In a 2018 article in the journal Leadership (Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 307-328), Grace Ann Rosile and her collaborators present a new theory of leadership that they call ensemble leadership. Combining insights from relational leadership theories and indigenous ways-of-knowing, the authors characterize ensemble leadership as collectivist, dynamic, decentered, and heterarchic.
Collectivist implies that the good of the group is more important than the good of the individual. In fact, the distinction between individual and group interests, as if these two are in opposition to one another, is viewed as a false dichotomy. Individuals come to see their own well-being as a function of collective well-being.
A dynamic perspective is one that views the world in a constant state of movement and change. The authors point out that this approach is natural to most indigenous cultures, as witnessed by the fact that tribal languages tend to have a far greater number of verbs than nouns. This perspective is particularly evident in the construction and relating of indigenous stories, which display a more cyclical nature, respecting context and changing circumstance, as opposed to the predominantly Western-culture bias, inherited from Aristotle, that stories must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The authors explain the notion of decentered by referring to the botanical phenomenon of rhizomatic propagation, whereby certain plant species spread runners underground in various directions, leading to new plants popping up in seemingly random locations, so that eventually the idea of a central plant becomes meaningless. What exists instead is a complex web of interconnected plants that for all intents and purposes now simply compose one plant.
The notion of heterarchy is borrowed from developments in post-structuralist anthropology. What it implies is that rather than trying to idently one dominant hierarchical structure within a community or organization, it is possible for different hierarchical configurations to manifest themselves from time to time, depending on the circumstances, and it is equally as likely that hierarchical structures can be set aside altogether so that a more egalitarian structure can emerge.
One remarkable feature of ensemble leadership theory is the idea that non-human living things like animals and plants, as well as inanimate objects like rocks and wind, can have agency. They can act upon the group and each other, thereby contributing to the way meaning is constructed. The events become woven into the story at a level that goes beyond the mere recounting of human response to those events. By treating the objects and events as active characters within the narrative, a more holistic view of what is taking place can be constructed.
The theory of ensemble leadership raises a number of interesting questions. What impact could these ideas have on the way communities approach economic development projects? Would this approach to leadership be possible within the context of for-profit organizations? Are there organizations or communities that actually operate in a way that recognizes the agency of inanimate objects or events? Any thoughts? Any other implications or concerns that come to mind?