GREENLEAF’S ‘IF,’ PART I…

Greenleaf writes: If trustees posit a role for themselves that will enable them to be influential in raising the performance of the total institution to the optimal, they confront a difficult problem: how to carry that role ‘as a group.’  It is one thing to carry a trustee role as an individual.  It is quite another to function effectively as a part of a group process. 

…a trustee board will do well to search for a ‘coach’ who will help them learn an appropriate process so that they will become an effective collegial group whose judgment deserves to be respected as superior wisdom in matters which trustees should consider and decide.  Since no group will ever achieve this fully, the coaching process will be continuous.

‘IF’: Greenleaf’s ‘If’ is a huge ‘IF’ for boards – What is the ‘role’ that a board  ability to ‘raise the performance of the total institution to the optimal?’  Who defines ‘optimal’?  Even when a board agrees on the responses to these question they are then faced with a daunting challenge: ‘How to carry that role as a GROUP.’ 

Our culture is rooted in the ‘individual’ and recognizes and rewards ‘individual’ effort; we are not a culture that is rooted in the ‘community’ (or the group or the team).  Most board members have spent their life developing their individual abilities, skills, and talents – they have not spent much time (if any) developing the ability, skill and talent to function well as part of a group [consider: one of the reasons Boards vote rather than seek Greenleaf’s ‘one voice’ via consensus is the consequence of emphasizing the individual over the community/team/board].

Greenleaf experienced many boards for many years and his observation carries more than a little insight into this idea.  His solution involves a board searching for a ‘coach’ to help them learn to function as a ‘group’ – and to function at a high level.  Board members that I have come to know during the past 35 years support the idea that the wisdom of the group is more powerful than the wisdom of the wisest person AND they still have difficulty when it comes to taping into the wisdom of the group. 

A person who is skilled in helping groups ‘think’ together might well be a good ‘coach’ for a board.  Consider that since boards are ‘individuals’ writ large that it will not be easy for a board to learn to learn and think together.  Greenleaf is probably correct when he notes that because of the ‘strength of the individual,’ the coaching process will need to become a continuous process. 

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