by Harry Banks, January 18, 2015:    My mechanic acts like he owns my car and I’m allowed to drive it… If  and only if – I take care of it properly.

I don’t know if that is because earlier in his career he was a fleet mechanic for a car rental agency or because he is a personal friend.  Except that any of my friends who I send to him come back and tell me he treats them all the same way.  And when I stop by he talks about my friends and their vehicles like they have become part of his family.  Actually, I feel very privileged to have a mechanic who takes such a personal interest in my vehicle.

The idea of ownership is kind of interesting.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines “ownership” as

“the collection of rights allowing one to use and enjoy property, including the right to convey it to others.  Ownership implies the right to possess a thing, regardless of any actual or constructive control.  Ownership rights are general, permanent, and inheritable.”

It also goes on to further define ownership with several qualifiers such as “contingent,” “corporal,” “joint” and more…   It does not define “assumed ownership”…

For the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to provide leadership to and participate with a governance board which uses the John Carver Policy Governance® model of governance.  It’s my first encounter with this form of governance and I’ve had to do a little hustle to pick up the pace and understand some of the principles embedded in Carver’s approach.

How Did We Get Here?

As some of you may recall, the AT&T’s Director of Management Development, Robert Greenleaf, wrote an essay, “The Servant as Leader,” which was published in 1970.  And in 1976 his book Servant Leadership came out.  Bill Loveless, my administrator at the time, had us read the book and attempt to put into practice the principles Greenleaf outlined.  Over the years I have reflected on servant leadership and noticed that genuine servant leadership is really for the benefit of the organizational entity and may or may not benefit the “servant” leader.

As you may have noted in Isaiah, the servant doesn’t really get preferential treatment.  The servant introduced in Isaiah 52:13 is described with “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him,  and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5, NIV).  Doesn’t really sound like respect, fame, and honors.  While those accolades may eventually accrue in the actual delivery of servant leadership, there may in the meantime be some opportunity for great humility and sacrifice.

So imagine my surprise when my board informed me that I would need to learn about the John Carver model of governance – only to find out John had been greatly influenced by Robert Greenleaf, and he had taken the idea of servant leadership and expanded it into a set of principles that can be applied to nearly any type of governance; for-profit, not-for-profit, corporate, even some churches have adopted the Carver model.

Back to the Present

So each year my board has a retreat where we do some board education and then look at the “ends” we want our CEO to focus on for the coming year.  The CEO is responsible for the “means” (the how).  The “ends” the board lays out are to focus on “what” is to be done, “for whom,” and at what “cost” or “priority.”  And here is where the fun comes in… the “ends” should be based on the board’s relationship with and understanding of the “owner’s” wishes.

But Carver does not restrict himself to the Black’s Law Dictionary definition of “ownership.”  Mr. Carver talks about the boards relationship with the… are you ready for this?… the “moral ownership.”

In the Carver model one needs to distinguish between stakeholders, customers, beneficiaries and owners.  In some organizational structures they may overlap or be the same, but in most cases they are different groups of people.

The whole process gets the board to thinking about what business are we really in? and what are we trying to do?  And for whom are we doing it?  And what resource, cost or priority are we willing to commit to accomplishing the “ends”?

But the only way to make sure the “ends” are on target is to know who the owners are and what their expectations are.

So I find myself doing quite a bit of thinking about do I really know who the owners are (we serve a large population and geographical area) and how do I know their expectations? (It’s a whole community – how do you listen to a whole community spread over an area the size of Colorado?)  Fortunately, we have found some resources which are listening to a broad sampling of the community who are happy to share their learnings.


So this was the context in which I picked up John 17… OK, some of you are going to get tired of me referring to John 17… But I find the more I spend time reading it and thinking about it… the more I feel like I’m getting an insight into God’s business and how His organization is set up.

So after Jesus addresses His Father he says, “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him” (v. 2, NIV).

“…all those you have given him”…  Hmmm… Boom!  Let’s see? Who’s the owner here?

And verse 6 has stuff like “those whom you gave me out of the world,” and later, “the words you gave me.”  For some reason it sounded to me like Jesus saw His Father as “the owner” and Himself (Jesus) as “the servant” who had taken on the responsibility to carry out the wishes of “the owner” for “those you have given me.”

ENDS (What, for Whom, at what Cost)

Jesus describes “ends.” As you read through John 17 He says “what” He has done, and “for whom”… and sometimes in the Carver model the cost is allowed to be implied…  However, I believe Philippians seems to make the cost of servanthood and the cost of these “ends” clear…

“by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:7b,8, NIV)

“to death.”

That’s a pretty high cost…  Most boards don’t make that large a commitment of resources to reach their “ends.”

Servants in Training

Very few leaders take servant leadership that seriously.  Some of my friends who run workshops and training in servant leadership say that many times the leaders simply start using servant leadership buzz words and have trouble letting go of the power, position, status, and economic security they associate with “real” leadership.  And they may or may not be inwardly aware of their “failure” to provide the kind of servant leadership described in places such as Isaiah, John, and Philippians.

Back to the Owners

Which takes me back to “the owners.”  As I mentioned, it seemed really clear to me that Jesus saw His Father in the “owner” role in this prayer. And Jesus seems to carefully outline how He has executed the expectations of the “owner.” And how he has taken care of “those you have given to me.”

So What?

I’m not currently in church-related governance.  But I have served on church-related boards and executive committees, have served on other forms of statewide and local governance and worked in local government as well.  And strangely enough, I seem to think the ideas of “ownership”, “moral ownership” and “ends” are actually relevant in all those contexts.

So Who’s the “Owner”?

But the question comes to my mind, when we are doing church governance, how do we define the “owner” or “owners”?  How well do we understand their expectations?  And how precisely do we align our “ends” and commit appropriate resources?

It seems to me that if I see the organizational hierarchy as “the owner” I may have one set of “ends”; but if I see a stream of ownership flowing from the “owner” Jesus reported to… I may have a different set of “ends.”  If I get confused and see the clients as the “owners” I may have an entirely different set of outcomes.

By the way, I’ve always thought the little note at the end of John 2 very telling…

“Many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person” (John 2:23b-25, NIV).

It seems very clear here that Jesus was certain that the “clients” were not the “owners.”

The Persistent Questions

So, all I mean to accomplish with these couple ideas is to raise what seem to be persistent questions for myself and others who might feel this Carver servant leadership structure a useful framework…

How well have I identified the “moral ownership” I should be responsible to?

How well do I understand the “moral owner’s” expectation?

And… and… Yikes!!!  What resource or cost am I committing to the “ends”?

Now, who is that owner I should have a relationship with???  Just askin’.