How to Implement Ensemble Leadership Practices at a Public University?

ensembleleadershipnmsu Several people wrote to me and suggested I step up and suggest ways NMSU might implement Ensemble Leadership (Rosile, Boje, & Nez, 2016). See blog post (click here). How, for example, could departments of faculty, units of staff, faculty senate, and ASNMSU senate work with administration (Board of Regents, Chancellor, Provost, Deans, Department & Unit Heads) to enact Ensemble Leadership?

Let me start with a story of Integrative Conflict Resolution. In the Leadership In Society (Mgt 388v) class yesterday, a teaching opportunity emerged. A student said, “Boje, you are a bully.” I invited him to the front of the room to dialogue. “What are you seeing that leads you to this conclusion?” I decided to use Follett’s integration. I encouraged, and was silent. “When you state opinions, and not facts, it’s bullying.” “I read some of your articles, and I agree with much of it. But, in class its stories of experiences with the university.” I said, “I see your point. Facts do matter, and the Chancellor told me the same thing, to not rant or state opinions, but get at the facts of the matter.” He asked the rest of the students if they also say this. One student said, “Sure, Boje is a liberal, I get that. At first I was annoyed. Then I realized, he knows his stuff, and he is not doing cookie cutter class.” Another said, “you called Boje out, so glad two of you are standing up to work it through.” I asked what else he observed. “When you agree with my ideas, it’s bullying.” This took some time to unpack. I had agreed to an idea he had about saving paper by just showing the document in Smart Phone or computer rather than printing it. I said, “I really thought it was a great idea, and agreed we could do that.” “I know, he said, but it just infuriates me.” I was silent. As he explained, we found more and more points of agreement. “I am doing project on climate change, and there are many persuasive facts” (referring to my study guide). I agreed. We talked about how it’s important to let students opt out of a class event. I learned I could be liberal and progressive in the facts, but to a conservative venturing into opinion or quickly agreeing was irritating. I concluded with some Mary Parker Follett, how important it is to avoid domination and forcing compromise, and instead to really listen and engage in dialogue so there can be an integration of the differences. The class seemed tuned in, attentive, engaged with the teaching moment. By listening to criticism, taking it to heart, I hoped to let the student vent, to get whatever it was, out of his system, so we might integrate around some points of agreement, learn to work through differences, and get so some deeper ground.

To me, this comes out in Follett’s appreciation of Hegel’s dialectic. Its not the tired old saw of these-antithesis-synthesis. The point of Hegelian dialectic is there is no synthesis, as Follett puts it, just continuously evolving Situation in a play of differences in the Whole Situation.

To answer these questions I will relate our work on Ensemble Leadership to Mary Parker Follett (1941, a collection of her writings put together after she died in 1933). Follett can be applied to Ensemble Leadership because she proposed to bring all kinds and ways of leading into a scientific understanding of the ‘whole situation’ and how that complex situation is constantly evolving, changing, and developing. Her work challenges traditional notions of conflict and power. For Follett, power-over others is less effective leadership that ‘power-with.’ No one can delegate power, or empower someone else. Rather power is a capacity one has to build, a responsibility for the whole situation that one has to embrace them selves. For conflict resolution, she believed that the traditional ways of using domination or compromise were less effective than to integrate differences, to use face-to-face communication to work out ways to fit diverse interests together, in which she called ‘integrative unity.’ This integration was always attendant to the ‘whole situation’ and how it emerged and evolved. The unity of a diversity of differences means that we cannot “stay too long crystallized” in our conflicts ore we enter permanent divisions, irreconcilable differences (1941: 35). Her Law of the Situation means that by subordinating our conflict and power to the situation rather than making it about winner take all or personal power, we have a way to integrate differences. The basis of this integration is “to bring the differences into the open” (1941: 36). The idea is to get into the conflict as early as possible, before it festers, and crystalizes into opposing sides.


The Practices of Ensemble Leadership


In traditional university leadership, whoever holds the position and/or has personal power (persuasion) in the hierarchy is the leader, and everyone else is a follower. In Ensemble Leadership, the key practices are power-with and conflict resolution by integrative unity. Ensemble Leadership adapts to the Situation with is continually evolving, changing, and developing. It takes not only retrospective sensemaking (a knowledge of history of the Situation), but for-caring in advance for choices among waves of potential, arriving from the future. This is what we call prospective sensemaking in ‘fore-caring.’ ‘Fore-caring’ for the Whole Situation requires an Ensemble Leadership knowledgeable of the local, state, and even national politics. Ensemble Leadership is fore-caring for differences, harmonizing differences, integrating around joint fact-finding, and uniting powerful players around “common purpose for mutual benefit” (Follett, 1941: 271).

Ensemble Leadership at NMSU would be faculty, staff, students, and administrators (from Governor to Regents to Heads of departments) coming together to combine knowledge of every detail of NMSU. It would include the Faculty Senate and the ASNMSU Senate bodies, the staff and employee unions in an entire Ensemble of Leadership. But that is only the beginning. An Ensemble of Leadership is more than hierarchical positions, or heads of various social bodies, it is diffusing all kinds of leadership throughout the faculty body, student body, employee body, staff body, and community groups of all sorts. People possess leadership (self-empower) when they have knowledge of their own job, their own daily activities, and find better ways (new methods) of time, quality, training, and take responsibility for the local and the Total Situation.

The act of bossing, being in a hierarchical position of authority, is power-over, but does not come near to the efficiency and effectiveness of power-with inter-relationships, interweaving local knowledge and local answerability that constitutes Ensemble Leadership. Instead of blind obedience in a university bureaucracy its an active power-with others. “Our conception of [Ensemble] leadership is everywhere restricted by the persistence of the fallacy in the old idea of obedience, namely that obedience is necessarily passive” (Follett, 1941: 275, bracketed additions, mine). For Ensemble Leadership to be effective there is an active obedience, a testing of consent, an intelligent self-direction, an empowered action to be reciprocally involved, in the group process in order to accomplish what is “integral to the situation” (IBID.). Being actively obedient to the Whole Situation means checking out an order from above, sideways, and below, and being exigent with our voice of fore-caring, assertive in our dialogues with other leaders of every kind.

Ensemble Leadership at NMSU would mean establishing an “education system” of leadership development, not just positions, but every kind of leader getting trained in “inner authority” in co-active participation, in the power-with and in conflict resolution by integration (Follett, 1941: 276). It is a t least five kinds of training in leadership:

  1. To consider the outcomes of actions for the Whole Situation
  2. Inter-relating information in regard to students, faculty, community, administration, and so on
  3. Training in Ensemble Leadership
  4. Methods of doing things the right way the first time
  5. Obeying the Law of the Situation

The assumption is that 1 to 5 would be an alternative, perhaps better, than hierarchical bureaucracy at NMSU. It’s worth an experiment, a scientific study, and an analysis of results. Given opportunity, faculty have leader actions, can inter-relate information, can be trained in leadership, have new methods for doing things right, and can obey the Law of the Situation. So can students, and staff, and employees.

Instead of what Henri Fayol (1949, in French in 1920s) calls the ‘Scalar Chain’ the up and down line of authority of an enterprise, what Ensemble Leadership does is more degrees of leadership more dispersed leadership. An ‘Ensemble Leadership’ works out

  1. Forms of self-organizing
  2. Methods of doing things better
  3. Knowledge of the evolving Whole Situation
  4. Adapting by co-ordination and integration
  5. It still has people in formal leader positions (but in multiple hierarchies called Heterarchy)
  6. There are still forceful personal power (charismatic) leaders
  7. There is also the leader power of knowing your job, being competent and professional, rather than passively obedient.

The Situation becomes the key. It is not the same as Situation Leadership, because that is just the formalized Scalar Chain of command adapted to each situation by easing up or tightening the reins (on we the horses).

In Ensemble Leadership every leader has to be flexible, to be agile, to self-organize to keep up with the evolving Situation, and it means less power-over by bosses, and more power-with to be effective together. Applying Follett, it means diverse leaders “grasp the essential of an experience, and as we say, set it whole” (p. 279).

  1. To see the unity of the data, the patterns emerging
  2. To see the relationality and inter-relatedness to Others
  3. TO control the While Process
  4. To use power-with with insight into the past coming present
  5. To use fore-caring, including fore-sight that is essential to Ensemble Leadership

Fore-caring is something I have been writing about since my time at NMSU. It has four facets my colleagues and I draw form Heidegger (1962) that are about the ethics of care, by caring in advance, preparing antecedent to action and decision. Heidegger does not use the term fore-care, and I think it has these four qualities:

  1. Fore-having (before) an event by getting ready
  2. Fore-structuring (between) so that the relationships and inter-relatedness operations are in place
  3. Fore-concepts (below) because its takes new symbols and images, and new Notions to communicate what is arriving in the not-yet
  4. Fore-sight (bets on the future) because many waves of potential futures are arriving, and we choose which one worthy of collapsing into event-ness

Follett (1941: 280) puts this last point this way: “foresight is essential to leadership” and if you are not ‘fore-caring’ in Ensemble Leadership, outcomes (results) are disastrous. It is a ‘fore-caring’ for the Whole Situation, to its constant changes, to new trends. It is an “uncanny approach to the complexity” of the emerging Situation, the ability of leaders to interrelate and co-ordinate to “organize its essential elements” (p. 281). Ensemble Leadership is captured by Follett (1941: 281) when she says “anticipating the problems of to-morrow” and “solving the problems today” Situations that are “complex, intricate, far-reaching.” That is the Law of the Situation as it relates to Ensemble Leadership.

If the Governor, the Legislature, and the Board of Regents are dissatisfied with the cost of higher education, the old way to handle it is to “blame the head of department” (Follett, 1941: 281-2).

What would be the Ensemble Leadership way for Governor, Legislature, and Board of Regents to lead cost control? Start with the Whole Situation and the budget.

“The budget objectivies the whole situation” (Follett, 1941: 282).

Ensemble Leadership would actually “meet the situation” (IBID.). Teach budgeting to faculty, to students, staff, and employees. It is “how to control a situation themselves, helping your subordinates to develop their own ideas rather than exploiting your own” (IBID.).   I know many faculty and students and staff with great ideas on how to control the budget, and thereby the Situation.

It is my job to teach students (at all levels) how to lead themselves, how to budget, how to fore-care for and to jointly co-actively control the Whole Situation. As a teacher, going back to the ‘teaching moment’ above, I have learned not to exploit my own idea, and instead help the student discern for themselves their own responsibility for the Situation, of which they are apart. Ensemble Leadership is fore-caring in an ethics of care about the scientific methods of diagnosis of the Situation, experimentation with change projects, evaluation of results (something I teach in small business consulting).   In the sustainability development and leadership in society courses I place students in project teams, to learn how to cope with complexity, how to adapt to change, how to be and combine themselves in Ensemble Leadership. This means experiential teach to “learn the way themselves, to combine experience and judgment” and to learn to become “habitually integrative” and to “create a group power rather than express a personal power” (p. 283).

“They penetrate to the subtlest connections of the forces at their command, and make all these forces available, and most effectively available, for the accomplishment of their purpose” (Follett, 1941: 283).

I love this quote! She captures what it is to create Ensemble Leadership power-with, and integrative unity conflict resolution. A university needs political Ensemble Leadership along with all other kinds of leadership to “bring into harmonious relation” women and men often with “antagonistic temperaments then the ability to reconcile conflicting interests, team ability to make a working unit out of many diverse elements” (IBID).

Each political leader at NMSU is “predominantly an organizer” creating a unity that breaks down opposition by integration. The ability to focus power, to do power-with, and training power to certain end creates a new demand for university education. It can mean we learn to generate revenue while being co-active come up with cost-control by control of the Whole Situation in all its evolving dynamic complexity. Mary Parker Follett was one of key founders of open systems thinking, and did this at a time when others promoted Taylorism, Fayolism, and Weberian bureaucratic division of labor, span of control, scalar principle, and expert planners designing everyone else’s job. She had a whole different conception of open systems based on the Law of the Situation and the democratic participation of an Ensemble of Leaders.

She wrote, lectured, and consulted with government and business on ways to foretell the Situation, to make decisions the unified experience, with scientific methods of experimenting, sharing results, coming up with news ways of communication, co-ordination, and co-operation among diverse Ensemble Leadership system bent on facing the Situation.

The students we teach to-day are the leaders of to-morrow. We can teach hierarchy and submission to authority or we can teach co-power, power-with, to be self-organizing, and submit by obeying the Law of the Situation.

It would mean our current NMSU leaders would need to teach leadership, and to become “the invisible leader” to engage power-with, to interweave many leaderly activities more widely and more anticipatively than ever before at NMSU. The outcome is worth it to “take part in the regeneration of society” (p. 289).

We can begin to-day to enact Ensemble Leadership among thousands of students, hundreds of faculty, staff, employees, and administrators. Why not Ensemble Leadership to control and be agile with the Whole Situation? This is our place and time to integrate diverse differences, heal conflicts, and to make society Whole in New Mexico, in U.S. in the world. We can be that higher education university that trains its students to be leaders. There is good reason for training students in leadership in all the colleges, because it is a desirable aim for higher education.

How can our administration “draw forth” the organizing of co-operative and co-ordinated Ensemble Leadership? Face the Whole Situation as a pragmatist. Mary Parker Follett write in the time of John Dewey and William James, and she was also, if I might mend an omission in history, and American Pragmatist. She wrote she had to “believe that eh great leader can show me the correspondence, can arouse the latent possibilities, can reveal to me new posers in myself, can quicken and give direction to some force within me” (p. 375). A science approach, being fact-based, co-operatively getting to the facts, beyond opinion, is sound advice from my student and from Follett.

Follett, the Hegelian, believed in the power of the spirit, the recesses of the spirit and the spirit’s call to life and the sense of life (p. 294). Marx, balked at this, so Follett and Hegel’s dialectic is quite different. Certainly in the Land of Enchantment, there spirit has something to do with the play of difference, integrative unity, the ethic of care, the fore-caring in advance to face the Whole Situation.




Follett, M. P. (1941). Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett, edited by Metcalf, H. C., & Urwick, L. F. NY/London: Harper and Brothers.


Heidegger, M. (1929/1962/2008). Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson in 1962 from the 1929 German, with 2008 introduction by Taylor Carmon. NY: Harper Row.


Rosile, Grace Ann; Boje, David M.; Nez, Carma Claw. (2016). “Ensemble Leadership Theory: Collectivist, Relational, and Heterarchical Roots from Indigenous Contexts.” Leadership journal. CLICK HERE for online prepublication draft


More on this topic at