Once upon a time, Greenleaf was invited to observe a gathering; he writes: Twelve ministers and theologians of all faiths and twelve psychiatrists of all faiths had convened for a two-day off-the-record seminar on the one-word theme of healing.  The seminar was opened with this question: ‘We are all healers, whether we are ministers or doctors. Why are we in this business?  What is our motivation?’ . . . ‘For our own healing,’ they said.

 Greenleaf then observed that: This is an interesting word, healing, with its meaning ‘to make whole.’  The example above suggests that one really never makes it.  It is always something sought.  Perhaps, as with the minister and the doctor, the servant-leader might also acknowledge that his own healing is his motivation.  There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led, if implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led, is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share. [The Servant as Leader, circa 1969, p. 28]

Again, Greenleaf holds us to us a, if not the, challenge for the servant – whether follower or leader – the challenge of growing into wholeness.  Most of us have been raised to live a life-divided.  Don’t believe me.  How often do you hear people, perhaps even yourself, talking about a work-life balance.  The deep assumption here is that these are two separate dimensions of one self.  Wholeness would be: What do I need to balance in my life?  What are the aspects of my life that I need to bring into balance?

So, I leave us, you and me, with these questions: In what ways do I live a divided life? If I were ‘whole’ I would act like, sound like, feel like; and others would experience me as?      

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In a number of his essays Greenleaf tells us the story of John Woolman.  He holds Woolman up as an example of a servant who impacted an entire religious community, the Quakers, such that they came to see slavery as a moral wrong; which they then righted.  Greenleaf tells us that the burden of his approach was to raise questions. . . man by man, inch by inch, by persistently returning and revisiting and pressing his gentle argument over a period of thirty years.  Greenleaf concluded that Leadership by persuasion has the virtue of change by convincement rather than coercion.  Its advantages are obvious. [The Servant as Leader, circa 1969, p.26]

Persuasion, as Greenleaf describes it, requires patience, commitment over time – a generation or longer if necessary – the use of inquiry, and the use of ‘gentle’ arguments.  Even though Woolman saw the evil of slavery he was willing to use persuasion for the long-term in order to obtain the ‘transformation’ that was needed; a transformation in the hearts, minds and souls of the Quakers as a community.  Our bloody Civil War did not take thirty years; it did cost hundreds of thousands of lives and on paper it did rid our nation of slavery.  AND, we are still not internally ‘free’ of this scourge. 

Perhaps John Woolman was correct; that the generational approach using persuasion would have enabled us, as a nation, to come to an inner transformation of heart, mind and soul; an inner transformation that would then inform our actions [our policies, our structures, our laws].  Have the benefits of our Civil War truly outweighed the costs; the costs we paid and the costs we continue to pay?   On the surface, it seems that the answer might be ‘yes.’  Underneath the surface, in hearts, minds and souls, perhaps not.

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One of the marks of a servant-leader is that he/she is aware.  Greenleaf writes: A qualification for leadership is that one can tolerate a sustained wide span of awareness so that he better ‘sees it as it is.’  He then continues: The opening of awareness stocks both the conscious and unconscious mind with a richness of resources for future need.  But it does more than that: it is value building and value clarifying and it armors one to meet the stress of life by helping build serenity in the face of stress and uncertainty.  The cultivation of awareness gives one the basis for detachment, the ability to stand aside and see oneself in perspective in the context of one’s own experience, amidst the ever present dangers, threats, and alarms.  Then one sees one’s own peculiar assortment of obligations and responsibilities in a way that permits one to sort out the urgent from the important and perhaps deal with the important.  Awareness is nota giver of solace – it is just the opposite.  It is a disturber and an awakener.  Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed.  They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.  [The Servant as Leader, circa 1969, p. 24]

Gentle Reader, this is one of Greenleaf’s passages that I continue to revisit and unpack.  Do I really want to be awake and aware?  Am I willing to be disturbed by what I ‘see?’  Am I willing to see it ‘as it is?’  Have I developed my capacity for inner serenity?  I often find myself blithely responding by saying ‘yes, of course.’  Then I find myself turning away, if not running away, when I become disturbed by what I see.  I find myself seeking ‘serenity’ from outside of myself via distractions, or busyness, or noise, or addictions.  Of course, the external does not provide nor do I experience serenity but that’s another piece for another time.  How about you, Gentle Reader.  What questions emerge from within you as you read and reflect upon Greenleaf’s words?

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Greenleaf writes: The requirements of leadership impose some intellectual demands that are not measured by academic intelligence ratings.  The two are not mutually exclusive but they are different things.  The leader needs to intellectual abilities that are usually not formally assessed in an academic way: he needs to have a sense for the unknowable and be able to foresee the unforeseeable.  The leader knows some things and foresees some things which those he is presuming to lead do not know or foresee as clearly.  This is partly what gives the leader his ‘lead,’ what puts him out ahead and qualifies him to show the way. [The Servant as Leader, circa 1969, p. 18]

How can one develop the capacity so one can have a sense for the unknowable and be able to foresee the unforeseeable?  It seems to me that we each have been gifted with what is called intuition.  The leaders I have met who have ‘foresight’ are highly intuitive, they continually develop their capacity for intution and they trust their intuition.  It also seems to me that a person can be a good, even a great, leader without the gift of foresight IF he/she ensures that there is a person who has the gift is invited to bring his/her voice and that this voice is heeded; that is, that he/she is trusted.  I have not met but a few leaders who have been capable of this type of trust.  Much more needs to be explored when it comes to the gift of ‘foresight.’  It also seems to me that given the ever increasing rapidity of change that this gift of ‘foresight’ is needed today more than ever.

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Greenleaf writes: The interest in and affection for his followers which a leader has, and it is a mark of true greatness when it is genuine, is clearly something the followers haven’t to deserve. . . deep down inside the great ones have an unqualified acceptance of those who go with their leadership. . . .Acceptance requires a tolerance of imperfection.  Anybody could lead perfect people. . . the ‘typical’ person. . . is capable of great dedication and heroism if he is wisely led. . . The secret of institution building is to be able to weld a team of such people by lifting them up to grow taller than they would otherwise be. . . . Men grow taller when they are accepted for what they are and are led by the ablest and strongest and ethically soundest people. (Ethical in the sense of being sensitive to what helps people grow taller and more autonomous and disposed to act on that knowledge.)  Leaders who fully accept those who go with them are more likely to be trusted. [The Servant as Leader, circa 1969, p. 18]

In this passage, Greenleaf offers us a number of ideas to consider: interest in, affection for the followers and these are freely given, they do not have to be earned.  Then there is the challenge for the leader to have an unqualified acceptance of the led; talk about a challenge for most of us.  This is followed by an equally stretching challenge: a tolerance of imperfection.  But Greenleaf doesn’t leave it simply with ‘tolerance;’ he says the genuine leader will lift people up so they can become greater than they believe they can. This leader is more likely to be trusted.  Coercion and manipulation in order to get compliance will work if the ingredients for these are in place; but if a leader wants to live into what Greenleaf offers above, then these two favorite leader tactics won’t work.  Implied in this is that the leader must know him/her self and must also come to know those who choose to follow.  It can quickly become over whelming for a leader to become aware of those who have placed their well-being and their trust in him/her.

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