Nelson W. Coulter: rancher, educator, musician, entrepreneur, coach, mentor, consultant, and professor

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For those who choose the demanding but rewarding path of servant leadership, one of the most challenging tasks we face is to understand the concept of interconnectedness. The most effective and influential leaders have developed the ability to see, and to operate in ,both the macro and the micro, simultaneously. This mastery is usually manifested in direct proportion to their understanding of the complex web of interdependency and interconnectedness of the myriad of structures, processes, and people that compose the working parts of the organizations they lead.

Organizations resemble greatly the wholeness of a tree.

The natural tendency is to think of a tree simply – as a noun, made up of nouns, such as the trunk, branches, leaves, and roots. In reality, however, a tree is a verb, a complex set of structures, processes, and elements (both living and non-living) that are enmeshed in a dynamic, beautiful, and magical dance. When all the leaves, the branches, the trunk, the xylem, the phloem, the minerals, the photosynthesis, the water, the fungal net, the microbial communities… (this list goes on and on) are in sync and rhythm, the result is a beautiful and self-sustaining organism, with each “player” acting its part in perfect harmony.

Organizations should be thought of in the same light. Rich, healthy, and vibrant organizations are the product of that same kind of interconnected harmony that exists in a healthy tree. In viewing organizations in this way, we can see patterns and coherent webs as they emerge, extend, and grow. What we don’t see is the kind of hierarchical, linear, and contrived structures we do in organizational charts and chains of command.

To be strong servant-leaders we must see, and attend to, the whole and the parts, concurrently. And, we must become relationship experts as part and parcel of our work.

The crafters of Advanced Educational Leadership (AEL) recognized and implemented this understanding of interconnectedness and interdependence into the AEL tools that will be used to train school leaders in Texas for years to come. The five themes and the seven strands of AEL have been masterfully interwoven into a tapestry of necessary knowledge, skills, and ways of thinking. Even the AEL conceptual graphic representation depicts the underlying premise of interconnectedness and non-linearity.

Finally, to extend the tree analogy just once more. We cannot understand a tree through the lens of only one academic discipline. To understand trees deeply we must understand dendrology, ecology, hydrology, biology, biochemistry, entomology, geology, pedology, and a host of other –ologies. Likewise, to be the most effective servant-leaders, we must be on a constant path of personal and professional learning across a broad range of disciplines in order to better understand the very organizations in whose health and wellbeing we have been entrusted.

What a learning journey it is!


Dr. Coulter has coached, taught, and been published in many settings. He has served in public schools of all shapes, sizes, and contexts, and at the University of Texas at Austin and Wayland Baptist University. His most cherished titles are the ones not attached to career identity: son, husband, dad, and granddad. Connect with and contact Nelson at

Monday, October 19, 2015