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Ensemble Leadership – Part II

In the previous post, we explore the colorful metaphors of Jazz and Gumbo to capture the spirit and power of the ensemble to bring out more creativity and adaptability in organizations.  In this post we take a look at the necessary shifts in leadership and its development that reflect and promote more ensemble-like behavior in organizations.

New Directions in Leadership

For the past 15 years the MA in Leadership program has been focused on helping working professionals cultivate capacity in leadership that is more horizontal, innovative and adaptive, to be coupled with conventional notions that are more vertical, regulating, and controlling.  As we have seen in this discussion, in organizations both axes are needed to develop organizations as ensembles.  Because most managers are socialized in the vertical axis of leadership in their work and in society, we find it necessary to redirect attention in particular ways in order to acquire capacity in horizontal leadership, and toward a more integrated practice of it.  In our program this shift in attention includes:

    • From being centered on individuals to also being centered in relationships
    • From being top down to include being bottom up and inside out
    • From based in authority to include influence
    • From being informed by rational analysis to include multiple ways of knowing
    • From a focus on outcomes to include a focus on process
    • From a primary attention to efficiency and predictability to include attention on improvisation and emergence
    • From an outer orientation to include an inner orientation
    • From values of self-interest and competition to include values of service and cooperation

We find the above shifts in attention are key to understanding and practicing leadership that can grow organizations into ensembles.  Along with these shifts in attention there must also be attention to developing new skills and capacities aligned with ensemble leadership.  To address this need, new ways of learning leadership are required.

A Shift in Focus in Leadership Development

To develop the capacity for practicing leadership that cultivates organizations as ensembles, leadership development programs should pay attention to these five areas:

  1. Inclusivity ~  All too often, the focus is on individuals in the upper management of the organization—their vision, their strategies, their skills, and their authority.  The shift needed is to include all participants in leadership development and invite their contribution to organizational life.
  2. The Whole Person ~  Rather than encourage a narrow band of intelligences to be developed such as the technical, financial, operational, and analytical, the development of a wider range of intelligences that include the emotional, social, cultural, aesthetic, and systemic are essential for a creative and collaborative engagement in organizational life.
  3. Relationality ~  Encourage people to attend to the healthy and trusting relationships with each other and as part of teams.  At the heart of this focus is developing presence—the self-awareness and self-knowing that allows one to genuinely know the other and skillfully relate to one another.
  4. An Inner Orientation ~  Along with attending to the positive effect the organization can have in its environment, a healthy organization also pay attention to its inner life, within individuals, teams and the organization as a whole.
  5. Becoming a Learning Organization ~  Incorporate learning as a core function of the organization and in addition to important conceptual and practical learning, include learning activities that engage the whole person and include the somatic, kinesthetic, imaginative, and affective dimensions of the person as well.
Organizational Jazz

By thinking of organizational life as we would a jazz ensemble, we shift the practice of leadership to be in service of developing a dynamic, integrated and innovative ensemble of players.  08f34cb612f610c3879f38aa7dfcab86In this way each part and person participates in cultivating the whole, while inviting and celebrating one’s own unique contribution in relationship to this whole.  The organization as ensemble is not only more capable of creatively adapting to the dynamic, complex and interdependent world of the 21st century, it becomes an evocative, soulful and transforming power.  It does this by celebrating and weaving together the plurality of voices and perspectives, which often lives in the margins, much like the way jazz music has done.  If the story of jazz and how it has contributed to our lives and culture is any measure of what can happen when we grow organizations as ensembles, then ensemble leadership is something we should all learn how to play.

At Saint Mary’s College we have been providing a transformative education in leadership for over 15 years to meet the needs and aspirations of diverse people in all sectors to practice leadership in service of innovation, adaptability and the common good.  Through our graduates we have seen the transformative power of leadership in fulfilling the aspirations of people individually and collectively in the changing, complex and highly interdependent world of today.

About Ken Otter, Ph.D.

Ken Otter, Ph.D.
Ken is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Co-director of the Leadership Center at Saint Mary's College. Areas of scholarship include: global leadership development, leadership coaching education, multi-stakeholder collaboration, collective creativity, and the application of lifespan and wisdom development in organizational life.

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