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

I love poetry and teaching stories.  I open and close my post this morning with two lines from two of the poems that continue to challenge me and remind me.  The great Spanish poet, Machado, reminds me I am both the garden and the gardener – others can help me tend the ‘garden that is Richard’ but I am, ultimately, the gardener-in-charge.  Dawna Markova reminds me and challenges me to be not afraid and to live ‘my’ life.  Too often when I was young I found myself striving to live the life that others wanted me to live – to trust others more than myself.

In his essay, Uniqueness, Paradox and Choice Greenleaf writes: ‘…there was a long wilderness period in which I sought resources outside myself.’

I have experienced a number of different types of ‘wildernesses’ these past 50+ years.  How about you, Gentle Reader, what have been some of the wildernesses that you have found yourself wandering in?

Like Greenleaf, I too, ‘sought resources outside of myself.’  My main resource for years was ‘books.’  Too often I just knew that if I found the right book then I would find the resource that I needed.  Many of the books provided me guidance; none of them provided me the resource I was seeking.

In 1971 a mentor, Lowell, entered into my life.  For four years he challenged me, he called ‘me’ forth.  I slowly began to find inner resources that helped me nurture the garden that is ‘Richard.’  One wilderness that I returned to and wandered in was actually two wildernesses.  One was what spiritual guides call the dark night of the soul wilderness and the other was what therapists call the wilderness of depression.  The ‘dark night’ contained little pieces of light that sustained me.  The wilderness of depression was a ‘wasteland of despair’ that depleted my physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions.

In 1984 another mentor, Parker, walked with me for four years.  He walked with me during a time when I was immersed in a ‘dark night of the soul wilderness’ and a ‘wasteland of despair wilderness.’  Parker knew both well.  By walking with me Parker affirmed that I had the inner resources to embrace both, to survive both, and to emerge from both more whole/healed.  I also learned that both ‘wildernesses’ would also stand just off of center-stage waiting to be called forth.  If – and when – I would give them their cue they would, with great gusto and glee join me.

As guides and mentors, Lowell and Parker affirmed who I was and at the same time challenged me to ‘trust the person, Richard.’  They believed that I had the inner resources necessary to tend my own garden, the garden that is ‘Richard.’  Slowly – over four years and then over another four years – I began to discern and trust my inner resources.  I began to become the gardener and I began to tend the garden that is ‘Richard.’  Slowly I became more and more response-able, responsible and accountable as the gardener and I became more caring for the garden that is ‘Richard.’  Oh, I still rely on external resources – no one is truly self-sufficient.  I also rely on the gardener, Richard, who is entrusted with the garden, ‘Richard.’

I will not die an unlived life/I will not live in fear. –Dawna Markova

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The way we treat a thing can sometimes change its nature. –Lewis Hyde

Greenleaf writes: I had a mentor who believed that every man has the seeds of greatness in him. After reading this I stopped, stepped aside and reflected upon ‘Mentor.’

Consider the following: A Mentor is one who sees our potential and calls forth our potential and a Mentor is one who sees us as we are and challenges us to embrace the better angels of our nature.  At times a Mentor is a ‘Teacher’ for he/she has knowledge that is crucial for us to know and so the Mentor offers us this knowledge.  At times a Mentor is an ‘Educator’ and ‘calls forth’ the wisdom and the ‘potentials’ that resides within us.  At times a Mentor is a ‘Guide’ and ‘shows us a way’ and/or walks with us and ‘guides us via inquiry.’  At times a Mentor joins us as a ‘searcher-seeker’ – we are companions on the journey.  At times a Mentor is an inquisitor and challenges us: Why are you choosing this becoming?  Is what you are choosing to do getting you what you want?  What do you want?  Where are you going and why are you going there?

I encountered my first mentor when I was 11 years old.  I was in elementary school.  I was walking to my classroom.  Walking toward me was ‘Coach’ Kelly.  He walked a bit hunched over and walked with a bit of a shuffle combined with a bit of a waddle.  His eyes were glued on me; I can still see his penetrating gaze as I type these words.  He walked directly toward me.  I stopped.  He stopped.

‘I’ve been watching you, Smith.  You need to come out for the basketball team.’  I walked with a limp – a birth-defect in my left hip.  The ‘Coach’ did not hesitate.  ‘You can do this; you can run well enough.  See you at practice tomorrow.’  I showed up.  Coach Kelly called forth gifts in me that I did not know I possessed.  He was a support and Mentor to me for six years.  He kept ‘seeing’ and ‘challenging’ and ‘calling forth.’

Including Coach Kelly I have been blessed with nine Mentors in my life.  Four, including Coach Kelly, ‘announced themselves’ as Mentors.  The other five – the last four – emerged in response to an intention I held.  I had learned that if I discerned the need for a Mentor and if I held a conscious intention then a Mentor would show up.  One challenge, of course, was to be able to identify the Mentor when the Mentor appeared.  Of the five, three ‘announced’ themselves with the same words: ‘I am not sure why, but I believe I am meant to be in your life – let us meet and talk about it.’   Each of the five presented themselves at just the right time – this in itself is mind-blowing and spirit-blowing.

I remember well my last Mentor.  R.T. (he told me that in the South, R.T. is a real name).  I had been invited to sit in on a meeting.  As is my pattern, I showed up early.  I had been holding for some months an intention for a Mentor to show up.  I had just settled in the conference room when this older fellow showed up (I was 48 years old at the time).  He sat down across from me.  I greeted him and returned to reading as he settled in.  After he was settled in he looked at me.  He then said: ‘Excuse me for interrupting.  I have a feeling that I am supposed to be in your life – but I have no idea why.  Will you be willing to meet with me and talk with me about my feeling?’  I knew, at that moment, that R.T. was going to become my Mentor.  He did.  He was my Mentor for more than four years.  He was my last Mentor – perhaps not ‘the’ last Mentor though.

Gentle Reader: Who have been your Mentors?  What did each one ‘See’ and ‘Call Forth’ and in what ways did each ‘Challenge’ you?  When did you say, ‘Thank You’? – Or have you yet to say ‘Thank You’?

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does! –William James


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The prime test of persuasion is that the change is truly voluntary. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Good day, Gentle Reader.  Today I am going to offer us a lengthy quotation from one of Greenleaf’s unpublished essays.  I do not know the date of this draft but given that he does not mention ‘servant’ or servant-leader’ I assume he wrote the draft prior to 1969.

As I noted in other posts, Greenleaf defines ‘persuasion’ as ‘influence’.  For our purposes today I invite you to hold two definitions: Persuasion= to convince via logical argument [‘Argument’ in the Socratic sense not in the sense of ‘winning an argument’] so the person freely states: ‘This is where I choose to stand.  Influence = the capacity to use inquiry rooted in integrity, over time, in order to allow the other to emerge and to emotionally own his/her own thoughts and behaviors/actions so they will choose to be unconditionally response-able, responsible, appropriately reactive and accountable.

Greenleaf writes: One accepts that all initiatives are taken by individuals, not by institutions.  Two kinds of initiatives are suggested:

  • Address, from the outside, the holders of ultimate coercive power in one institution at a time. Undertake to persuade [and influence]
  • Establish oneself inside some institution, avoid a coercive power role as much as possible, and slowly evolve as a persuader [and influencer] wherever there is opportunity.

 Both roles require diligent preparation.  One should not assume, just because one’s motives are good, that one is effective as a persuader [or influencer]

 This approach…has the virtue of being evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  The holders of the ultimate power need not commit themselves to a new and untried ideology (although one may evolve that they will be committed to).  They have an intent rather than a plan.  What is important is that the holders of coercive power, who are probably going to be ‘in charge’ for some time, (1) understand the value of persuasion [and influence] as the prime force(s) in the institution, (2) accept that they are inhibited from being persuasive [or influential] because they hold coercive power, (3) resolve to liberate as much persuasive [and influential] energy as they can, and (4) stand aside so that persuasion [and influence] can do the work.

These are not wholly new ideas.  In our time it has become urgent that their impact should be greatly expanded – by persuasion [and influence].

 …Just one able and dedicated persuader [and influencer], standing alone, can be powerful.

What emerges for you, Gentle Reader, as you take the time to ‘Consider’ what Greenleaf offers us today?

…everyone is charged to lift what is low, to unite what is apart, to advance what is left behind. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Character may be called the most effective means of persuasion. –Aristotle

Character Counts!  Walt Whitman reminds us that ‘We convince by our presence!’  Here is a question I hold: Can a person of ‘Character’ employ with integrity, coercion, manipulation, persuasion or influence?’

In many of his writings Greenleaf addresses coercion, manipulation and persuasion.  In one of his clearest statements Greenleaf writes: ‘The prime test of persuasion is that the change is truly voluntary.’  [Greenleaf: ‘Persuasion as Power’].  Greenleaf’s definition of ‘persuasion’ more closely represents a definition of ‘influence’.  There are many definitions of coerce, manipulate, persuade and influence.  Here are my current working definitions.  Gentle Reader, as you will note, my definition of ‘Influence’ closely resembles Greenleaf’s definition of ‘persuasion.’

Coerce = using leverage in order to get someone to do something [the ‘something’ might or might not be reasonable or logical].

Manipulate = to get someone to do something they would not freely choose to do.

Persuade = to convince someone to do something using logic and reasoning.

Influence = the capacity to use inquiry rooted in integrity, over time, in order to allow the other to emerge and to emotionally own his/her own thoughts, decisions and behaviors/actions so they will choose to be unconditionally response-able, responsible, appropriately reactive and accountable and to then say with conviction ‘This is where I freely choose to stand!’

As a reminder, here is Greenleaf’s definition of ‘Persuasion’: A person is persuaded on arrival at a feeling of rightness about a belief or action through one’s own intuitive sense. One takes an intuitive step, from the closest approximation to certainty to be reached by conscious logic (sometimes not very close), to that state in which one may say with conviction, ‘This is where I stand!’ [Greenleaf’s ‘Persuasion as Power’]

Gentle Reader, consider that coercion is neutral.  The context and motivation to coerce will help determine whether it is more virtuous or more vicious.  For example: The parent who sees their child playing in the street might well snatch the child up and sternly say: ‘If you go into the street again you will be punished!’  This is, by definition, coercion.  Here is another example: Last year a person pulled into an immediate care facility and collapsed at the wheel.  A doctor and a nurse were called to the car.  The doctor immediately ‘barked’ – yup…yelled loudly – for the nurse to do somethings.  No questions asked by the nurse.  Here is one more: the manager tells an employee to ‘just do what I tell you or you will be put on report!’  Three examples, two were more positive and one was negative (vicious).

On the other hand, Gentle Reader, consider that manipulation is always vicious.  The one being manipulated is always being deceived into behaving in a way or in ways that the person would never freely choose if the person had all of the information.

By definition, persuading and influencing are virtuous.  The one being persuaded or influenced at minimum has to ‘freely buy-in’ and at maximum will ‘freely choose to emotionally own’ the behavior/action and outcome/consequences.

Greenleaf reminds us, over and over, that at our best we are living paradoxes of virtue and vice (his terms: good and evil).  We are imperfect.  We will stumble and at times fall.  Greenleaf also notes that what is crucial for the servant, first (leader or follower) is that he/she consciously decides to coerce, manipulate, persuade (or influence).

Mindsets cannot be changed through coercion. –Pervez Musharraf

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 Responsible people build; they do not destroy.  They are moved by the heart. –Greenleaf

 In 1984 Greenleaf wrote an essay he titled: ‘Reflections on a Strategy for Change.’  Early on in his essay he wrote the following:

 If one wants to be a civilization-building rather than a neutral or destroying influence, how does one know what to do, and how does one know, after the fact, that one has done it? 

One accepts, first, that ‘means determine ends.’  Then one is skeptical about striving directly for idealistic ends (somewhat regardless of means) and hopes, rather, to be a part of an evolving situation to which one makes one’s contribution with right actions. 

For Greenleaf ‘Being preceded Doing.  Being formed, informed and sustained Doing and Doing also formed, informed and sustained Being.’  For Greenleaf there were a number of ways of ‘Being.’  Consider these few ways of ‘Being’: Being Authentic, Being Present, Being Awake/Aware, Being Present, Being Vulnerable, Being Faithful, Being Effective, Being Distinctive.  Since organizations, for Greenleaf, are organic then they too are called ‘To Be’ in these ways.

Greenleaf believed that the servant, first – leader and follower and organization – was called to and challenged to help ‘build’ (think: co-create) a society that is more just and more caring.  The society will become more just and more caring – and more serving; this ‘becoming’ is an evolutionary not a revolutionary process.  I believe that if Greenleaf were alive today that he would expand his challenge to the ‘servant, first’ by challenging the ‘servant, first’ to build a more just and caring global community.

‘Means determine ends.’  Many years ago I emerged, for myself, a guiding question in response to Greenleaf’s statement.  Here is my guiding question: ‘To what ends and by what means?’  The servant, I believe, must be clear as to ‘what ends’.  What does a just and caring society look like, sound like, feel like, and act like?  What are the core values and core guiding principles that must be embraced and integrated in order for the ‘end’ to be realized?  What are the ingredients that must be present for a society to be judged as a just and caring society?

Given the response to these questions what, then, are the ‘means’ that the servant (person and organization) might employ in order to ensure the co-creation of a more just and caring society?

Given that we are now living in a truly interdependent global community what would a global community that is more just and caring look like, sound like, feel like and act like?  What are the core values and core guiding principles that a global community that is more just and caring embrace and integrate?  What are the ingredients that must be present for a global community to be judged to be just and caring?

Greenleaf is clear: All of this begins with the individual.  The individual servant, first’ must seek to become a more just and caring person/servant.  The person is not an ‘island’ unto him/herself and so each person must also have the support ‘of a community.  There are a number of small communities that must support the person.  The communities themselves would then become ‘servant, first’ communities (families, churches, schools, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, and then the society itself and then I add the global community).

Is all of this ‘real’?  Is all of this ‘truly possible?’  There are, for me, enough indicators – individuals, communities and organizations that have embraced and integrated Greenleaf’s challenge that given enough time we can co-create and evolve a more just and caring society and global community.  The key, for me, is to be faithful to the endeavor.  Mother Teresa reminded me of this when she said: ‘I am called to be faithful; I am not called to be effective!’

If a better society is to be built, one more just and more caring… –Greenlea

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Did I offer peace today? Did I say words of healing? Did I love?  These are the real questions. –Henri Nouwen

Greenleaf writes: This is an interesting word, healing, with its meaning ‘to make whole.’  …It is always something sought.  …the servant leader might also acknowledge that his own healing is his motivation.  There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led, is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.

This is a passage that for forty years I keep returning to.  The implications are, for me, legion.  I begin with the five dimensions that help define me as a fully human being.  These are my P.I.E.S.S. – my Physical, my Intellectual, my Emotional, my Spiritual and my Social (think: Relationships) dimensions (NOTE: for some ‘Spirit’ resonates more with them than does ‘Spiritual’).

At any one time I am either nurturing or depleting one or more of these dimensions.  Nurturance, for me, promotes ‘healing’ and ‘wholeness’ while depletion, for me, promotes wounding, fragmenting, self-violence (hence a need for healing and a need to help make whole).  I have my ‘favorite’ ways of both nurturing myself and depleting myself (I do not think I am alone when it comes to having ‘favorite’ ways of doing both).

During these past forty years many folks have told me that they are ‘turned off’ by Greenleaf’s concept of ‘servant’ because it appears to them to be a self-sacrificial model.  One serves and serves and serves and is finally used up – their inner fire is extinguished and they fill with dense smoke and suffocate from within.  They are harmed, not healed – actually, they are more than harmed, they are sacrificed on the altar of service; this, they say, is when ‘serving becomes immoral.’

Because of their belief/interpretation of Greenleaf this passage becomes even more crucial.  I have read and re-read every article, essay and letter that Greenleaf wrote (the many that I have been able to obtain) and this is one of the few passages where he directly addresses the need for the servant to heal – for the servant to become ‘whole.’  [By the by, gentle reader, if you want to read and reflect upon two powerful books which focuses on ‘healing/wholeness’ I invite you to explore Henri Nouwen’s book ‘The Wounded Healer’ and Parker J. Palmer’s book ‘A Hidden Wholeness’.  Nouwen’s book has been a staple for me for more than forty years.]

As imperfect human beings we all need ‘healing,’ we all need to become ‘whole’ – the frame this takes for each of us varies greatly.  Often our healing involves forgiveness and reconciliation – for ‘wounds’ received and for ‘wounds’ delivered.  Each of the five P.I.E.S.S. dimensions at times experience a need for healing and a need to become whole.  Because each of us is an imperfect human being the need for healing and the need to become ‘whole’ will continue to exist.

Greenleaf says that the servant seeks ‘to serve the highest priority needs’ of the other.  What could be of a higher priority than the ‘need to heal’ and the ‘need to make whole’?  An appropriate question for me to end with this morning.

Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy. –Sai Baba


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When is serving potentially immoral? –Robert K. Greenleaf

I continue to be intrigued that so few folks have directly addressed the dark side of the servant, the servant-as-leader, the servant-leader and servant-leadership.  So, gentle reader, let us pause and briefly explore ‘the dark side.’

Greenleaf writes about being awake and aware, about being good and evil, about seeing things whole, and about healthy humans being living paradoxes.  Since the servant, at his or her healthiest, is a living paradox then the servant will be comprised of light and dark, good and evil, and virtue and vice.  And one of the challenges, then, for the servant is to become awake and aware of these — and as Greenleaf noted, this awareness will not bring comfort and solace but will be disturbing to the servant.

If a servant is going to live an undivided life, a life of being ‘whole,’ it is crucial for the servant to be able to understand his or her light side and dark side.  In addition to understanding these the servant is also called to develop the disciplines and capacities to live more out of the light than out of the dark, to be more virtue than vice, to be more good than evil.  Because the servant is imperfect he or she will always stumble.  For the servant, it is not a matter of walking the talk but, as Peter Vail noted, it is more a matter of stumbling the mumble.

Because the servant will stumble, he or she needs at times to heal (to make whole) and this requires forgiveness and reconciliation.  As Greenleaf also noted, it requires community — no servant is an island.  No servant can go it alone.

So, what are some of the dark side issues for the servant?  The first is dependency.  Because the servant is charged with serving the highest priority needs of others it is but a small step from serving to creating a dependent relationship.  The one served ends up being dependent on the servant.  One antidote for this is to make sure that the servant is also served by the other; the relationship becomes a mutual one of serving and being served.

Another dark side issue for the servant is for the servant to become self-sacrificing to the point of becoming a martyr.  A servant can become seduced by self-sacrifice; by depleting one’s self to the point of exhaustion.  One antidote for this is for the servant to commit to building his or her capacity for nurturing each of the five dimensions that help contribute to the person’s well-being.  These five dimensions are the Physical, the Intellectual, the Emotional, the Spiritual and the Social (think: Relational) – I call these our P.I.E.S.S. We all have our favorite ways of depleting these and we need to make sure that we also develop our favorite ways of nurturing them and then we can seek to live a life that is more nurturing than depleting.

There are people who believe, like Shaw, that life is no brief candle and that they need to be used up when they die and some interpret Greenleaf’s concept of the servant as a self-sacrificing model/concept.  Because Greenleaf was also a living paradox it seems to me that he holds both ideas up to us and we are challenged, or is it invited, to choose which to embrace and follow.

The third dark side that I invite us to consider is denial.  Denying, in this instance, the dark side of the servant or affirming its corollary that the servant, by nature, is all light.  If the servant is willing and able to discern his or her virtues and vices then the servant is more likely to avoid denial of his/her dark side.  It is crucial that the servant discern, name and embrace his or her virtues and vices and to become aware of when they choose to engage one over the other.  It is also crucial for the servant to strengthen his or her virtues so that their vices become less powerful in their lives.  Servants help themselves and others strengthen their virtues so their vices become irrelevant — at least this is one of their big goals.

Gentle Reader, as you continue to explore Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-as-leader I invite you to be awake of and aware of what else resides in the dark side of the servant and what lurks within your own dark side waiting to be called forth by you.

Excuse me, gentle reader, I must stop for now and go stumble some mumble.


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