Field Notes - Moving from Hierarchy to Collaboration

August 9, 2021
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
  • field notes

"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at

By Amy E. Harth, Ph.D., Assistant National Dean, Accreditation and Academic Quality, DeVry University


“It’s not about supplication; it’s about power. It’s not about asking, it’s about demanding. It’s not about convincing those who are currently in power, it’s about changing the very face of power itself.”

– Kimberlé Crenshaw

Leadership is about power. The best leadership is about distributing power broadly, ensuring that everyone impacted can effect meaningful change in their lives and communities. People can lead in many ways - by influencing, educating, inspiring, and implementing among others. 

I was recently promoted to a management role, something I have worked toward for several years. Part of what I am looking forward to about this role is the opportunity to demonstrate leadership by sharing power with my team. My goal is to elevate their leadership and establish a non-hierarchical, collaborative style of working together to accomplish shared goals, much as my own manager has done. In doing this, I recognize that leadership is not limited to the management of people. Furthermore, crafting a non-hierarchical approach to management requires intentionality. 

My approach integrates a focus on collaboration, interpersonal awareness, and understanding of the history of hierarchical management and its problems. This history includes the management practices that have connections to slavery and scientific management. In an excerpt of her book Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management in the Boston Review, Caitlin Rosenthal explains these connections. She notes that practices previously attributed to scientific management from the early 1900s were also present in plantation economies, such as the idea of tasks, which were assigned to enslaved people through a quota system and later used by Henry Laurence Gantt, popularly known for the Gantt chart. 

Management of enslaved people was, by definition, about control. In factory work, scientific management introduced a high level of control as something positive. Robert Franklin Hoxie, special investigator to the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations in 1914-1915, noted workers concerns about constant surveillance, including reduced creativity and innovation, increased accidents and health problems, and the power of the manager to use information against them (Scientific Management and Labor, pg. 17). 

As I learn more about the violent and repressive history of management practices, three principles guide my work in collaborative non-hierarchical management to counter these legacies. 

Fostering Mutualism

In biology, there are several forms of symbiotic relationships. Some of these are detrimental, such as parasitic relationships. The most helpful symbiotic relationship is mutualism. In mutualism, both the dependent and the host benefit from the relationship. Managers and their teams are both dependents and hosts. Managers depend on their teams to accomplish work. Without the team, managers cannot be successful. More often, we think of the ways in which team members require managers to advance their careers and have the information necessary to do their work. While managers are important to each person’s career, it is equally important that managers recognize their dependence on their teams and foster mutualism. In acknowledging this relationship and working to break down the one-directional nature of the relationship, the team can create a collaborative relationship that best supports each person’s creativity and leadership qualities. 

Achieving Equity

When Kimberlé Crenshaw says, “it’s not about asking, it’s about demanding,” the demand is for full inclusion and equity. We get to her intersectional feminist vision by being purposeful. As a disabled, queer manager, I am changing the face of power as well as what power looks and sounds like. I look forward to working with my team to expand their presence and impact. Equity is about changing systemic inequitable practices, tailoring our behavior and environments to the needs of each person, and creating a culture in which everyone can thrive. One critical way we create equity is by asking people what they need to be successful and ensuring those needs are met. 

Going Beyond Value Extraction

If we believe, as many us of in education do, that education is about more than a path to a career, then we need to exemplify this in our management practices. Continued education can help prepare us for participation in society including our civic life, interpersonal relationships, and personal growth. These necessary skills interact when we lead teams. Instead of looking at people as tools to create value, non-hierarchical management looks at people as inherently valuable. By recognizing that it is people in which we should invest through our work, we can pour into each other rather than depleting each other. Our collaboration gives us the power to lead together.

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