I am the message. –Gandhi

Greenleaf writes: A second ambiguity is the disability that goes with competence.  …A critical disability that goes with expanding competence is the inability (or unwillingness) to examine the assumptions by which one operates.  …Very few people, as individuals or as parts of the operating mechanism of large institutions, can acquire a high level of specialized competence and keep a perspective on what is going on that tells them how good that competence is. . . 

Trustees can help decide which assumptions are still valid and which should be modified or abandoned, and what new ones should be postulated. 

 Assumptions that guide operating competence are the major stuff of which goals are made, and trustees are best positioned to question, to originate, or to affirm these assumptions.

Each of us develops and then integrates powerful assumptions that become ‘deep and tacit.’  They reside in our pre-conscious and sub-conscious and they guide us in many ways.  They help us define ‘our reality.’  They inform us as to what is ‘real.’  Thus, we behave as if our assumptions truly reflect reality.  If I ‘assume’ that people are inherently ‘evil’ I will behave quite differently from the person who ‘assumes’ that people are inherently ‘good.’  If I assume that ‘life is a struggle’ I will respond to life’s ‘curve balls’ differently than the person who assumes that ‘life is an unpredictable journey.’

A potential gift that Trustees can bring to an organization is the gift of serving the organization so that ‘assumptions’ are uncovered (the Senior Leader has them as does the Organization itself).  Of course, each of the Trustees and the Board as an entity also bring with them deep tacit assumptions and these influence how they view the organization, its purpose, its vision, its mission and its goals.  The Trustee’s deep tacit assumptions might hinder his or her ability to help the Senior Leader and the Organization discern their deep tacit assumptions thus it is crucial that the Trustee and the Board uncover and evaluate their own deep tacit assumptions.

Deep tacit assumptions inform, frame and significantly determine what an organization chooses as its purpose, vision, mission, and goals.  Theoretically, it is easier for a Board of Trustees to help the Senior Leader and the Organization uncover and evaluate the efficacy of the assumptions they hold for they are not ‘in the organization’.  I suggest that the initial process of assumption discernment occurs within and among the Trustees themselves (as individuals and as a board).  If they are able to successfully engage this process they are then more prepared to help the Senior Leader and the Organization engage an assumption discerning process.

To give you, gentler reader, a sense of how challenging this assumption discernment process is I invite you to spend some time uncovering some of your own deep tacit assumptions.  Here are some guiding statements that might help you; simply complete each statement as specifically and clearly as you can:  Life is a. . .     Faith-traditions that are different from mine are. . .    Poor people are. . .      The world is a. . .     Environmentalists are. . .     Politicians are . . .   Republicans are. . .   Democrats are. . .  

Now, you can give these to someone who knows you well and invite them to complete them AS IF THEY WERE YOU…. Then you can match your responses with their responses and you will begin to have some insight into some of your deep tacit assumptions.

Seek first to understand. –Robert K. Greenleaf


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