The way to do is to be. –Lao Tzu
Good morning Gentle Reader, we have one more question respond to before we continue with our exploration of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant.’ As a reminder, here is the question: Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?
And, as another reminder, here is Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his ‘Best Test’: 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.
Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional? More than twenty years ago my friend and colleague, Tamyra, and I were engaged in one of our long conversations; our conversations would last two or three hours. They were in-depth, searching conversations. One topic that emerged was captured in this question: Is Greenleaf’s concept of ‘servant-first’ a self-sacrificing concept? The sibling question is: Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?
A literal reading of his ‘Best Test’ and his ‘Credo’ [His ‘I believe’ statement] can lead us to the following responses: Greenleaf’s concept is one-directional and hence, over time, is self-sacrificing. At its worst, it will morph into what is commonly referred to as the martyr’s syndrome.
As I recall, there are only two references by Greenleaf in his writings that provide us an alternative. Greenleaf tells us that in serving one is also served. He tells us that in serving the other so he or she becomes ‘whole’ (think: is ‘healed’) that the one serving also becomes ‘whole’. The question: ‘Is this a given?’
Does it logically follow that if I serve your highest priority needs that I, too, am served? If my serving you facilitates your becoming ‘whole’ does it follow that I, too, will become ‘whole’ (think, again, ‘healed’)?
As far as I know, Greenleaf never directly addresses these questions. He does, however, provide us a guideline via another question that he does offer us to consider: ‘When is serving potentially immoral?’
For me, serving become immoral when my serving becomes self-sacrificial. It also becomes immoral when my serving promotes a relationship rooted in dependence (I need the other to become dependent upon me; my ‘value’ is directly connected to your need for me).
Greenleaf also reinforces this when he addresses the issues of ‘power.’ We are, as servant-first leaders, challenged to use our power ethically (you might remember that his first Center was ‘The Center for Applied Ethics’). As servant-first leaders we can avoid creating a dependent relationship by embracing the concept that ‘leadership is a by-product’ of the relationship between the leader and the one who ‘freely’ chooses to follow. This helps transform the leader-led relationship into an interdependent relationship; a relationship rooted in trust, care and serving the priority needs of both.
I leave us with this question: ‘When is serving immoral?’
Next time we will continue with our exploration of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test.’
People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are. –Meister Eckhart