments and public agencies to create cultures of collaboration; helping train the next generation of leaders to build organizations that creatively address environmental issues; and teaching people how to work effectively across cultures so that differences support new ways of engaging together in support of global change.

That kind of success, she says, is finally being recognized as systems theory takes a prominent place in management philosophy. "Traditional management philosophy is about how you control people to get them to do what the leaders want them to do." she says. "That's breaking down, and now very different models are appearing. We're looking at how we create organizational cultures where people can bring their passion, their creativity, and work collaboratively in ways that support the organization's purpose, so that both the people and the organization can thrive."

Nancy studied humanistic psychology at Sonoma State University, but decided not to become a therapist. "I went into business instead, going up the ladder into management positions."

She found herself working heavily with numbers, data, and dollar signs; directing large offices and managing millions in market research – but she always saw a person-centered approach as essential. "My focus was always on creating organizations that work effectively through people. An organization is nothing without people and thus our ability to engage the hearts and minds of those who come to an organization is the key to its ability to carry out its mission."

She decided to take that focus to the next level, and got an MBA at St. Mary's College, where she was introduced to the field of Organizational Development – and began to work in consulting. She also discovered a love of teaching, and received her doctorate in education from the University of San Francisco, where she studied how different cultural perspectives impact the way organizations learn and change.

"I had the opportunity to twice go on cultural tours of Vietnam – we were some of the first groups to go into Vietnam after the embargo was lifted around 1994. I also traveled to China and was excited to explore different ways of being in relationship, from a leadership perspective, to best support organizational learning and transformation."

Saybrook invited Nancy to head its Organizational Systems program in 2007. Nancy is able to bring her passion about organizational systems, collaboration, and transformation to her work at Saybrook through a program that recognizes that Humanistic values and an understanding of organization as complex systems are desperately needed by organizations eager to address the sustainability challenges of our times. .

"Underlying all of our students is the desire to be a transformational change agent," she says. "We have a very diverse student body, and whatever their walk of life they've seen the dysfunction in organizations and been impacted by it, and know that things can be different. They know that there's a potential there of creating workplaces and environments that better serve people and communities."

People who can do that are prized by organizations of every kind, she says: "There's a widespread recognition that the era of short-term fixes is over."

Giving students the tools to do this, and then connecting them with their professional goals, is an outgrowth of the work Nancy's been doing her whole life. "Seeing what our students and alumni accomplish – it's exciting," she says. "We really are in the forefront of making big changes happen."