UNDERSTANDING…A PRIME TRUSTEE OBLIGATION

Greenleaf writes: Trustees, administrators, staff, and various outside constituencies all have power. Any one of them may persuade – by articulation or example or both. Having knowledge gives them power. Being persuasive gives them power. Setting a conspicuous example gives them power. They may also overtly compel, if they have authorized sanctions at their disposal; or they may covertly manipulate. Each of them also has power because he or she has unauthorized sanctions available in the form of options to give or withhold effort or support in ways that give him or her some coercive power over the others. The power structure of any institution is a complex network of forces, both seen and unseen. The understanding of its intricacies and close oversight to prevent abuses is a prime trustee obligation.

In my unabridged dictionary the first definition of ‘power’ is: ‘One’s ability to act.’ We all have the ability to act – we have choice. I have amended this definition a bit; my definition of ‘power’ is: ‘One’s ability to act rooted in moral reflection’ [I have a longer definition but this will suffice for now].

If I am going to be response-able, responsible and accountable then it seems to me that ‘moral reflection’ prior to my acting and after I have acted would serve me (and others) well. Greenleaf notes that we all have the power to ‘persuade’ (persuade = using logic and reason to convince the other). Each of us also has ‘influential power.’ We influence others via questions. The questions are rooted in the belief that the other has insight and wisdom that questions can tap into and call forth. Greenleaf also notes that we ‘persuade’ – and I would add ‘influence’ – via our example. Too often I forget this; I don’t think I am alone in this ‘forgetting.’

Not all of us have the leverage that enables us to coerce others nor do we all have the ability to manipulate others. However, as Greenleaf notes, each of us has a ‘negative power’ – we can subvert, we can undermine, we can withhold support or services, and we can disrupt in many ways. My hunch is that each of us has experienced this type of ‘power’ and my hunch is that each of us has at some time in our lives exercised this type of power. We also have the power of influence, via our questions and our behavior (think: What our behavior ‘models’ for others).

Finally, Greenleaf notes that every institution develops its own ‘power structure’ – ‘a complex network of forces, both seen and unseen.’ Again, I have a sense that each of us has experienced this ‘complex network’ (think ‘Family’ for example). Once again – as he has in many of his writings – Greenleaf says that a primary task, in this case for Trustees, is to first ‘understand’ this ‘network of forces.’ Anyone who has attempted to do so knows the challenge involved in doing so. THEN, ‘close oversight’ in order to ‘prevent abuses’ is required. These two charges, understanding and close oversight, are ‘prime obligations’ for Trustees.

How many Trustees – individually and collectively – actually embrace these two obligations? How many actually view them as ‘primary obligations’? How many leaders, followers and organizations embrace these two obligations?

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