Called to Serve: The Error of Leadership Indifference

By John Pearson

Note: This is No. 26 in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board.

Max De Pree: “Trust doesn’t arrive in our possession easily or cheaply, nor does it guarantee to stay around.”

Commenting on what the board owes the CEO, De Pree packs a page with his plain-spoken color commentary on the elements of trust. New CEOs, he reminds us, don’t show up with a built-in trust factor. Ditto board members. Board members owe their CEO full trust—but board members must earn that trust by keeping promises.

I’ve endured endless committee reports over the years and occasionally—when pressed—committee chairs bend the truth to protect their reputations.
• “Luis was late on his report.” (He wasn’t.)
• “We’ll have that done by next Friday.” (Not going to happen.)
• “Oh. I misunderstood.” (She understood completely.)

“Trust requires respect,” adds De Pree. “Trust multiples with truth—without adjectives and not subject to redefinition by cornered leaders.”

The author references an entire chapter on trust in his book,
Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community. It’s worth the read—especially the baseball story of the distracted second baseman who allowed a runner to steal second, resulting in two errors on one play.

“After a few minutes the official scorer, not knowing exactly how to score such a play, announced over the public address system that he had decided to write off the second error to ‘defensive indifference.’”

De Pree then asks, “How many errors in organizations are due to leadership indifference?"

Every board member should read the trust chapter in Leading Without Power. De Pree: “To tell capable people how to do their job, even innocently or with the best intentions, erodes trust. Such ‘advice’ becomes a sign of disrespect for followers. How can I trust you if you believe you are better at my job than I am?”

Whew! That hits home! None of us board members have ever implied we could do the CEO’s job better. Yikes.

Read Matthew 10 and then note this: after Jesus gave the Twelve their assignments, he didn’t pack a bag and go with them. He trusted them, on their own and in their own styles, to proclaim the Good News. Powerful!

BOARD EXERCISE: Click here to visit the “
Quotable Quotes” on trust and download and distribute the stunning list of 101 quotations on trust from Dan Busby’s book, TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness. Ask each board member to read their favorite quotation—and explain why.


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.