Maturity is sensitivity to human suffering. –Julius Gordon

Greenleaf writes: The most important lesson I have learned about maturity is that the emergence, the full development, of what is uniquely me should be an important concern throughout my entire life. . . This I learned the hard way.  There was a long ‘wilderness’ period in which I sought resources outside of myself. . . Good years went by.  No answers came back.  It took a long time for me to discover that the only real answer to frustration is to concern myself with the drawing forth of what is uniquely me.  Only as what is uniquely me emerges do I experience moments of true creativity; moments which, when deeply felt, temper the pain of long periods of frustration that are the common lot of most of us and give me the impulse and the courage to act constructively in the outside world.

Every life, including the most normal of the normal, is a blend of experiences that build ego strength and those that tear it down.  As one’s responsibilities widen, these forces become more powerful.  As good a definition as I know is that maturity is the capacity to withstand the ego-destroying experiences and not lose one’s perspective in the ego-building experiences. . .

Gentle Reader, what is the most important lesson you have learned about ‘maturity’?  For years I thought I could find the answer in books; I used to say, ‘This is the ONE, this one will hold the answer for me!’  It did not; none of them did.  What I did learn was that they helped me by stimulating my thinking AND that I had to decide whether I would be responsible and response-able when it came to my own development.

There were several ‘essential life questions’ that have continued to serve me well:  Who are You?  Who are you choosing to Become?  Why are you choosing This Becoming?  What are you doing here?  Where are you going?  Why are you choosing to go there?  These are a combination of ‘Being’ and ‘Doing’ questions.  Too often in my life I have spent more time with the ‘Being’ questions.  My challenge has been to find a balance.  As Greenleaf noted, whatever our ‘maturity-challenge’ is, it is a life-long challenge.

Greenleaf offers us his definition of maturity.  Gentle reader, what is your definition of maturity?   For me, being mature means that I embrace being responsible and being response-able for two relationships.  The first is the relationship I have with myself – at my most mature I am a living paradox.  I am good and evil, I am virtue and vice, I am light and darkness and I nurture and deplete both polarities.  When I am the healthiest I am nurturing the good, the virtues, and the light and I am depleting the evil, the vice, and the darkness.  I accept that I am unconditionally responsible and response-able.

The second is the relationship I have with the other(s).  How do I approach and then engage each relationship?  Am I able to care for and be empathetic toward each person I meet simply because they are also living paradoxes and because as human beings they need me to be caring and empathetic?  I have never met an ‘evil’ person – others say they have.  Yet when I think of someone being evil I pause and recall Terry Anderson’s powerful poem, ‘Satan’ and then. . .   And then, I take a deep, slow breath.

Avoiding maturity is…for many…a life’s work. –Michael Leunig

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Greenleaf writes: [Regarding] the subject of liberating visions… Important to me are:

  • Immerse oneself in the experiences this world offers.
  • Be accepting of the people involved in these experiences, and seek to understand what moves them.
  • Acknowledge – and stand in awe before – the ineffable mystery that shrouds the source of all understanding of human motives that leads to visions.
  • Be open to receive, and act upon, what inspiration offers.

These four prompt questions from me.

  • What are the experiences the world offers me that I choose to deeply immerse myself in?  How do I choose which experiences to immerse myself in?  For me, ‘depth’ implies, among other things, ‘darkness’ – the unknown and the unforeseeable and it involves some risk.  ‘Depth-immersing’ also requires a combination of faith, trust and doubt rooted in inquiry.  In order to choose to immerse myself I must be awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full so I am able to discern the experiences that might serve me well.
  • How open am I to accepting the people involved in the experiences? How open am I to seeking to understand what moves them?  This, for me, entails an interesting tension: I seek to accept the people and understand what moves them; I might not accept what moves them – my charge is to understand what moves them.  Too often I find myself when choosing not to accept what moves them I end up choosing not to accept the person.
  • Greenleaf offers us an idea that stretches and challenges my mind: the human motives that lead to visions are ‘shrouded’ (not easily discerned) in ‘mystery’ – not just any ‘mystery’ but the mystery that is ‘ineffable’ (that is, the mystery that is incapable of being expressed or described in words). Our task is not to ‘understand’ the ineffable mystery but to accept it (perhaps even accept that such a mystery actually exists).  For folks who are ‘concrete’ and focused on ‘doing’ and are ‘operationally strong’ this challenge is indeed a daunting one.
  • Greenleaf concludes with the challenge (or is it an invitation) to be open to receive and act upon, what inspiration offers. So immersion, understanding, and acknowledging are not sufficient.  We are charged with being open so we might receive and then we are charged with acting.  This is consistent with Greenleaf: the philosopher and the activist.  This final charge offered to us by Greenleaf involves a ‘both-and’ and this is also consistent with Greenleaf.  How do I prepare myself to be open to receiving what inspiration offers and how do I prepare myself so that I might then choose to act?


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The mediocre teacher tells.  The excellent teacher models.  The superior teacher calls forth. –Anonymous

Greenleaf is clear that the hope for a society to become more just and more caring lies within the potential for the young to choose to become servants-first.  Greenleaf is also clear that he is hope-full that enough teachers will appear in order to help the young understand their significant role in helping the society become more just and more caring – these teachers will also help the young develop their servant potential so that they might choose to embrace their ‘Call’ to serve.

Greenleaf writes: teachers (individuals not institutions) will be inspired to raise the society-building consciousness of the young.  And teachers may be anybody who can teach young people who have the potential to be servants and prepare them to be servant leaders.  These teachers may be members of school faculties, presidents of colleges and universities, those working with young people in churches.  Some may be parents, others may be either professionals or volunteers working with youth groups.  But whoever and wherever they are, these teachers will catch the vision and do what they know how to do.  First, they will reinforce or build hope.  Young people will be helped to accept the world, and to believe that they can learn to live productively in it as it is – striving, violent, unjust, as well as beautiful, caring and supportive.  They will be helped to believe that they can cope, and that, if they work at it over a lifetime, they may leave a little corner of the world a bit better than they found it.  Then these teachers will nourish the embryo spark of servant in as many as possible and help prepare those who are able – to lead!

Who is called to be a teacher?  Am I, are You, Gentle Reader?  Am I, are You, prepared to respond to the ‘Call’ affirmatively with a resounding ‘YES’?  How does one become ‘inspired to raise the society-building consciousness of the young’?  Who are the ‘young’ – what is the age range that encompasses ‘young’?  How do we demonstrate to the young that our society-building consciousness has been raised; how do we model this to the young?  If a teacher is not a servant can he or she help the young develop their servant-nature?  What is the vision?  For Greenleaf it is that together we build a more just and caring society (who defines what a more just and caring society looks like, sounds like, feels like).  The teacher, Greenleaf notes, does what he or she ‘knows how to do.’

What it is that the teacher knows how to do?  The teacher knows about ‘hope’ and knows how to both ‘reinforce’ hope and ‘build’ hope.  The teacher must demonstrate that he or she ‘accepts the world’ for if the teacher does not, he or she will not be able to help the young do so.  The teacher must demonstrate that it is possible to live productively in the world as it is AND yet, not accept the world as it is.  Again, if the teacher cannot do so then he or she will not be able to help the young learn to do so.

The teacher must demonstrate that he or she can – and does – cope.  Helping the young learn to cope is a crucial gift that the young need to be offered.  The teacher continuously reinforces a belief and a commitment: to leave their little corner of the world better off than they found it.  This lived belief and commitment will help the young embrace such a belief and commitment (the young do pay attention to how the teacher lives and is powerfully influenced as a result).

Finally, the teacher, as servant, will seek out the ‘embryo spark of the servant’ residing within the young and feed this spark so that it becomes a flame, a passion that nurtures the servant-within.  The servant will then be prepared to accept the invitation to lead when it is presented.

When I reflect upon the teacher in this way I find myself stopping to reflect upon who I truly am as a teacher.  At times I am affirmed, at times I am disturbed – always, I am challenged.

Experience plus Reflection is the Learning. –Charles Handy

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Greenleaf writes: The strongest, most productive institution over a long period of time is one in which, other things being equal, there is the largest amount of voluntary action in support of the goals of the institution. The people who staff the institution do the right things at the right time – things that optimize total effectiveness – because the goals are clear and comprehensive and they understand what ought to be done.  They believe they are the right things to do, and they take the necessary actions without being instructed. 

Consider, gentle reader, this ‘voluntary action’ is action that the organization cannot ‘buy.’  It is the action that is ‘freely given.’  It is what I call, ‘discretionary energy’ – the ‘energy’ that one freely gives over and above the energy that one agrees to provide in exchange for some type of agreed upon remuneration.

Greenleaf says that one of the reasons folks provide ‘voluntary action’ is rooted in a desire to ‘support the goals of the institution.’  Not just any goals, but goals that ae ‘clear and comprehensive.’  This is the challenge: to emerge and codify goals that are both ‘clear’ and ‘comprehensive.’  These goals help the person choose to ‘do the right thing’ for the ‘right thing.’

Because the actions are voluntary, people will choose to take them without being instructed (this also requires that the folks have developed the skills and capacities for the action required – this ‘development’ is also a charge that the institution must acknowledge and embrace and deliver on).

I am thinking of a well-known organization that had, at one time, the simplest employee handbook.  It contained two directives: (1) When serving the customer use your common sense. And (2) When in doubt, ask.  This company became famous for its customer care (not just service, but ‘care’).  I am also thinking of Phil A., a hotel doorman that I met in Cambridge, MA many years ago.  He viewed his role from the perspective of an ‘owner’ (he was truly an ‘emotional owner’) and because of his perspective he freely gave his discretionary energy (he also put in writing many ‘suggestions’ for improvement and they were so good that many of them were adopted by the organization – you cannot ‘buy’ this from folks).  I am also thinking of an engineering company that in 1990 had to lay off 20% of their employees in order to ‘save’ the business.  Almost to a person, folks made it clear that if the company ever recovered and were hiring again that no matter what they were doing they would like to return (and a few years later a number of them left other organizations to rejoin this one).  I am also thinking of another company where nearly every employee (out of a thousand) each gave money out of their own pocket with no guarantee that they would get it back so that the company could keep its doors open (the doors were kept open and folks got their money back, plus…); again, you cannot pay people enough to take such risks.

How many organizations do you know where these things would happen?  How many organizations do you know where folks give ‘voluntary actions’?  How many organizations do you know where the goals are both ‘clear’ and ‘comprehensive’?

Responsible people build; they are moved by the heart. –Robert K. Greenleaf


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[Serving] requires that a concerned individual accepts the problems he sees as a means of achieving his own integrity. –Robert K. Greenleaf

In his writings, Greenleaf offers us a number of ‘dominant ideas’ to consider, if not embrace, if not integrate.  His first dominant idea is about service.  For Greenleaf ‘service’ is a way of being and a way of doing; it is an attitude and a behavior.  It is an integrated and a lived value.  It is a ‘both-and.’

When combined with ‘leader’ – as in the servant-leader – it is a paradox to be embraced.  The leader (by role or situation) is ‘servant-first.’  This idea continues to be counter-cultural (not in what is ‘espoused,’ for more folks today ‘espouse’ the concept of ‘service’ but in what is actually ‘lived out.’  Don’t believe me, just take a good look at how leaders actually lead).

Greenleaf’s dominant idea has been encapsulated into the words: ‘servant-leadership’ or ‘servant leadership.’ For me, this wording misses the power of his dominant idea which is more powerfully stated in ‘the servant as leader’ or ‘the servant-as-leader’ (which, as we know is also the title of his seminal essay).

One is servant-first and one might or might not be called to be a leader (by role or by situation).  Also, ‘the servant as leader’ concept combines a philosophy with an activity.  As Greenleaf noted in a number of his writings, the ‘theme of servant’ is ‘the dominant theme’ – the dominant theme is not ‘leader’ or ‘leadership.’  This reinforces, for me, the true counter-cultural nature of Greenleaf’s idea.

The ‘servant’ and ‘service’ combine to create the ‘moral dimension’ of what a leader is about.  Sadly, for me anyway, Greenleaf’s dominant idea has been adulterated by many who ‘claim’ to be servant-leaders; they have shifted his focus from ‘servant-first’ to ‘leader-first’ or to ‘leader as servant’ or to ‘service-leadership.’  They have shifted (or is it changed?) the emphasis from ‘servant’ to ‘leader.’

Leadership (the by-product of the relationship between the leader and those who freely choose to follow) is, as Peter Vaill noted, ‘a special case of service. . . service (is not) a special case of leadership.’  Greenleaf is not challenging us (those of us who wish to embrace and live into and out of his concept) to ask ‘What service can I offer as a leader?’  Greenleaf is challenging us to ask ‘How will I lead as one rooted in the nature of a servant?’

Greenleaf does provide us with the ‘test’ for the servant; a test that continues to challenge us and to invite us into ‘being’ and ‘doing.’  ‘The best test…do those served grow as persons…’  There is more, as we know, to this test, but this opening idea continues to stop many of us short in our tracks; it gives us pause.  Indeed it does.

…what is the effect on the least privileged in society…–Robert K. Greenleaf

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Responsible people build. –Robert K. Greenleaf

In his 1988 iteration of his essay, ‘Servant: Retrospect & Prospect’ Greenleaf writes: …let us look past the individual to the institution in which he or she serves: what (or who) makes that institution strong?

As I see it, the strongest, most productive institution over a long period of time is one in which, other things being equal, there is the largest amount of voluntary action in support of the goals of the institution.  The people who staff the institution do the ‘right’ things at the right time – things that optimize total effectiveness – because the goals are clear and comprehensive and they understand what ought to be done.  They believe they are the right things to do, and they take the necessary actions without being instructed.  No institution ever achieves this perfectly.  But I submit that, other things being equal, the institution that achieves the most of this kind of voluntary action will be judged ‘strong,’ stronger than comparable institutions that have less of these voluntary actions. 

Let’s unpack this a bit – not fully for we are limited by space.  Again, Greenleaf takes the ‘long view’ when he writes that he is concerned that an institution should commit to taking a ‘long period of time.’  Thus, the short-term, quick-fix attitude that our current culture is enamored with will not suffice.

Those within the institution ‘do the right things at the right time.’  What are the ‘right things’ to do?  The ‘right things’ are those things that ‘optimize total effectiveness.’  ‘Optimize’ helps the institution avoid mediocrity – One of Greenleaf’s major institutional criticisms is that too many settle for mediocrity rather than seeking to be distinctive.

‘Total effectiveness’ is directly related to Greenleaf being a ‘student of organizations – how things get done.’  ‘Total’ means ‘all-encompassing’ not just focused in one department or division or product or. . .   Folks can embrace this because the ‘goals are clear and comprehensive’ – a real challenge for institutions of all sizes and types and for-profit and not-for-profit as well.  AND these goals are ‘understood’ by all – another daunting challenge for it takes an investment of time, energy and effort in order to ensure that ‘all’ understand the goals and ‘what ought to be done.’  What is a major outcome for an organization?  Is it employee compliance, adaptation, buy-in or is it ‘emotional ownership’?

Given all of this, folks come to ‘believe’ (is ‘belief’ enough?) that these are the ‘right things to do’ and given this they will then ‘take the necessary actions’ to ensure success and to take the ‘actions’ without being ‘instructed’ to do so.  Folks need to have the skills, abilities, resources and support in order to take the initiative; they also need a structure and policies and procedures that create the safe space/environment for them do so.  Folks are capable of doing this – check out the Harley-Davidson story of the early 1980s and the on-going stories at Southwest Airlines and Johnsonville Meats for good examples of this.

These ‘actions’ are ‘voluntary.’  You cannot ‘purchase’ this.  I call it giving ‘discretionary energy’ – the energy that cannot be bought but is freely given (you cannot coerce or manipulate folks to give you this energy).  Again, there are examples on both ends of the continuum – no matter the ‘industry’ (airlines, hospitals, educational institutions, foundations, financial institutions, and ‘professional’ organizations of all types – religious, engineering, law, etc.).

Greenleaf’s observations and challenges continue to be relevant today – what does this say about us?  What does it say about those of us who for two generations continue to espouse Greenleaf’s concept of the servant (leader and follower)?  Why do we continue to refuse (or is it ‘resist) to learn from institutions of all types that successfully live out what Greenleaf espouses above?  I am not talking about ‘replicating’ or ‘cloning’ them – that does not seem to work; I am talking about truly ‘learning’ from them and then taking the time, energy and effort to emerge ‘our own way’; the way that will work for us?  Perhaps Greenleaf was correct: We are too satisfied with being mediocre.

What have you done with the garden entrusted to you? –Machado


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We are sentenced to live with who we become. –Max De Pree

Let us continue and briefly explore the following two statements [see Part I, 1 October, 2019 for the context of what follows]:

 SERVANT, Greenleaf writes: ‘. . .by acting with integrity and spirit, [the servant] builds trust and lifts people and helps them grow.’ 

LEADER, Greenleaf writes is one ‘. . .who is trusted and who shapes other peoples destinies by going out ahead to show the way.’ 

At this point it might be helpful to define three terms:

INTEGRITY = the state of being whole; an adherence to moral and ethical principles

SPIRIT = the vital, animating principle in humans; a principle that animates thoughts, feelings and actions [Greenleaf called this ‘Entheos’]

TRUST = reliance on the integrity of a person; the responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence is placed

The Servant and the Leader are charged with different, yet complementary, challenges.  The Servant is a ‘trust-builder.’  For Greenleaf, being a ‘trust-builder’ is a key characteristic of the Servant [the question, of course, is ‘How does one go about building trust?’].  The Servant is also charged with ‘lifting people up.’  This ‘lifting’ occurs after people have stumbled and fallen (and as imperfect beings we are all guaranteed to have this experience many times over during our lifetime); hence, forgiveness, healing (‘to make things whole’), and reconciliation also come into play.

‘Lifting up’ also means that the Servant helps others live into and out of their potential and helps others develop, or develop more fully, their gifts, talents and abilities so that they can serve the needs that exist in their world.

The Servant is also charged with helping people ‘grow’ — since Greenleaf is interested in ‘seeing things whole’ one’s growth will also occur wholistically within the four following dimensions: the Physical, the Intellectual, the Emotional, and the Spiritual.  When the Servant acts, he or she does so with ‘integrity’ and ‘spirit’ [‘Entheos’ – the spirit that sustains us].

The Leader is ‘trusted’ by the led; they are trusted because they stay ‘true’ [the question is: What do they stay true to? Whom do they stay true to?].  The following question might be one helpful guide: ‘What do the led ‘trust’ in the leader?’  Individuals will respond to this question differently; at least this is my experience.

Greenleaf also says that the Leader ‘shapes other people’s destinies.’  The Leader does this in a very specific way, ‘by going out ahead and showing the way.’

People’s destinies are directly connected to whether they choose to follow ‘the way’ or not.  Their destinies are also connected to the ‘attitudes’ they carry with them as they choose to follow.  Greenleaf is clear that there are two types of Leaders — one is by role and the other is by situation.  Thus, anyone is capable of ‘going out ahead and showing the way.’

One risk for the Leader occurs when he or she goes out ahead to show the way.  Another risk occurs when others decide to follow the Leader; they entrust themselves to the Leader.  Trust is perhaps the major tap root that nurtures both the Servant and the Leader.  My current thinking is that this is so.

Trust starts with truth and ends with truth. –Santosh Kalwar

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