Sometimes I read a book or a chapter and find that there is truly nothing new under the sun. Although this chapter suited the previous statement, there were some statements that would encourage a revolution of expectations. This chapter is dedicated to the Institutions of our world. Three stood out for Greenleaf; business, the university, and the church.

The author self-confessed that these three were natural for him to write about due to his broad and deep experiences within them all yet these three institutions stand as the bastions of principles, attitudes, and activities.It should come as no surprise that changes to our societies have often begun inside one or more of these institutions. As someone who is employed in the university and volunteers in the church, this chapter was both a pleasure and a challenge to read.

Some quotes I’ll be thinking about this week:

  • to be a lone chief atop a pyramid is abnormal and corrupting – pg 76
  • if the top post…is filled by an operator who is not sharply aware of the need for adequate conceptual influence, the institution does not have a bright long future – no matter how bright the top may be. – pg 81
  • legitimacy starts with trust – no matter the competence or the intentions, without trust nothing happens – pg 83
  • a critical mass [is needed] of gifted and dedicated conceptual minds, men and women who have a discernible context, and who, with the help of and able staff leader, will find a rewarding career in making university institution building their goal. – pg 92
  • leadership by persuasion is the way to build – everywhere. – pg. 98
  • A top leadership team with a Primus in our major institutions will grow more leaders faster than any other course available to us – pg. 102

Key Points for a Revolution of Expectations

  • the chapter is primarily targeted at three institutions (Large in Nature) – churches, universities, and businesses
  • the trustee in either institution is charged with the mandate of ‘dynamic obligation’ – that insistent force that obliges the institution to move forward into the distinction as servant.
  • views the trustee as the prime mover in Institutional Regeneration
  • questionable performance of major institutions is not the result of incompetence, poor motives, laziness from administration or leadership – rather it’s an inadequate concept of trust and a failure to accept the more demanding path of distinction.
  • draws a line between the role of administrator and leader – formal and informal – operational and conceptual
  • operational talent carries the institution toward its objective
  • conceptual talent sees the whole in the perspective of history – past and future
  • conceptuals are not synonymous with intellectual or theoretical – at their best, they are intensely practical. They are also effective persuaders and relationship builders.
  • contrasts the forms of centralized and decentralized forms of governance – first use of primus inter pares
  • the basis for trust is the feeling of being genuinely served by someone else

Principles for a Revolution of Expectations

  1. when trustees cease to demand distinction of their institutions, those institutions sink into merely ordinary performance
  2. when the trustee sets distinction as the goal and backs it up with organization, grit, and energy – the distinction is practically assured
  3. building a board of trustees to represent constituencies in order to create balance dilutes trust
  4. the best way to sharpen the judgment of a leader is through the interaction of others who are free to challenge and criticize
  5. the optimal balance between the operational and the conceptual is one of mutual understanding, respect, dependence upon each other without dominating one over the other
  6. a critical trustee function is to identify those with exceptional talent as operators and conceptualizers and to strike a balance on the team.

Lesson Points / Challenges for a Revolution of Expectations

  • challenge for me in the context of the public sector. Multiple union locals in our environment
  • lack of resources, increases in levels of mediocrity, decrease in levels of engagement
  • I built a team in the past comprised of constituency representation. It has certainly been an exercise in futility. The felt need of service is very low compared to the attitudes of resignation especially as it pertains to engaging in future planning/strategy.
  • a council of equals (primus inter pares) would multiply the number of people available to lead by persuasion.
  • effectiveness begins in the definition of the institution or department
  • defining the institution or department and stating its goals and purposes is probably the most critical task confronting leaders today. Every institutional decision rests on this cornerstone
  • building trust must come first. How does one do this when there is so much non-trust or mistrust due to heavy historical burdens of abused and broken trust?
  • Someone must paint the dream of something different – something better – something that is just out of reach. A dream for distinction.
  • How to build a team of leaders with a primus where the centralized leadership model has been the norm for so many years.

The Internal Revolution

One major take away for me was the contrast between the centralized and decentralized form of leading institutions (teams). Greenleaf suggests that a primus inter pares (a leader amoung equals) is the best way to lead and succeed. Although I deeply resonated with this principle, the rising challenge for application will be a stark contrast to the command-control style of leadership so prevalent in the trades. Yet there is hope.

With future generations like the millennials and now the iGen (born 1995 – 2015) the concept of primus inter pares just might have a fighting chance. Yet, as with any kind of revolution, there are always two sides (in this case there may be more) and there are always casualties. This struggle may be more internal than we realize.

for this series may vis facare (growing stronger by doing) yield to primus inter pares (a leader amoung equals)


Tomorrow on the Guild Podcast – Chad Flinn – APP2CEO