Gentle reader, I refer you to PART I in order to read Greenleaf’s quote; for our purposes this morning I will note the last part of his quote, the part I will comment on today. Greenleaf wrote: (5) because trustees are not colleagues who may have contending interests, they can function creatively as a group on issues that internal constituencies may not be able to resolve; (6) trustees are better able to have a sense of history, past-present-future, and therefore are better able to hold the institution’s vision and keep it steady, and they may better see the path to survival and long service; (7) trustees can keep the concept of ultimate purpose in sharp focus and hold it up as a guide at times when the insiders are hard pressed to stay afloat from day to day.
How often do trustees actually have ‘contending interests’? My experience these past forty years is ‘quite often.’ Thus their ability to ‘function creatively’ regarding issues that ‘internal constituencies may not be able to resolve’ is limited. How often do individual trustees take sides with the organization’s internal contending parties? How often do trustees fail to speak with ‘one voice’ and instead each trustee brings his/her individual voice to the internal contending parties? One of the ongoing challenges for boards of trustees is to always ‘speak with one voice.’ For anyone who has ever served on a board that espouses the ‘one voice’ commitment, he/she knows of what I speak.
How many trustees actually seek to have a real sense of history – ‘past-present-future’? How many trustees are able to ‘hold’ the organization’s vision – how many actually know the vision? How many trustees actually ‘see’ the same path the organization is traveling? When I interview individual trustees I find that there is significant disagreement as to the path they believe the organization is traveling (or should travel). How many trustees are focused more on the long-term than on the short-term (administrators and managers are to focus primarily on the short-term – the Mission); trustees are charged and entrusted with focusing primarily on the long-term (the Vision). Administrators and Managers are charged with ‘maintaining’ and Trustees are charged with evolutionary change. Together they hold the tension that exists between maintaining and evolving-changing.
How many trustees can name the ‘ultimate purpose’ – Why does this organization exist? What are the needs that exist in the world that this organization addresses? Trustees might ask: If this organization did not exist would we create it (that is, the needs would demand that we do so)? When trustees make trustee decisions how often do they hold up the ‘Purpose’ as a major guideline that helps them decide for or against the decision?
I am thinking of a current board that is seeking to replace a president who is retiring at the end of next year. They seem to be more interested in hiring a ‘name’ rather than in taking the time to determine the needs the organization has going forward (say looking out 3-5 years) and then finding the best person to help address those needs. The ‘purpose’ for them seems to be hiring a ‘name’ rather than emerging the organization’s and the ‘world’s needs’ so that the ‘needs’ become the purpose; the hiring of the ‘name’ does not become the purpose.