NOTE: Given the importance of this challenge I will be devoting this post and my next post to exploring it.

Greenleaf writes: A third ambiguity is the need for a healthy tension between belief and criticism as part of the dynamism that makes a high-performing institution.  Operating officers and staffs need to be mostly believing.  Trustees need to be mostly critical.

Administrators and staffs need to be mostly believing because the morale of those who do the work of the institution needs to be sustained, and part of the trust of all constituencies rests on a communicated belief in the rightness of what is being done.

Trustees need to be mostly critical because it is the scrutiny of a critical attitude that keeps administrators and staffs on a true course.  Part of the basis of trust by all constituencies is an awareness that a critical watch is being kept.  It is a sounder arrangement for the critical watch to be kept by those in whom ultimate power is vested, those who control the use of power by requiring a strict accountability for its use.

How many times in the past 30+ years have Trustees failed in their charge of being the ‘critical eye’ for the institution?  How many times have internal whistle-blowers come to their aid?  How many times do trustees, administrators and staff actually ask: ‘What is the rightness to what we are doing?’  This is not an easy question to embrace and explore.  ‘Rightness’ can be interpreted ‘ethically’ – and in our culture ‘ethics’ is more likely than not to be equated with ‘being legal.’  ‘Rightness’ can also be interpreted ‘morally’ – which considerably ups the ante.  My experience is that trustees, administrators and staffs do not like ‘moral’ questions – as in, ‘Is what you are choosing to do morally right?’  Gentle reader, you can test this out for yourself by simply asking this question of trustees, administrators and staffs.

Trustees are called to be ‘critical thinkers’ – it is easy to criticize; on the other hand it is a challenge for most of us to develop our critical thinking capacities.  Trustees must be rooted in skepticism and inquiry not in ‘surety’ and ‘advocacy.’  Trustees are ‘entrusted’ with the well-being of the organization; they are ultimately responsible and response-able for the organization’s health and performance.  And as Greenleaf notes, Trustees are also response-able for how ‘power’ is distributed to (that is, delegated) and employed by the senior administrator.  How many boards of trustees actually have a conversation about ‘power’ with the senior administrator? Not many I think.  How often do trustees ‘support’ the senior administrator’s use of ‘power’ without holding him or her accountable for its use?

How many trustees hold themselves accountable for a senior administrator’s misuse of the power delegated to him or her?  How many trustees simply ‘believe’ the senior administrator rather than think critically about what the senior administrators tells them?  By the by, critical thinking is an interdependent process involving the good thinking of the trustees and the senior administrator.  The more trustees serve on a board the more difficult this critical thinking process becomes [consider that a board consisting of more than 12 trustees enhances the challenge when it comes to engaging in a critical thinking process].

The insecure leader will interpret critical thinking as criticism. –Andy Stanley

[To be continued…]

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