SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART II. . .

Here is Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his ‘Best Test’ for the Servant:

Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

Yesterday my friend Jim sent me an email containing one question (in response to PART I).  Here is Jim’s question:

To what degree do you believe that we could substitute ‘Leader’ or ‘Leadership’ for Greenleaf’s Best Test for the Servant (or at least the first part)?

As I sat holding Jim’s question three initial responses emerged into my consciousness: (1) Greenleaf is clear in his writings: He is writing on the servant theme (his words).  Thus, his Best Test is for the Servant and the Servant, first Leader.  (2) A person could substitute ‘Leader’ or ‘Parent’ or ‘Teacher’ or ‘Mentor’ or ‘Counselor’ for ‘Servant’ and, I believe the ‘Test’ would hold as a ‘valid test.’  (3) Ever since Greenleaf’s first iteration of his ‘Best Test’ (1969) people have sought to refocus Greenleaf’s theme from Servant to Leader.

It seems that the concept of ‘Servant’ continues to be too challenging for us; it continues to be counter-cultural for we are a culture that has fallen in love with the concept of ‘Leader.’  Greenleaf is clear: Servant is who one is at one’s core; Servant is the Being and this nature (first or second nature) cannot be taken away (it can, however be given up).  ‘Leader’ is a role; it is the Doing.  The role can, and will, be taken away or it will ‘go away’ when the person no longer wears the mantle of leader.

I invite you, Gentle Reader, to hold Jim’s question and see what emerges for you in response to it.  Perhaps the most challenging question is implied in Greenleaf’s writings: Am I willing to be or become (by first or second nature) a ‘Servant’ at my core?  Greenleaf, as is his wont, ups the ante.  Are Trustees willing to become ‘Servants’ at their core?  Are Institutions willing to become ‘Servants’ at their core? [AN ASIDE: For Greenleaf it is possible for an institution to become a Servant at its core because institutions are organic entities.]

Let us continue and explore more deeply Greenleaf’s Best Test for the Servant and the Servant, first Leader.

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SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART I. . .

To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Gentle Reader, if you have been following my blog these past years you will have noticed or read a number of postings that alluded to or directly addressed Greenleaf’s Best Test for the Servant.

Recently I was re-reading for the umpteenth time Greenleaf’s 1980 essay, Servant: Retrospect & Prospect.  Near the end of this essay Greenleaf offers us what I believe is his final iteration of his Best Test for the Servant (his first published iteration appeared in his 1969 essay – the ‘inspired’ essay, the one he wrote for and addressed to college-university student leaders – The Servant as Leader).  During the next 11 years additional iterations or parts of his Best Test would be offered to us for our consideration.

So, without further ado, here is Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his Best Test for the Servant:

Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

Gentle Reader, this morning I invite you to read and re-read Greenleaf’s Best Test and to reflect upon his words and the implications they might hold for you and for us.  Beginning next time, I will offer some of what has emerged into my consciousness as I read, re-read, held, savored and reflected upon Greenleaf’s final iteration of his Best Test.

When is serving potentially immoral? –Robert K. Greenleaf

 

 

 

 

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POEMS. . .

Robert K. Greenleaf offered me a powerful organic metaphor; a metaphor that helps me move away from our dominant inorganic cultural metaphors: Mechanical and Banking.  These two dominant inorganic metaphors dehumanize us and allow us to guilt free marginalize and harm the other(s).

This morning, Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider Greenleaf’s ‘Garden Metaphor’ and perhaps you will find that it might also serve you well.  In order to aid you in your consideration I will offer you the words of several other folks who have embraced a ‘Garden Metaphor.’

The first is a poem by the great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado.  Machado wrote this poem in the early 1900s.  I was introduced to his poems in 1990 and I have carried this poem with me since then.  Here is Machado’s ‘garden poem.’

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

 “In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.”

 “I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.”

 “Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.”

 The wind left. And I wept. And I said to soul:
“What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?”
–Antonio Machado

In 1996 I was guiding a two day ‘work-treat’ for leaders who were interested in learning more about Greenleaf’s concept.  During the lunch break on the second day a participant approached me and handed me a poem.  We had, that morning, been exploring the garden metaphor.  The participant, Sandy Shugart, told me that a poem had emerged into his consciousness during one of the periods of reflection.  He had written out the poem and he handed me a copy – the original he said.  Here is Sandy Shugart’s poem (which, by the by, he put in his book about leadership).

Gardens

The formal landscape stands
an ordered monument to mastermind and hands

 Each subservient row
disciplined by shear and hoe

 In organic symmetry, sculpted sphere and line.
Not for love of life, but devotion to design,

 Was this infertile illusion crafted
every uniform blade and clump to one will drafted

 Bearing no largesse toward riotous leaf or unruly root
the master gardener’s tyrannous vision absolute.

Yet there are other gardens
whose verdant chaos is infested with creative possibility
borderless communities of bright souls, they
blend, compete, complement, propagate.
Fertile diversity caresses eye and cheek and olfactory
embracing with equal passion prima donna poppy,
dusky humus, sultry fern, honest grass
Each sworn only to Mendel’s oath of self-expression.
There is a caretaker here, as well
inconspicuous in quiet devotion to serve, not control,
to nurture with extravagant love
each unplanned form and unconscious, self-absorbed delight
for love of the sheer surprise of life. –Sandy Shugart

The third poem – an excerpt from a longer poem – is a gift to me/us from Longfellow.  I came upon this fragment five years ago.

Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the flowers,
Kind deeds are the fruits, Take care of your garden And keep out the weeds,
Fill it with sunshine, Kind words, and Kind deeds. –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Gentle Reader, perhaps there are other garden poems that speak to you.  Or, if you do a little research you might find a garden poem or two or three or more that speak to you.  I leave us this morning with the words of Alice Walker:

In search of my mother’s garden, I found

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CONSIDER: WHO’S A LEADER?

I have spent many hours these past 50+ years thinking about, reading about, conversing with others about, and observing leaders.  Still, I ask: ‘Who’s a Leader?’  Today I found the following in my September, 2011 journal.  For those of us who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of The Servant as Leader the following, it seems to me, is crucial for us to consider.

 CONSIDER:
==> Today, perhaps more than ever before, our need for leaders is urgent
==> Even today, after all of these years, there is no agreement on the definition of leader

  • Some are defined in terms of tasks – setting goals, motivating people, evaluating people.  Yet, this is what ‘managers’ are charged with doing and what many ‘leaderless’ teams also are charged with doing
  • Some define ‘leader’ as one who provides the vision – yet many visionaries are not followed, some are even ‘punished’ for their visions
  • Then there are transactional or transformational leaders – so Hitler and Stalin would qualify
  • Then there are servant-leaders, serving-leaders, service-leaders and although the terms are similar the dynamics are quite different as are their approaches to leadership

==> There is one irrefutable definition of a leader: a leader is someone people follow – anyone with followers (liberator or oppressor, transformational visionary or transactional problem solver, dictator or benevolent autocrat) is a leader.  Given this, there are two essential – and challenging – questions about leadership that must be addressed:

  • Why do people follow this person?  How do leaders gain and keep followers?  Do people follow by ‘inspiration’ or by ‘coercion’ or by ‘manipulation’ or by ‘seduction/promises’ or by a desire to be taken care of or by a promise that they will not be held responsible [historically many people have committed atrocities in response to ‘I was only following orders so don’t hold me responsible.’]
  • How do people follow the leader?  Do they follow ‘blindly?’  Do they comply – do what they are told?  Do they ‘imitate’ the leader?

==> Leadership ALWAYS implies a relationship between the leader and led – leadership is a by-product of this relationship.  Is the relationship one of dependency, or submissiveness, or independency or. . . ?
==> Leadership ALWAYS exists within a context.  Leaders who gain followers in one context may not attract followers in another [Consider Winston Churchill who was not followed before nor after WWII but was followed unhesitatingly during WWII.]
==> Two Questions for Leaders: Does the way you lead get you what you want?  What do you want?
==> Two Questions for the Followers: Does the way you follow get you what you want?  What do you want?

My friend and colleague, Yim Harn, who lives in Singapore, sent me the photo below.  The question that emerged for me this morning as I reflected upon her photo was: Would I choose to follow the leader who appears to be so far out ahead that I can barely see him/her? If one looks closely at the photo one can see ‘the leader’ far off in the distance – certainly the leader was able to follow the path of stones and rocks and yet there are many questions I hold; here are four of them: What support did the leader have?  What resources did the leader need?  How do I know what support and resources I will need? And, what lies around the bend that appears to be so far off? 

by Yim Harn-Giant staircase -Staffa

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CHOICE – A BRIEF REFLECTION. . .

I have choice.  In 2010 I was invited by a CEO in Singapore to offer a brief reflection on this interesting word: Choice.  When I take time to reflect upon this concept I find myself generating many questions and I will be sharing some of these in the brief piece which follows.  Gentle Reader, perhaps there will be enough variety so that you will choose a question or two to respond to or perhaps you will choose to engage one or two in a searching conversation with another.

I have choice.  To choose means that I select freely after consideration.  As I sit here and reflect upon this definition a number of questions emerge into my consciousness:  How often do I choose?  How many times a day do I actually choose?  During the past hour what have I chosen?  Does it matter whether I am aware of choosing?  Can I really choose if I am not aware?  How much awareness can I stand anyway?  I pause and then become aware of more questions that are finding their way into my consciousness: What is the effect of my choosing upon myself?  What is the effect of my choosing upon others?  Do I accept, or is it ‘do I believe,’ that choice is covered by the skin of responsibility?  What motivates me when it comes to making a choice?  What is the motivation that is the life-blood that feeds and sustains choice and that keeps responsibility supple, flexible and healthy?  What is the motivation that infects the life-blood with a cancer that kills both choice and responsibility?

I have choice.  As a human being I am a living paradox.  I have the potential for great good and I have the potential for great evil.  I have virtues, like integrity, wisdom, courage, compassion, and love, which I choose to bring to my world.  I have vices, like deception, culpable ignorance, cowardice, resentment and spite, which I also choose to bring to my world.  How aware am I when I choose to bring one of these virtues or one of these vices to my world?  To what extent do I believe that the virtue or vice I bring to my world nurtures or depletes me and all those I directly touch and many more that I indirectly touch?  Why do I choose to bring this virtue or that vice to my world – what motivates me to choose one over the other?

I have choice.  My conduct, what I choose to enact each moment, is a reflection of my choice?  Or is it?  To what extent can I claim that my conduct occurs out of habit or as a reaction to a stimulus?  To what extent is my conduct rooted in logical, rational reasoning?  To what extent is my conduct rooted in my emotions?  Does it matter?  Do I care?  Should I care if I don’t?  To what extent is my conduct truly rooted in my selecting freely after consideration?  To what extent does my conduct reinforce future choices?  To what extent does my conduct support my awareness of my choices?  To what extent does my conduct feed a virtue or nurture a vice?

I have choice.  To what extent do I have an obligation to learn more and more about who I am and to learn more and more about who I am choosing to become?  To what extent do I have an obligation to examine my life so that I know what motivates me at the core of who I am?  To what extent do I have an obligation to reflect upon my choices so that I will learn more about the ‘me’ that impacts the many ‘yous’ I meet each day?  How can I help others grow and develop more fully if I am not aware of how I engage, or refuse to engage, choice?  Do I tell those I am entrusted with helping to develop, ‘Do as I say, not as I do?’   Can I ask those I am entrusted with helping to develop, perhaps especially those who are considered to be leaders, to examine the choices they make without examining the choices I make – and still act ethically?

I have choice.  Do I choose to go it alone or do I choose to commit to being a life-long searcher and learner as a member of a community of service; a community that is committed to helping co-create healthier individuals, teams and organizations and that is ultimately committed to helping co-create a better world?   How much choice do I really want?

 I have a choice.      

 

 

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AWARENESS. . .

This morning, Gentle Reader, I re-read and re-savored Robert Frost’s powerful poem, ‘Directive.’  In response to Frost’s poem, Greenleaf wrote an essay he titled, Directive and the Spiritual Journey.’  Before you continue reading this post, I invite you, Gentle Reader, to read and perhaps re-read Frost’s poem.  Although you might find somethings in Greenleaf’s words that stimulates your intellect without reading Frost’s poem.

This morning I am going to quote at length from Greenleaf’s introduction to his essay.  Greenleaf writes:

If Robert Frost had a deliberate strategy of influence in mind when he wrote ‘Directive,’ he kept it to himself the one time I heard him asked about its meaning.  His answer was, ‘Read it and read it and read it, and it means what it says to you.’  He read this poem in a way that carried the impact of its obviously great importance and meaning to him.

 What one gets by reading and reading and reading this poem cannot be predicted.  One gets what he is ready for, what he is open to receive.

 Of course, this is what the poem is all about.  Our problem is circular: we must understand in order to be able to understand.  It has something to do with awareness and symbols.

 Awareness, letting something significant and disturbing develop between oneself and a symbol, comes more by being waited upon rather than by being asked.  One of the most baffling of life’s experiences is to stand beside one who is aware, one who is looking at a symbol and is deeply moved by it, and confronting the same symbol, to be unmoved. 

 Oh that we could just be open in the presence of symbols that cry out to speak to us, let our guards down, and take the risks of being moved. 

 The power of a symbol is measured by its capacity to sustain a flow of significant new meaning.  The substance of the symbol may be a painting; a poem or story; allegory, myth, or scripture; a piece of music; a person; a crack in the sidewalk; or a blade of grass.  Whatever or whoever, it produces a confrontation in which much that makes the symbol meaningful comes from the beholder.

 The potentiality is both in the symbol and in the beholder…  All symbols are potential sources of new meaning.  Nor is meaning a product of the conscious intent of the creator of the symbol.  The poet is sometimes as surprised by new meaning in his own poem as is anyone else.

 Meaning from an interaction with a symbol is a new creation.  It can be new with each opportunity.  Taking the opportunity may be the measure of one’s growth.

 If one views spiritual growth as a unique and personal journey, then what one makes of a symbol is to some extent unique and personal.  A symbol may say something in common to all beholders; but the real lift and insight is beyond the range of verbal communication.

 Yet it is important that we try to share our symbolic experiences because, as responsible people, we need the check and guidance of other responsible people. 

 All of us encounter obstacles to growth.  We may find new paths in the accounts of fellow seekers. . .

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CONSIDER: WHO’S A LEADER?

He was a leader of more than ordinary mediocrity. –Leo Tolstoy, ‘War and Peace’

CONSIDER Gentle Reader that today, more than ever our need for leaders is urgent.  A major challenge when it comes to choosing and/or recognizing leaders is that we still have little agreement as to the definition of ‘leader.’

Leaders are defined in term of tasks – setting goals, motivating people, evaluating people.  To complicate matters, this is what ‘managers’ are charged with doing and this is also what many ‘leaderless’ teams are also charged with doing.

A leader is also defined as one who provides the vision [Greenleaf’s ‘Big Dream’].  Yet, many visionaries are not followed.  Some are openly disparaged.

Then there are transactional or transformational leaders.  Both Hitler and Stalin would qualify.

And, as you and I know, there are servant-leaders.  There are, to further complicate things serving-leaders & service-leaders.  These three terms are similar AND the dynamics and core values are quite different.

Now, there is one irrefutable definition of ‘leader’: a leader is someone people follow.  Any person with followers, liberator or oppressor, transformational visionary or transactional problem solver, dictator or benevolent autocrat or servant-leader, is a leader.

Given this, there are, it seems to me, two essential – and challenging – questions about leaders and leadership that must be addressed:

  • Why do people follow this person?  How do leaders gain and keep followers?  Do people follow by ‘inspiration’ or by ‘coercion’ or by ‘manipulation’ or by ‘seduction/promises’ or by a desire to be taken care of or by. . .
  • How do people follow the leader?  Do they follow ‘blindly?’  Do they ‘comply’ – do what they are told?  Do they ‘imitate’ the leader?

I am thinking of William Ayot’s poem: ‘The Contract – A Word from the Led.’  Here is an excerpt from his poem:

And in the end we follow them –

simply because of who they are: the man, the woman. . .

 We give them our trust.

 What we seek in return is that they stay true.

 Given Ayot’s words, consider the following questions:

  • ‘And in the end we follow them’ – WHO do you follow?  WHY?  WHO follows you?  WHY?
  • ‘We give them our trust.’ – WHO do you give your trust to?  WHY?  WHO gives you their trust?  WHY?  DO you LEAD with trust or must others ‘earn’ your trust? [Are people inherently trust-worthy?]
  • ‘What we seek in return is that they stay true.’ – WHAT does it mean ‘to stay true?’  WHAT must the leader ‘stay true to’?

Consider that leadership always implies a relationship between the leader and the led.  ‘Leadership’ is a by-product of this relationship.

Consider that leadership ALWAYS exists within a context.  Leaders who gain followers in one context may not attract followers in another [Consider Winston Churchill who was not followed before nor after WWII but was followed unhesitatingly during WWII].

WHO ARE THE LEADERS WE NEED?   

 Consider the following:

  • The leaders who are motivated to achieve the common good
  • Who have the qualities required to gain willing followers in a particular culture, at a historical moment when leadership becomes essential to meet the challenges of that time and place
  • Leaders who, then, are needed within their contexts (present and ‘future’)
  • The context continues to change – for example, the context of a given organization today is not the same as it was 15 years ago – and with the rate of change we can assume that the context may well significantly – if not dramatically – change during the next 8-10 years
  • In our Country, the context was an industrial context, then it developed into an information context, and we are currently imbedded in a knowledge context [knowledge workers in our culture are highly valued] and it appears as if we are in the emerging stages of evolving to a ‘conceptual’ context [creativity, innovation, empathy, multiple-intelligences and relationships become the new ‘property’]

Given where we are – not even considering where we might be in 8-10 years – we currently need at least three types of leaders

  • Strategic Leaders – communicate a vision with a compelling sense of purpose
  • Operational Leaders – build the organization and infuse energy that transforms visions into results
  • Network/bridge-building Leaders – facilitate the understanding and trust that turns different types of specialists into collaborators [think: HealthCare Systems, for example]

These three roles will, generally, be filled by different people for each requires different skills, capabilities and personalities.  Because they will be required to work together they all have to have the ability to understand one another and value one another and work hard at developing caring and working relationships with one another.  Together they also have to be able to understand the diverse mix of people they want to follow them.

Consider that to describe the leadership we need, we can’t extrapolate from the past.  People have changed – both would-be leaders and potential followers.  People today respond to different qualities in leaders than they did even 15 years ago.  For example, young people today (generally, it seems people under 30) are less likely to idealize leaders as father substitutes [a dependency model of leadership that emerged with the industrial revolution] and they tend to be more critical of parental figures in general, we can’t lead in ways that worked in the past.

However, fear and high anxiety can cause any of us to regress – to want that charismatic or benevolent patriarch or authoritarian father or even a ‘boss’ or ‘tyrant’ to make things better [if we find one that can do this once our anxiety is lowered we ‘rebel’ or if, in our perspective, this leader ‘fails us’ then we will also ‘rebel’].  We move from idealizing the leader to severely criticizing the leader.  Moreover there is a tendency to criticize our leaders with great intensity while seeking to be ‘non-responsible’ ourselves.

Consider that servant-leadership, as a concept, a philosophy, an attitude, a way of being, will provide a tap-root that if nurtured and sustained over time that will help ensure the development of leaders [role-defined and situational] who will be inherently ethical, moral, caring, awake, aware, intentional and purposeful and who will choose to be unconditionally response-able and who will choose to appropriately respond and appropriately react with moral integrity at all times.

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