Good morning, Gentle Reader.  On the 11th of January I invited you to reflect upon and perhaps write a response to two questions.  I also invited you to send me your written responses.  I have not received any written responses.  So, this morning, I have decided to offer you some of my responses to these two questions: ‘When is Serving potentially immoral?’ ‘When is Serving immoral?’

I will use Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test for the Servant’ and his ‘Credo’ as my guides.

I will begin with Greenleaf’s ‘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.

Consider, Gentle Reader, that ‘Serving becomes Immoral’ when I choose to serve – and then serve – in ways that directly hinder, block or deplete the other’s health.  I am thinking of the other’s physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual (or spirit) health.  The ‘one serving’ is an individual AND is any organized group of two or more folks who are serving the other(s).

I am, for example, partnering with the leader of a health-care system.  He is developing a wellness program for all of the employees.  He discerned that although the system was effective in helping the ‘patient’ and the ‘patient’s family’ – serving them so they could become healthier – that the system was harming (think: burning out, for example) the employees.  When a system contributes to burning folks out each of these four dimensions is being burned out.  There is also a fifth dimension that is burning out: Relationships.  He is discovering that there are cultural norms and values that contribute to employees burning out.  If ‘wellness’ is to become the ‘norm’ and ‘value’ then aspects of the culture must change.

Consider, Gentle Reader, that perhaps the greatest gift we can give is to serve so that the one being served – and the one serving – becomes healthier.

Consider also that the serving-person acts immorally when he or she serves in a way that results in his or her becoming a ‘martyr.’  Being a martyr is engaging in a ‘sin’ of hubris (the greatest sin of Pride).  This is not a simple concept for we know that there are martyrs who serve so that the other(s) grow as persons (think: spiritual growth, for example).

Consider, Gentle Reader, that my serving also becomes immoral when ‘I’ (remember the ‘I’ can be a person or can be any organized group of two or more persons) directly hinder or block the one being served from becoming wiser (think: keeping a person dependent upon you – some therapists do this with their clients and some parents do this with their children) or freer or more autonomous (again, some parents do this or some ‘authority figures’ do this – there are many ways that a person can become a ‘slave’ to an authority figure).

As is his wont, Greenleaf ups the ante by bringing the ‘least privileged in society’ into the test.  Serving becomes immoral when ‘I’ consciously choose to deprive them or deprive them further.  Consider this: It is possible, today, in our Country to provide adequate health care for everyone and, as a Country, we choose not to do so.

I have additional responses to Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ but these will have to suffice for now.  Next time, I will respond to ‘When is Serving immoral?’ with a focus on Greenleaf’s ‘Credo.’

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Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning I will begin to respond to these two questions: ‘When is Serving potentially immoral?’ ‘When is Serving immoral?’

In order to respond to them it will be, I believe, helpful, to have some guidelines to follow.  I offer us two guidelines, both provided by Greenleaf.

By the by, Gentle Reader, I purpose-fully have chosen the word ‘respond’ rather than the word ‘answer.’  For me, ‘answer’ implies that there is truly an ‘answer’ and thus a consequence is that further searching and seeking will be hindered if not blocked because we now have the ‘answer.’  I prefer the word ‘respond’ for a response leaves, perhaps even invites, further searching and seeking.

Greenleaf offers us two guidelines, his ‘Best Test’ for the Servant and his ‘Credo,’ his ‘I believe’ statement.  Both of these can be found in his 1980 essay, Servant: Retrospect & Prospect.

Greenleaf’s ‘Credo’: I believe that caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other is what makes a good society…  If a better society is to be built, one more just and more caring and providing opportunity for people to grow, the most effective and economical way while supportive of the social order, is to raise the performance of servant of as many institutions as possible by new voluntary regenerative forces initiated within them by committed individuals: Servants.

Greenleaf’s ‘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.

So, given these two guidelines let us return to our two questions: ‘When is Serving potentially immoral?’ ‘When is Serving immoral?’

Before I respond to these two questions I invite you, Gentle Reader, to stop, step-back, reflect, emerge and capture in writing your own response(s) to each of these questions.  As you reflect I invite you to keep in mind Greenleaf’s two guidelines (since our overall topic for this blog is ‘Greenleaf’s Legacy’).

In order not to influence nor contaminate your reflection, I will, next time, respond to the two questions.  I am curious as to what emerges for you so I also invite you to email me your responses (

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Good morning Gentle Reader.

Questions matter.  The Questions we ask help determine the path we take.  In his writings, Greenleaf offered us a number of crucial questions – questions that matter.  For me, one of the most powerful questions Greenleaf offers us to consider is: ‘When is serving potentially immoral?’

In 1975 I added a second question: ‘When IS serving immoral?’  I hold and consider both together and, Gentle Reader, I invite you to also hold and consider both together.

Definitions matter.  So now, Gentle Reader, I invite you to hold and consider the following:

Potentially’ = possibly, but not yet actually.

‘Possibly’ = perhaps, maybe.

 ‘Immoral’ = violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted as consistent with principles of moral ethics.

 ‘Serving’ = See Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his ‘Best Test’ for the Servant.  [See my posting of 16 December, 2018 for this iteration.]

Definitions matter.  I could go on defining words/concepts – perhaps for pages.  What is crucial to note and remember is that the definition accepted determines the focus of our consideration.  The person whose definition is accepted has, at minimum influence and at maximum control or leverage.

Definitions matter.  And yet…  If we spend our time seeking to define words so that ALL accept and understand each definition I have a hunch that we will spend all of our time ‘seeking to define.’  What we do, of course, is ‘assume’ that we have a ‘general’ agreement as to what these words mean.  Conflict arises when we find that ‘acting on our assumed agreement’ reveals a lack of agreement (talk about confusing).

For our purposes, I invite us to hold the three definitions above and to hold Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant.’  I will also add a fifth ‘consideration’ to hold:

Servants serve the highest priority needs of the other(s).  Greenleaf is clear about this.

This ‘serving commitment to high priority needs’ is crucial to keep in mind as we strive to seek to consider and respond to these two questions: ‘When is serving potentially immoral? ‘When IS serving immoral?’

Consider, Gentle Reader, that in order to engage these two questions we must, as Greenleaf notes, be awake and be aware in the ‘now’ in order to seek to understand.

My experience of myself and of others these past 44 years is that we are seldom awake and aware ‘now’.  We spend most of our intellectual time, for example, ruminating about the past or anticipating the future.  Even as I type these words, even as I strive to be awake, aware and in the ‘now’ at this moment, I am aware that my mind quickly wanders to the future; it is now 9:15am and I am to gather my daughter up at 9:50am.

So I find my mind wandering to: Can I finish this draft before I have to pack up and leave?  Should I stop now, think more about my topic and return later to once again put finger to key?  A father and young son just sat down next to me and so I spent a few minutes talking with them.  What does it mean to be awake and aware in the ‘now’?  I am, unlike others, not able to up the ante and write: to be fully present!  I don’t believe I have ever been fully present – I have, however, been fully distracted.

I have a high priority need to engage these two questions.  I am wondering how many of you, Gentle Readers, have a high priority need to also engage them?  Right now I am seeking to serve my high priority need and in doing so I might also be serving you.

Given all of this, I will, next time, respond to the two questions: ‘When is serving potentially immoral?’ ‘When IS serving immoral?’

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Follow your own passion, not your parents. –Robert Ballard

Good morning Gentle Reader.  This will be my final posting for this topic; On the other hand, I am sure that at some point I will continue to explore this crucial topic.

In 1975 two events occurred which have continued to form and inform my own life and development: My mentor, Lowell, introduced me to Robert K. Greenleaf’s concept and I started on a path of serving others by helping them develop or develop more fully their gifts, talents, abilities, capacities and potentials.

For more than 43+ years now I have had the privilege of listening to many folks.  Part of my charge has been to listen and call forth gifts, talents, potentials, and ‘passions.’  ‘Calling Forth’ is the first definition of the concept ‘educare’ which is the root for our English word, ‘Educator.’  By definition, the ‘Teacher’ is the expert who ‘puts in’ and the ‘Educator’ is the one who calls forth.

This morning I will focus on ‘Passion.’  I cannot begin to count the number of hours I have spent with ‘professionals’ helping them explore, renew and even discover their ‘passion’ and ‘purpose.’  Like Bishop Jakes (see his quotation below) I found that ‘passion’ leads one to discover one’s ‘purpose.’

I designed and developed what I call a ‘work-treat’ (part workshop and part retreat) in order to provide professionals an opportunity to explore, renew, and/or ‘discern/name’ their passion (Professionals included: teachers/educators, medical professionals, attorneys, military officers, law enforcement folks, dentists, business owners, etc.).

Some participants joined us because the ‘passion’ that had motivated them was waning; the fire was burning out or was smoldering.  The poet David Whyte reminds us that when our inner fire – our passion – is extinguished that our body fills with dense smoke and we suffocate from within.

Some participants joined us because they were seeking their ‘passion’.  They believed that they were living someone else’s passion – generally their father’s passion.  Here is one story.

In 1996 I had the privilege of spending a few hours with four business leaders in The Netherlands; my host, Tjeb Maris had invited them to join us.  My charge was to listen to them and then invite them to reflect upon and explore a few challenging questions; questions that might help them explore their passion.

What each of these men discovered – or remembered – was that they were, each one of them, living out their father’s passion.  They were quite good at doing this.  What each was able to discern and name and ‘emotionally own’ was the passion – their passion.  They had buried their passion and each could recall the date that they decided to do so.  As they, once again, touched and embraced their passion the tears of regret flowed freely.  I learned later that two of these men left the business that their father had begun and had embraced their own passion.  I was told that the other two had considered doing so but were not able to ‘betray’ their father (each of them used this powerful term, ‘betray,’ to describe what it would take for them to live into their own passion).

Gentle reader.  Are you living your ‘Passion’?  If you are, what disciplines do you practice so that your ‘Passion’ continues to be nurtured more than depleted?  Two weeks ago my son, Nathan, the struggling artist, and I were talking and he told me that his life was ‘good’ because he had found a way of living into his ‘Passion.’  I could hear the affirmation and contentment in the tone of his voice and I could see it in his eyes.  He then looked at me and said: ‘You taught me that dad.  You taught me to embrace and live your passion.  Thank you, dad.’

Gentle Reader, who have you thanked when it comes to encouraging you to live your ‘Passion’?  If you have not thanked this person – or these people – when will you do so?

If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion.  Your passion will lead you right into your purpose. –Bishop T. D. Jakes

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The most important thing is hearing what isn’t said. –Peter Drucker

Good morning Gentle Reader.

Greenleaf was clear.  It is crucial for the Servant – Leader or Follower – to develop the discipline of listening and of listening first.  The initial goal is to listen in order to understand.  I have learned that in order to listen first in order to understand that I have to develop, or develop more fully, a second discipline.

Consider that we can develop our capacity to listen more intently and receptively – in order to understand or understand more fully – if we develop the discipline of ‘Suspension.’  Anyone who has attempted to develop a ‘discipline’ – spiritual, physical, intellectual, or emotional – knows how challenging this is.

What do we need to ‘suspend’?  Here is a short list.  We need to suspend our assumptions, especially our deep tacit assumptions; we need to suspend our judgements; we need to suspend our stereotypes and prejudices; and, at times, we need to suspend our knowledge (think: our knowledge about the topic being explored).

Consider that it is impossible – that’s correct, Gentle Reader, I typed ‘impossible’ – to listen in order to understand and to listen in order to clarify when my assumptions, etc. are actively censoring what the other is telling me.

What continues to puzzle me – about myself and about others – is that I/You know this to be true: Our assumptions, etc. not only hinder, they block our ability to listen in order to understand or in order to seek clarity.  YET, we seem to refuse to suspend them even when we are consciously seeking to listen in order to understand and in order to clarify.

Now, here is the rub.

Consider that it is a challenge for us to identify, emerge and name our assumptions, etc. because they have become second nature to us.  In addition, when I identify, emerge and name an assumption, etc. I experience, at minimum, a sense of embarrassment and at maximum, a judgement of guilt for holding such an assumption, etc.  I also might well feel anxiety for my assumptions, etc. are integrated into my identity and hence my identity is threatened if I suspend them(I could make this extremely complicated – which it is – but I am limited to space and time so I won’t go down that path this morning).

There are some clues that can help us identify when our assumptions, etc. are at play.  Consider these clues.  When I believe that I know what you are going to say, then an assumption, etc. is at play.  When I have a powerful emotional response to what you are saying, then an assumption, etc. is at play [by the by, this powerful emotional response can be an emotion that I consider to be ‘positive’ or ‘negative’].  When I become aware that I am judging or defending then an assumption, etc. is a play. By the by, I judge and/or defend ‘internally,’ in my mind or verbally in the moment.

My assumptions, etc. become more depleting when my stated goal in listening is to seek to understand and/or when it is to seek to clarify.

I have found that it helps me and the other when I share my assumption, etc. with the other (in real time).  I have also found it helpful to me and the other if I offer a clarifying question – especially a question from a place of not-knowing.

I have also found that if I consciously practice these disciplines during ‘ordinary’ conversations that I am more likely to engage them during difficult or challenging conversations.

We have been given two ears and one tongue so we would listen more than speak. –Diogenes

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Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. –Karl A. Menniger

Good morning Gentle Reader.

In 1990 I was having a conversation with three folks who knew Bob Greenleaf.  They were sharing stories about him with me.  During our time together they noted, several times, that Bob was an excellent listener.  At times his listening was so intense that the speaker felt a bit uncomfortable for he/she had never been listened to so intensely.

In the late 60’s Bob and his wife, Esther, designed and facilitated a weekend experience in ‘Listening.’  In the 90’s I had the privilege of spending time with their design; sadly, I have not been able to obtain a copy for myself.  As I recall, the weekend participants were mostly couples (in the 60’s they would be husband-wife couples).

Many years ago the following poem emerged into my consciousness;


The Metaphors we use,
The Words we infuse,
The Questions we muse,
The Paths that we choose.  –Richard W. Smith

Consider that the Metaphors I have integrated – the ones that have become ‘second nature’ to me – determine not only the paths I will choose they will also determine ‘how’ I will listen to you.

For example, if I have integrated the Metaphor: ‘Life is a struggle!’  I will listen to you – and respond/react to you – in certain ways.  If, on the other hand, I have integrated the Metaphor: ‘Life is a story to be written and shared!’ then I will listen to you – and respond/react to you – in other ways.

We can begin to identify the Metaphor(s) we have integrated by, over time, paying attention to and noting our ‘word choice’ and our ‘question choice.’  For example.  A person who has integrated the Metaphor: ‘Life is war!’ will use many ‘war words’ and offer many questions that contain ‘war words.’

When I listen I listen by ‘hearing’ and interpreting your statements and questions via my ‘censors’ – my ‘Life-Metaphor(s),’ via my deep tacit assumptions, my core values, my prejudices, my stereotypes, my ‘world-view,’ etc.  All of this ‘censoring’ takes place at a pre-conscious and sub-conscious level and happens in nanoseconds (or faster).

We can change ourselves by emerging, identifying, naming and changing the Metaphors we use that do not serve us – or the other(s) well.  Now, of course, if my Metaphors get me what I want then I will have no motivation to change them.  So, I also need to respond to these two questions: Do my ‘Life-Metaphors’ get me what I want? What do I want? We begin by reflecting upon and responding to the second question first.

Paradoxically, our ‘Life-Metaphors’ can be depleting; they can actually support ourselves doing violence to ourselves.  They can also support the violence we do to the other(s) – some of this violence is unintended and some of it is intended.

Consider, Gentle Reader: In what ways do your ‘Life-Metaphors’ nurture your ‘self’ and the other(s) and in what ways do your ‘Life-Metaphors’ deplete – or do violence to – your ‘self’ and the other(s)? 

Listening is being able to be changed by the other person. –Alan Alda

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One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. –B. H. McGill

Gentle Reader, I invite you right now to stop, step-back and reflect: Think of a time when you were truly, deeply, reflectively listened to; you were listened to with undefended receptivity.  AND, think of a time when you truly, deeply and reflectively listened to another; you listened with undefended receptivity.

Listening in this way – ‘truly, deeply, reflectively,’ and receptively – is a gift given and received.  When I am listened to in this way and when I listen in this way I experience time standing still, the ‘now’ is experienced.  I am not ruminating about the past nor am I anticipating the future (e.g. thinking about how I will respond).

For me, this gift of listening is a sacred gift.  It is also a rare gift.  The illusion of technology was embedded in a promise: ‘Technology will give us more time!’  My experience is that the opposite has happened.  We are so caught up in technology that we don’t have more time.  It is rare that I am with another and within five minutes of sitting down together that technology will cry not out for attention.

Listening in this way requires us (me and the other) to slow down, to wait rather than react, and to seek to understand rather than reply.  Listening in this way requires reflective silence and patience (patience first for some of us).

Listening in this way honors both myself and the other.  What a gift – the gift of honoring. 

Listening in this way creates a space and a pathway for the quiet, small voice of wisdom that resides within me and the other to not only speak but to actually have an opportunity to be heard and heeded.

Listening in this way not only honors the relationship, listening in this way enhances the relationship.  ‘Trust’ is nurtured, and, often, is sustained as a consequence of listening in this way.

A gift that a leader (by role or by situation) can give the other is the gift of listening in this way.  Too many leaders are infected by the hurry sickness as a consequence of being addicted to speed (as a Culture we are addicted to both ‘speed’ and ‘distraction’).

Recently, a CEO decided to respond to the employees.  They had been sending him a message for months that he was not ‘present to them.’  He did not take the time to visit the centers (there are ten health centers available for him to visit).  Two weeks ago he announced that he ‘heard’ them and that he would visit each center.

On the given day of his visit a representative showed up.  The staff was gathered in a room and a video tape was put on – not a live feed, a video tape.  The CEO wanted to know the issues and told the staff to tell the CEO’s representative and that person would take notes and report back to the CEO.

Gentle Reader, this actually happened.  An example of listening – true.  How many employees felt honored and gifted by this CEO’s approach?  How much cynicism was sown or nurtured as a consequence?  What was the message sent by the CEO?  [The message received is the message; intentions do not matter in this scenario.]

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk. –Doug Larson



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