Greenleaf writes: Trustees carry a critical leadership role that cannot be dispensed with.  Because theirs is not the active leadership their influence (or lack of it) is long run.  But it is, in the end, absolutely determining.  Therefore the most exacting requirements of servant-leader should be placed on trustees.  It matters not what is the age, color, sex, economic status, or political persuasion of the trustee.  There should be only one requirement: is he an able, dedicated servant-leader who will work hard to assure distinguished performance of the institution in trust.

Consider that there are two types of trustees.  There are trustees that serve on a ‘Board of Trustees’ (or ‘Directors’).  These Boards are legal entities and have fiduciary-legal responsibilities (among other legal and non-legal responsibilities).  For example, large corporations and not-for-profit organizations are required by law to have such Boards.

There is a second type of trustee.  A small for-profit organization might develop a ‘council of trustees.’  60-70% of the trustees are employees and 30-40% are ‘outsiders.’

Both types of trustees are called to ‘hold in trust’ for all.  Although they might have significant authority their main intervention is ‘influence’ (they strive to avoid coercion, manipulation and too much persuasion).  They influence via inquiry.  In order to influence via inquiry they must have access to the information they need and they must become intimately familiar with the information.  The most powerful questions they can ask are questions rooted in a place of not knowing.  They seek, first, to understand.

Both types of trustees are also entrusted with a mandate: to assure distinguished performance of the institution in trust.

I have had the privilege of being associated with a variety of boards for more than 33 years.  Boards who ‘fail’ fail because they do not ‘hold in trust for all,’ because they do not seek to ‘influence,’ and because they do not ‘assure distinguished performance’ (of themselves and of the organization).   In Greenleaf’s terms, the trustees are not ‘servants-first.’

In addition to these challenges, one of the most difficult challenges for both of these types of trustees involves a ‘trustee-evaluation.’  This evaluation is two-fold.  Each trustee engages in an evaluation process and the board/council engages in an evaluation of the board/council.  I have known very few boards/councils that have engaged in both types of evaluation.

How many trustees (individuals and boards) are committed to ensuring distinguished performance of each trustee and of the board as a whole?  How many trustees (individuals and boards) are committed to ensuring distinguished performance of the organization and of the organization’s top administrator (the administrator that the board hires)?

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