Together We Can: Pathways to Collective Leadership in Agriculture at Texas A&M

Together We Can: Pathways to Collective Leadership in Agriculture at Texas A&M


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Together We Can recounts effective strategies for institutional change and focuses on collective leadership within the land-grant university system, with reflections on Hiler’s long and successful career in academic leadership, both at Texas A&M University and within the larger Texas A&M System.
Although many books discuss leadership and organizational change in the private sector, there are relatively few dealing with public-sector entities—especially public land-grant universities and academic agencies—and none on collective leadership, the standard for highly collaborative and interdependent groups and individuals.
Hiler draws on more than four decades of academic leadership experiences and personal anecdotes to recount the history of the land-grant system and Texas’ place in it. He also distills collective leadership “principles-in-action” that he believes should sustain such institutions, including Texas A&M, in the future, articulating an unwavering argument that the land-grant mission, through teaching, research, and outreach through extension, remains the single most powerful educational force within our society to equip citizens with the means to adapt to create meaningful opportunities, improve quality of life, and keep the world on a sustainable course amid uncertain times.
Bosserman then places Hiler’s reflections in the context of institutional change strategies and situational leadership styles to establish a “do-it-yourself tool kit” that includes effective leadership, collaboration, and mentorship approaches and techniques for those who strive to make a positive impact in their organizations, regardless of their starting point.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603444286
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 10/20/2011
Series: Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Service Series
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

EDWARD A. HILER is the former dean and vice chancellor for Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University and the Texas A&M System, as well as director of the agencies now known as Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. He has served in leadership roles for the National Academy of Science and the National Research Council. He is a past president of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
STEVEN L. BOSSERMAN is founder and president of Bosserman & Associates, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in strategic framing and organization design. Clients have included a number of land-grant universities as well as the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's Food Systems Professions Education and Leadership for Institutional Change initiatives.

Read an Excerpt

Together We Can

Pathways to Collective Leadership in Agriculture at Texas A&M

By Edward A. Hiler, Steven L. Bosserman

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2011 Edward A. Hiler and Steven L. Bosserman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-428-6


A Journey of a Thousand Miles ...

IN DECEMBER 2004, Edward A. Hiler retired. For over twelve years he had been vice chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. For four years of that time (1998–2002), he had also been director of Texas Cooperative Extension. He had spent nearly forty years in the halls of academe, all of it at Texas A&M. Then, having heartily enjoyed being regaled, toasted, and written about in the months leading up to this supposed retirement, and before it took formal effect, he was appointed the first Ellison Chair in International Floriculture and professor of horticultural sciences and of biological and agricultural engineering, positions he held at A&M through March 2007. Retirement turned out to be a euphemism for career change.

Texas is a state big in land mass, in the number and diversity of its people, and in resources. Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University are the two land-grant institutions chartered to serve Texans and steward the natural resources of the state for generations of future Texans through teaching, research, and extension, the three cornerstones of the land-grant system in the United States. These three functions of the system are overseen by a triumvirate consisting of the college dean, the extension director, and the experiment station director. The history of their positions and the organizations they represent is rich in the dynamics of people working together to survive, establish vital and vibrant communities, and create opportunities to better themselves and their sons and daughters. It is a history rife with change—in the physical landscape, the political times and economic conditions, and the people themselves. In fact, the constant is change. Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M, deeply rooted in the lives and circumstances of Texans, change with those they serve. Sometimes they are the ones instigating change and other times the ones adapting to it, but they are always partner to it.

In 1876, Texas A&M was chartered as not only a land-grant college, but also a military college for men. Over the years its students and graduates distinguished themselves and brought honor to the institution through their accomplishments in politics, warfare, and business. As was typical for military culture during the years between 1876 and 1970, A&M's structure was hierarchical and its accompanying leadership style one of commandcontrol. Deans and directors were like battle-seasoned generals and held the standards of their institutions in firm hands. They gave clear guidance, had high expectations, demanded steadfast loyalty, and offered steady protection for those who pledged their fealty.

The early 1960s brought considerable change to A&M. The "men-only" restriction was dropped and the campus became co-educational. Perception of A&M as an institution limited to rural populations in Texas and to constituents connected with land use and agriculture was challenged. A&M expanded its on-campus capacity with new physical plants and broadened its intellectual scope and reputation by contributing solid research into issues and opportunities of regional, national, and international interest. The number of students tripled in the ten-year period between 1966 and 1975, to over 25,000.

Texas A&M changed its core values by becoming co-ed and changed its focus on those it served by engaging constituencies on regional, national, and international levels. It changed its infrastructure by building more facilities and its curricula by offering more programs and hiring new faculty to teach in them. Clearly the institution was strengthening its reputation as a major player in academic circles, pumping up its research capacity and its ability to win grants, and enhancing its desirability as a technology-development partner with the private sector.

But different student demographics, different key advisory groups and monies, different degrees and curricula, different buildings, equipment, and grounds are the visible and cosmetic evidence of change. What about the organizational design of the institution, its leadership style, and the manner in which people communicated, made decisions, and took action—did these patterns that had characterized the institution for nearly one hundred years change as well? What did change really mean to those who were the contributors to and benefactors of the system as it operated before the 1960s? What did change mean to those who drove it in the 1960s and 1970s and again in the 1980s and 1990s, ushering in the next millennium? Certainly, change must have had some impact on all in one way or another.

And indeed it did. A tour of A&M's campus today would still reveal college deans, an experiment station director, and an extension director. Nothing has changed in that regard. However, the underlying behavior of the university with respect to who administers it and who is served by it, the leadership styles of those in administrative positions, and the fundamental relationships leaders have with those who are in their charge are different from what they were forty years ago.

This book is about one of the differences. Specifically, it is about changes in leadership styles and principles that coincided with the other changes at A&M and that are relevant today.

The book is based on the academic life of Ed Hiler. As such, portions of it consist of his autobiographical reflections on life, learning, and leadership. In the spring of 1966, Ed became a fledgling faculty member in the Department of Agricultural Engineering. At that time the first major changes at the university were in full swing. Fresh out of graduate school with a new PhD in agricultural engineering from The Ohio State University, Ed first stepped onto campus already interested in leadership, his observation and problem-solving skills honed by training in science and engineering. So he was ideally set up to observe and understand the changes underway and to analyze their relationship to the leadership issues that occupy this book.

On another level, this is a history primer about Texas A&M and the Texas A&M University System over the last forty years. During that period, the system added new institutions and campuses in locations across Texas, increased the overall student population to become one of the largest and most diverse served by any system of higher education in North America, and managed the most complex operating budget of any system in Texas. It also boasted the second largest agricultural program in the world, and with its flagship institution Texas A&M University, came into the top tier of elite research institutions in the United States. It achieved international recognition. Organizations of any type serving any sector would be envious of such sustained growth and overall effectiveness. A&M's is a story worth telling.

But principally, this is a book about organization design and leadership. Forty years ago the four positions held by Ed Hiler when he retired were in the hands of four different rulers over four different fiefdoms. Ed was the first and only person to hold all four concurrently. Given the scope of the responsibilities inherent in these positions and the extent of accountability they required, it would have been impossible for one person to hold more than one of them and to lead in the top-down, command-control style that typified Texas A&M culture forty years ago. That Ed was able to lead all four organizations concurrently suggests the magnitude of the changes that had to be made in leadership styles and organization design and structure over the course of the years.

But if hierarchical, top-down, command-control leadership was unequal to the job, what was equal to it? The answer is collective leadership, and its story features prominently in our book.

Whether you come to this book out of curiosity about or friendship with Ed Hiler, out of interest in the history of Texas A&M, or out of needs arising from positions of leadership you may occupy in the non-profit sector or an academic institution, we hope you will find this a compelling story, one worth the time we have invested in telling it.


Collective Leadership

TOGETHER WE CAN analyzes leadership strategies for institutional change used throughout the Texas A&M University System during the 1965–2005 period. These were challenging times for the A&M System as it adapted to greater student diversity, higher demand for top-quality, post-secondary education opportunities, tougher challenges confronting the people of Texas as they pursued a sustainable path for future generations, and tighter budget considerations in a volatile economy. This focus on institutional sustainability provides a dynamic backdrop for what may be the book's most important message: how to unite people from a wide array of circumstances and focus their collective effort and wisdom on making a positive difference for themselves and the world around them.

In this respect, Together We Can is a manual about how to exercise leadership through a range of styles that promote organizational change. But there is more to it than that. Each year, thousands of articles and books are written about leadership; the vast majority, however, focus on the private sector. Scant few deal with the unique leadership challenges confronting nonprofit organizations. Together We Can addresses this shortfall.

Leadership is situational. However, despite the situation that prompts a certain style of leadership, the outcome is that something changes, be it opinions held, principles espoused, purposes declared, or behaviors exhibited. Change in a private sector entity seeks a better return on investment, whereas change in nonprofit organizations seeks to increase their level of service to the commonwealth. As a result, leadership strategies in the private sector are markedly different from those in the public sector. Together We Can examines successful leadership strategies in the context of nonprofit institutions and posits a framework within which different leadership styles are applied, depending on the circumstances warranting change.


A successful change strategy assists the evolution of leadership styles from a top-down, command-control approach to one characterized by highly networked, interdependent individuals. Together We Can asserts that regardless of the distance between the two extremes, they are bridged by a logical progression of leadership styles—from competitive to cooperative, then collaborative, and finally collective—that nonprofit organizations adopt when evolving in their missions to serve more effectively and efficiently. Let's take a closer look at these styles.

Competitive style: The dean calls a special meeting of the cabinet to address an impending budget crisis that will affect most departments in the college. Everyone comes to the table. It is a hierarchical relationship that drives this response. A department head who chooses neither to participate nor to be represented by an associate runs the risk of an adverse consequence for the department. Following the dean's budget meeting, department heads in their turn convene their faculties and staff members to consider the implications of the budget issues and to determine appropriate responses.

Such cascading, "command-control" behavior is the trademark of team structures. The leader sets performance expectations. People participate because they are obligated to perform in their jobs to the best of their abilities, carry out the missions of the team, and meet performance expectations. A person whose skills do not match the needs of the team or whose performance does not meet expectations is subject to being moved off the team and replaced by another who is a better fit. In this respect, team membership is competitive, and the leader plays a significant role in determining who is or is not on the team.

Cooperative style: A veteran member of a professional engineering society convenes a committee chartered to develop industry standards in response to a federally mandated regulation that affects the product-design specifications for numerous competitors. Key to the success of this initiative is the degree to which all affected industry members are represented. Everyone shows up wearing two hats: one as an employee of an organization whose interests he or she must represent, the other as a member of the professional society whose integrity he or she must preserve.

The leader is charged with the responsibility of respecting the double allegiance confronting each committee member, engaging each one's creativity and active involvement, and assuring that the standards are developed and enacted within the specified timeframe and with the approval of all who will be expected to honor them. Committee-member behavior is characterized by cooperation—a give-and-take approach that looks for solutions which allow participants to experience a "win-win" outcome for the organizations employing them and for the association or society providing them with a professional-community home. The effectiveness of the leader can be gauged by his or her ability to encourage and nurture the cooperative spirit required to meet different and oft en conflicting interests.

Collaborative style: The vice chancellor of a university system invites senior administrators from each of the member universities to consider how to better meet the demand for higher education when applications for admission to the flagship institution are increasing, qualified students are being turned away due to a cap on enrollment, and other universities in the system have some unfilled capacity. None of the institutions is at risk for staffing cuts or program elimination, and there are no announced incentives for any of the institutions to change what they are doing. Nevertheless, people give this issue serious consideration because they are educators, they see a better way, and they are collectively able to deliver an immediate and constructive response to the problem.

Although the vice chancellor sits at the system level, his position does not carry any special hierarchical rank over the university administrators. Without positional authority or an external mandate, all the members of the group, including the vice chancellor, are leaders on equal footing. Their common agenda is marked by their conviction that current conditions need to be addressed, their desire to do the right thing, and their commitment to collaborate so that a positive difference is made for the whole, independent of any direct return equal to or greater than what is invested by each.

Collective style: Students attend classes; form study groups; send text messages to one another; post on online forums; organize impromptu political statements on campus; develop new ways to communicate; experiment with alternative approaches to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities; share their results; invite others to participate, engaging faculty, administration, peers in other institutions, and friends and acquaintances scattered around the world; and mix, mingle, work alone, come together—they are the consummate nodes in vast social networks. As such they exhibit the core behaviors of those who are interconnected in dense relationship webs:

• They work openly so that they can see what others are doing and learn from one another.

• They work in parallel so that they can work on what is important to them, while others do the same.

• They work asynchronously and yet collaboratively and coordinate activities conducted by numerous participants in different locations.

The advent of collective leadership goes hand in hand with the increasing capability of technology to establish far-flung networks and extended virtual interrelationships. We are no longer bound by the physical confines of an auditorium or classroom to add new knowledge and to learn from one another. Team or community members need no longer be collocated in order to work together effectively. In addition, these vast virtual social networks promote individual responsibility for the work we do and the reputations we achieve.

This accountability amid the growing reality that everything is connected to everything else gives rise to collective leadership in its purest form; indeed, it encourages participatory democracy and natural capitalism to take deeper root. Participants in the virtual networks can represent themselves as individuals and not as agents or affiliates of any organization. In this networking realm motivation comes from independent investigation of the truth in the larger world, not from constricted views, irrational passions, expectations of others, or herd mentality.

These patterns of collective leadership set the stage for open development, peer production, mass collaboration, and customer-driven innovation in both private-and public-sector settings. The list of organizations using collective leadership to those ends attests to the power of collective leadership to initiate action and maintain momentum. It includes, among many others, Linux, Wikipedia, and RepRap.


Excerpted from Together We Can by Edward A. Hiler, Steven L. Bosserman. Copyright © 2011 Edward A. Hiler and Steven L. Bosserman. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 A Journey of a Thousand Miles Steven L. Bosserman 1

2 Collective Leadership Steven L. Bosserman 5

3 Starting Out: Family Background Edward A. Hiler 12

4 The Early Years, 1939-1966 Edward A. Hiler's Steven L. Bosserman 19

5 In Front of the Class: The Faculty-Only Years, 1966-1974 Edward A. Hiler's Steven L. Bosserman 29

6 Early Leadership Years: Department Head, 1974-1988 Edward A. Hiler's Steven L. Bosserman 40

7 New and Expanding Horizons: The A&M System Office Years, 1989-1992 Edward A. Hiler's Steven L. Bosserman 51

8 Leading the Agriculture Program, 1992-2004 Edward A. Hiler's Steven L. Bosserman 65

9 The Ellison Chair in International Floriculture, 2005-2007 Edward A. Hiler's Steven L. Bosserman 86

Notes 97

Index 101


Runaway Bay, TX

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Together We Can: Pathways to Collective Leadership in Agriculture at Texas A&M 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Went to closest unoccupied bed and put his stuff in his trunk and crashed on the bed dreaming of dating a girl. For he lived so far out in the country, hed never known a girl his age.