GREENLEAF’S ‘IF,’ PART II. . .

IF trustees posit a role for themselves. . .-Robert K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf writes: Engaging a coach to help trustees to operate by a process that favors that optimal performance serves to acknowledge that a conscious learning process is accepted, that trustee performance will always fall short of perfection, but that the full obligation of trust calls for a constant striving for perfection.

…The primary aim of the coach is to facilitate consensus – achieving one mind.  The effective trustee group is not merely one that hears all the arguments and then votes.  Rather, it reaches a consensus – a group judgment that will be accepted as superior wisdom.  Without the acceptance of all constituencies that trustee judgment is superior wisdom there is little leadership possible for trustees. 

…There is very little sustained performance at the level of excellence – of any kind anywhere – without continuous coaching.  Since trustees have the obligation to monitor the performance of the institution, and since trustees are the court of last resort, trustees who want to do the best they can will provide for the monitoring of their own work.  And this is how they will learn.

I find Greenleaf’s idea/conclusion quite intriguing: employing a coach is one way that trustees demonstrate that a ‘conscious learning process is accepted.’  I had the privilege of being a ‘coach’ to one board for thirteen years (I called it being a ‘thought-partner’ to the trustees).  Thus far I have never learned of another board that retained a coach on an ongoing basis; certainly not for thirteen years. 

I have known boards who espoused ‘consensus’ and I have known boards that espoused ‘majority rule’ via voting.  Consensus is difficult to achieve for it takes time, energy, and superb facilitation.  Board Chairs generally view themselves as the facilitator when it comes to achieving consensus – too often they are not adept at facilitating.  For some reason boards do not choose either the trustee who is skilled at facilitation or retain a skilled facilitator as they strive to achieve consensus.  As I have experienced trustees who espoused a consensus model I found that they did not understand the concept and/or they did not have the skilled facilitator needed in order to help them achieve consensus. 

Greenleaf’s conclusion that ‘sustained performance’ is not possible ‘without continuous coaching’ is a conclusion that does not seem to be embraced by trustees.  Trustees, I have experienced, do not want their work to be monitored.  Many trustees are executives or presidents or CEOs or Executive Directors and they are not used to having their work ‘monitored’ and so it makes sense to me that as trustees they would not consider retaining a coach in order to have their work monitored (where I have suggested such a role I have been responded to with hearty resistance). 

Greenleaf concludes this piece with: And this is how they will learn.  Since trustees do not retain coaches is the implication that they will not learn (or is it that they will not learn as much as they could)? 

Experience plus Reflection is the learning. –Charles Handy

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