Leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives. –Max De Pree
Greenleaf writes: Trustees can become the persons who are trusted partly because they are seen as being unusually sensitive to the corrupting influences of power and who are an effective bulwark against the abuses of power that are so common today. They would be the people, among all others, who would insist that power be used to serve and not to hurt.
Trustees, then, quite apart from their governing role in the specific institutions they oversee, would as individual citizens, become a conspicuous leaven in a society that is much too disposed to violence and in which a crippling low level of trust prevails. Where trust is required, they would be the first ones turned to because they are the ones most likely to be trusted – trusted to serve and not to hurt.
It seems to me that many trustees ‘see’ and ‘know about’ the ‘corrupting influences of power.’ And as we know, ‘seeing’ and ‘having knowledge’ does not change anything. How many trustees are actually ‘bulwarks against the abuses of power’? How many trustees take advantage of their position as a trustee and actually abuse their power? Greenleaf noted in 1970 – when he wrote this essay – that abuses of power were ‘common today.’ Do those who are entrusted with power today demonstrate more or less abuse of their power? Law Enforcement comes to my mind this morning.
How many trustees today ‘insist’ that ‘power be used to serve’? Who, or what, are trustees choosing to serve? This, it seems to me, is the question. As the great poet Maya Angelou noted: ‘We all must be serving someone or something.’
What is the result of our serving? Do those served grow as person? In serving how do we cause harm (as imperfect human beings trustees will cause harm); the harm trustees cause is at time unintentional and is at times intentional (as when they determine that in order for the organization to survive some employees will have to be laid off – this is what I call a ‘Harm-Harm Dilemma’).
Greenleaf challenges trustees when he asks how many of them will ‘become a conspicuous leaven in a society’? How many trustees do you know, gentle reader, who have indeed become a ‘conspicuous leaven’? Are we a more violent society than we were when Greenleaf wrote these words in 1970? On the surface it seems as if we are (sadly, it seems we do accept violence as a norm today). Do we trust less today than we did in 1970? My hunch is that we are not as trusting today. Are trustees more trusted today than they were in 1970 – I am not so sure; I am thinking of Law Enforcement again.
Do we, today, turn to trustees when we seek out folks who we deem to be trust-worthy? When we need someone to serve – and not harm – do we turn to trustees? Who is holding in trust for us?
Responsible people build, they do not destroy. They are moved by the heart. –Robert K. Greenleaf