Greenleaf served large institutions and his hope for creating more serving institutions and for creating a more just and caring society resided with these large institutions. All of the large institutions that Greenleaf served had Boards of Directors. This is also true today. In addition, many smaller for-profit and not-for-profit institutions also have Boards of Directors. So Greenleaf’s words that follow apply, I think, to all Boards of Directors (or Boards of Trustees).

Greenleaf writes: …if a strong board sets distinction as its goal, invests the time and energy, organizes itself for the task, and stays with it, distinction is practically assured. The place to start is with an unequivocal trustee obligation to deliver a new, more serving institution.

The most important qualification for trustees should be that they care for the institution, which means that they care for all of the people the institution touches, and that they are determined to make their caring count.

I had my first board experience in 1969 and I began to work more intensely with boards in 1984. Sadly, the vast majority of boards that I have directly encountered and have learned about have not been ‘distinctive.’ Some have believed they were and after some serious investigation discovered that they were not; others knew they were not and chose not to do the hard work required for them to become so; and others knew they were not and chose to accept ‘their fate’ – mediocrity is the best they believed they could achieve.

It is important to note that many of these boards were composed of ‘good people who were well-intentioned.’ ‘Being good and well-intentioned’ is not enough to ensure ‘distinction.’ As Greenleaf notes, achieving ‘distinction’ requires a goal/commitment, an investment of time and energy, ‘organization’ and commitment over time (‘staying power’). Few board members are willing to give all of this – the following is a common mantra from the board members of not-for-profit institutions: ‘I am a volunteer!’ (‘Volunteer Board Members’ are not willing to give the time, it seems). Another frequent hindrance occurs because a board member serves on a number of boards – this person is spread too thin.

Greenleaf reminds us just how counter-cultural he was when he noted that the most important qualification for a trustee is that he/she ‘cares’ for ‘all of the people the institution touches.’ He ups the ante when he adds: ‘they are determined to make their caring count.’ The most effective board members I have ever met were those who had a passion for the institution and who deeply cared (for the institution, its members and those the institution served). I experienced too many boards that became entrenched in mediocrity because new board members were committed to padding their resumes rather than caring. Here are two questions to consider: ‘Do you care?’ ‘How do you ensure that your caring counts?’

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