GREENLEAF’S ‘BEST TEST,’ PART II

In PART I I began to reflect upon Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ and today, Gentle Reader, I will continue my reflection.  Greenleaf’s test opens with: Do those served grow as persons. . .  In my first reflection I focused on the individual, today I will invite you, Gentle Reader, to consider additional ‘persons.’ 

I serve individuals AND I also serve relationships of two or more individuals.  So, for example, I serve each relationship I am part of — a friendship with another, a working relationship I may have with another, the relationship I have with each of my children (now adults), etc.  I am also served by the other in each of these relationships.  So, each of us is served as individuals and the relationship is also served and, so, if we are served well then each of us grows and so does the relationship. 

This also holds for the family (‘family’ is defined differently by different folks and so I will not attempt to offer ‘one’ definition for family — it does seem to me that if one is a member of a family that one will know this).  Now a family is a bit more complicated.  Let us say, for example, that there are four members of a family.  Each individual is entrusted with a relationship with each member; if I am correct in my math (and don’t bet on it) there are six dyadic relationships in a family of four AND there is also the family as a whole.  So, as a result of serving and being served does each individual, each relationship and the family as a whole grow? 

Organizations (i.e. any organized group of two or more folks) are simply individuals and relationships writ large and so they too become part of the ‘Best Test.’  Within these organizations there might well be teams, or departments, or divisions or. . .And so within these each person, each dyad and the entity as a whole are — or are not — served.  And if they are served well then growth will occur. 

What growth?  Consider that for each of the examples above (and these are not the only ones possible) Physical growth, Intellectual growth, Emotional growth, and Spirit(ual) growth becomes part of the mix.  There is also the additional dimension of Social growth.  For each of these dimensions the question of whether they are nurtured more than they are depleted becomes significant.  Specifically, in what ways are they nurtured and in what ways are they depleted?  Over time, one of these will occur more frequently than the other (it is not possible to be ‘neutral’ — there is always nurturance or depletion occurring).  Over time, each of the above will either grow in one or more of these dimensions and over time each of the above will also be depleted in one or more of these dimensions.  Nature teaches us that growth requires renewal and so it is for us humans who are also natural beings.  However, too often individuals, relationships and organizations do not take the time to renew — how many folks have been ‘used up’ and ‘burnt out’ in one or more of the dimensions?  What has been the effect on individuals, relationships and organizations as a result?  How is it that we can claim that we are serving others (and ourselves) well when we refuse to take the time to renew?  This continues to puzzle me. 

Gentle Reader, when have you as an individual, as a member of a dyad and/or as a member of an organization engaged in a renewal process (I am speaking of a process, not of a ‘one-off’ experience)?  Nature shows us that renewal must occur, at minimum, annually if growth is going to continue to occur and we are natural beings and so. . .  In the United States we spend more than 60 billion dollars a year on stress-related issues (burnout and depression being the major ones).  What would happen if we took the time to renew, how would this affect the amount spend each year? 

Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider again and again and again Greenleaf’s question: ‘Do those served grow as persons. . .’  

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GREENLEAF’S ‘BEST TEST,’ PART I

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

This morning I was sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops and as I was savoring my coffee while watching the Starbucks ‘Partners’ serve their customers I began to think about Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test.’  So, after a bit I put finger to key and the following emerged.

Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant-first: The following 1980 iteration is, as far as I am able to discern, Greenleaf’s last iteration of his ‘Best Test.’ Greenleaf reminds us that this is a most difficult test to administer — which might be one reason why so few folks actually engage it. 

Greenleaf writes: Do those 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?

Do those served grow as persons. . .This is truly counter to our culture (i.e. United States).  First, it is rooted in an organic metaphor — growth; it is not rooted in our primary banking metaphor nor it is rooted in our traditional mechanical/industrial metaphor, nor is it rooted in the emerging technological metaphor, nor is it rooted in our war/sports metaphor.  For Greenleaf, human beings are not ‘resources,’ assets, or commodities to be used and used up (the banking metaphor), nor are they ‘cogs’ in the great machine, nor are they impersonal sound-bytes or 140 character tweets, nor are they ‘expendable,’ cannon fodder, blindly loyal (rather than intentionally committed — there is a significant difference between ‘being loyal’ and ‘being committed’) or simply ‘team players’ (where the well-being of the team becomes more important than the well-being of the person — anyone who has burnt themselves out for the team and whose ‘health’ has suffered as a result knows of what I speak).

As a human being, what does it mean to grow?  Consider that one way of understanding our growth is to explore the four dimensions that help define us as human beings.  I call these our P.I.E.S. (S.).  We have a Physical dimension and we are entrusted with our own physical well-being.  Do we get enough rest and sleep?  Do we get the nutrition we need?  Do we engage in the physical exercise that nurtures us?  [There are many questions we can ask re: our physical dimension and you, Gentle Reader, might well have some that are important for you to pay attention to].  We also have an Intellectual dimension.  We are entrusted with an intellect that must be nurtured — developed and sustained and challenged.  As Aristotle noted a few thousand years ago, we become what we think.  What nurtures us intellectually and what depletes us intellectually?  Are we aware?  Do we care? 

Then there is our Emotional dimension.  Our emotional responses are directly connected to our thinking.  What we tell ourselves about a person, or a situation, or an experience triggers certain emotional responses.  I can change what I can control and I can control what I say to myself (or to others) about people, situations or experiences.  Many stressors become healthy [eustress] or unhealthy [distress] simply because of what I say to myself about them.  In our culture we have a fondness for medicating our emotions rather than developing our emotional capacity.

Perhaps the most important dimension is our Spiritual dimension (for some the concept of ‘Spirit’ serves them better — as in ‘How is your spirit today?’).  For some, Spiritual is intimately connected to their faith-tradition and faith-life.  For others, Spirit is ‘entheos’ [Greenleaf’s term] — the spirit that animates us and sustains us.  My experience is that folks know when their spirit is being depleted or when their spiritual life has been lost in the wasteland (which is quite different from being lost in the wilderness).  What nurtures and sustains our spiritual dimension?  What depletes and harms our spiritual dimension?

You will notice, Gentle Reader, a second ‘S,’ the one inside of the parenthesis.  A number of years ago a high school student suggested that there is a second ‘S’ and she named it as the Social Dimension.  Since, she said, that we are relational beings then we must nurture our ‘Social Side’ as well.  The harm that bullying does suggest that she might well be right.  So, how do you nurture this dimension, the Social Dimension, and how do you deplete it? 

Next time we will continue with Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ — for now we, I certainly, have more than enough to reflect upon.    

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A KEY CHARACTERISTIC OF THE SERVANT

Greenleaf asks: ‘Why is there so little listening?’  He also states that a key characteristic of the servant is that he or she ‘listens, first.’

‘Why is there so little listening?’  Noise, Speed, Distraction, ‘Sleep,’ and Attachment (to name four reasons).

Noise: First there is the noise that resides within us — all of the self-talk that we do from moment to moment.  ‘Be Still!’ is not part of our mantra.  Then there is all of the external noise that washes over us moment to moment.  I am currently sitting in a coffee shop and I am bombarded by the music, I am aware of the many voices that are seeking attention, I am aware of the sounds emanating from the coffee making machines, I am aware of the scrapes that the chairs make on the tiled floors and I am aware of the noises coming forth from my own body.  We are a noisy culture.  We love noise.  If two or more folk are gathered then silence will not reign; even if those gathered are attending to their cell phones — texting and reading — silence is not invited in.

Speed: We are also a culture that loves speed.  This often shows up in our busyness.  We rush around like so many chickens in the yard.  We suffer from ‘hurry-sickness.’  We are addicted to speed.

Distraction: We are distracted visually — just look around you a bit and you will begin to notice how many visual distractions abound.  We are distracted by the ‘next thing’ that we have to do.  We are distracted by ‘time’ — how often have you attempted to speak with another and he or she begins looking at their watch.  There are so many distractions that we find being ‘present’ long enough to listen is a real challenge.

‘Sleep:’ We are, too often, not awake, aware and thus not ‘present’ to the other (or to ourselves).  We live in the past or are busy anticipating the future and so it is difficult (or is it ‘troublesome’?) for us to be fully present, to be fully awake and hence to listen deeply.

Attachment: In order to listen I need to hold an attitude that what I hear might influence me.  To the extent I am attached (to my own views, perceptions, values, beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices, deep assumptions, etc.) I will not be able to listen (either to what is emerging from within me or from what is emerging from within you).

about:blank Not only do we need to develop our capacity to listen — to listen to understand, to listen with undefended receptivity, to listen intently, and to listen with an attitude that ‘I might well be influenced by what I hear’ — we need, as Greenleaf writes, ‘to listen, first.’  We are a culture that not only loves speed we love action.  We love to ‘do’ and to ‘make things happen.’  Listening begins ‘in here’ — inside of me — and requires that I pay attention and this requires that I slow down so that I can, indeed, pay attention.  Listening also requires me to slow down so I can listen to you — listening in this way takes time.  Listening becomes a gift — to you and to the one speaking.  The servant listens first especially during times of crisis.  The servant listens so he or she can be appropriately responsive or appropriately reactive — and listening intently and receptively helps one discern which to of these to engage.  Greenleaf also wants to know that when we do choose to speak then our speaking will improve on the silence, and I think, on our listening.

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AN INVITATION

Greenleaf writes: Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite.  It is a disturber and an awakener. 

Awareness.  Once again, Greenleaf calls us back to being aware.  There are, as we all know, many things each moment that we can choose to be aware of — and we do choose.  AND to what extent do we choose with intention and purpose?  This morning I am going to invite you, Gentle Reader, into a guided reflection.  I will offer you a few questions and I invite you to take some time and hold each one and become aware of what emerges into your consciousness as you do so; some find it helpful to capture in writing what emerges for them. 

Before you move on to another question you might find it helpful to take one minute and ‘clear your mind.’ The following are questions that I ask leaders to hold and reflect upon AND they are also questions that each of us might hold and reflect upon.  You can engage each question from a ‘role’ you’ve taken on (leader, parent, employee, artist, bricklayer, etc.) from the perspective of one who is a human being.  So, Gentle Reader, here are the questions:

* As a _____________, what are two or three ‘core values’ that you hold [a ‘core value’ is a value that to the best of your ability you will never compromise]?

*  As a ____________, what are two or three guiding life-principles that you follow [e.g. To live a life rooted in integrity.]?

*  As a ____________, when the pressure is on, what is your default (reactive?) response: to coerce, to manipulate, to persuade, to influence?

*  Overall, does the way you ______________get you what you want?  What do you want?  [If I know what I want and if the way I ___________ gets me what I want the chances that I will change — or even be open to consider changing — will be close to zero.]

*  What sort of things about yourself might lead you to make a decision with poor results?

*  When are you open to being influenced by voices that do not resonate with you — or that are outright disturbing to you or that directly challenge you?  What keeps you from being open to being influenced by these voices?

Well, Gentle Reader, I hold an intention that one or more of these will help you to become more aware of who you are and of who you are choosing to become.  I leave you with the words of Carl Jung.  Jung writes: One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light, but by making darkness conscious.

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CONSIDER: GREENLEAF’S ‘CREDO’

Throughout the years Greenleaf offered us a number of iterations of his ‘credo.’  The following iteration is, I believe, his last iteration and it can be found in his 1982 essay, ‘Spirituality as Leadership.’  Greenleaf wrote:

‘My credo for some time has been expressed thusly: I believe that caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is what makes a good society.  Most caring was once person to person.  Now much of it is mediated through institutions – often large, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. 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 as servant of as many institutions as possible by new voluntary regenerative forces initiated within them by committed individuals – servants.  Such servants may never predominate or even be numerous; but their influence may form a leaven that makes possible a reasonably civilized society.’      

Greenleaf’s big dream is captured in his credo: the creation of a ‘good society.’  Such a society is created to the extent that we care for one another and this means that the more able and the less able actually serve one another (you might remember Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the servant).  This calls for interdependent relationships not dependent relationships. This alone is a powerful challenge for our culture.  He also notes that what once occurred person-to-person now occurs person-to-organization and organization-to-person.  And for anyone who has ever been directly affected by an organization he or she knows that they are, like each of us, living paradoxes: sometimes they are deeply caring and sometimes they are non-personal; sometimes they are competent and sometimes they are incompetent; sometimes they are moral and ethical and sometimes they are corrupt. 

Greenleaf is also clear as to what needs to occur if ‘a better society is to be built’ — and not just any type of society but one that is ‘more just and caring’ and one ‘providing opportunity for people to grow’ — then ‘the most effective’ (remember, Greenleaf is interested in ‘how things get done’ and done with ‘distinction’ not ‘mediocrity’) and in an ‘economical way’ [he seems to be a fiscal conservative] ‘while supportive of the social order’ [although he is counter-cultural, he still believes that we must live within the current social order — i.e. democracy] and this  is supported by ‘regenerative forces’ [these ‘forces’ do not destroy — ‘responsible people build, they do not destroy’ — this is important to note].  These ‘forces’ are ‘initiated’ from ‘within’ — they are not external to the society or to the organization.  These ‘forces’ emanate from ‘committed individuals — servants.’  This is also highly counter-cultural for Greenleaf does not say that these folks are leaders [we are in love in our culture with the concept of leader], they are ‘servants.’  He concludes with a final crucial point: these ‘servants’ may never predominate or even be numerous — for the past 20 years or so there has been a growing tendency to want everyone to be a servant-leader and Greenleaf reminds us that ‘servants’ (whether followers or leaders) might not be great in number.  Nevertheless, these servants will be highly ‘influential.’ 

My experience is that we who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-as-leader do not spend nearly enough time exploring the deep and powerful implications of his ‘Credo.’  So, Gentle Reader, I invite you to do so – take the time and explore, especially with others, the deep and powerful implications of his ‘Credo.’

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