Gentle reader, as I continue quoting from Greenleaf’s ‘Persuasion as Power,’ I invite you to reflect upon and respond to his ideas. 

Greenleaf writes: What will the individual do, one who believes in persuasion, who is committed to its exclusive use, and who accepts a view of social change like that suggested above?  One accepts that initiatives, ‘all’ initiatives, are taken by individuals, not by institutions.  Institutions can only respond to the initiatives of individuals.  Two kinds of initiatives are suggested:

  • Address, from the outside, the holders of ultimate coercive power in one institution at a time…
  • Establish oneself inside some institution, avoid a coercive power role as much as possible, and slowly evolve as a persuader – 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.  It is a very exacting role.

This approach to resolving the issue of power in an institution has the virtue of being evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  The holders of 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 as the prime moving force in the institution,

(2) accept that they are inhibited from being persuasive because they hold coercive power,

(3) resolve to liberate as much persuasive energy as they can, and

(4) stand aside so that persuasion can do its work as long as it is effective.

These are not wholly new ideas; persuaders have long been effective within authoritarian institutions.  In our time it has become urgent that their influence should be greatly expanded – by persuasion.

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Gentle reader, I will continue quoting from Greenleaf and, as in my previous posting, I invite you to reflect upon and respond to his idea about ‘Persuasion as Power.’ 

Greenleaf writes: Some who coerce also presume to persuade.  But can they?  Can one persuade ‘while’ one coerces?  Not likely.  The persuader…approaches the relationship with clean hands – just as the man of peace does not bear arms when confronting one who is armed.  The test of whether one has been coerced or persuaded to a new belief or practice is that if one has the power, or would find it tenable, to continue the belief or practice, one probably has been persuaded.  If, however, one has been reduced to powerlessness, or if one feels that the belief or practice is no longer tenable, one may have been coerced.  The prime test of persuasion is that the change is truly voluntary.

The powerless, in coercive terms, have the best opportunity to persuade.  When they are effective, they become powerful – as persuaders. 

How might one view one’s opportunities and obligations if one is able and is dedicated to the exclusive use of persuasion as a means of social change?  Some suggestions:

  • Create and maintain a clear space between oneself and those who advocate, or inadvertently use, coercion – even in its mildest forms.  Do not reject the coercer as persons, even the most unsavory of them.  Labor with them lovingly and persuasively, person by person: first to restrain their coercive tendencies and then, if possible, to move them across the gap that separates those who use coercion in any form from those who use only persuasion.  But do not blur the gap; keep it wide and clear.
  • Stand alone as a persuader if necessary, but find close colleagues if possible who will help make persuasion a disciplined approach and provide the constant checking on one another that such discipline requires.
  • Accept that ‘It’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer,’ and ceaselessly search for depth of meaning about persuasion and greater understanding of the intricate web of institutions in which most of us are enmeshed, and in which coercion is rampant.
  • Learn to respect the integrity and autonomy of those whom one would persuade.  Approach the relationship with the attitude of acceptance that oneself, the persuader, may change.
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Twenty-six years ago I was handed the draft of an unpublished piece that Greenleaf had written, he titled it ‘Persuasion as Power.’  If you, gentle reader, have been following my entries these past few years you have noticed a pattern that I have followed: First, I would offer a quotation from one of Greenleaf’s pieces.  Second, I would offer some of my current thinking in response to the quotation; I would also offer us a question or two or three to reflect upon. 

For this unpublished piece I have decided to do a bit of a shift.  I have decided that I will simply offer you, gentle reader Greenleaf’s words and leave the reflection and response up to you; perhaps a question or two or three will also emerge into your consciousness.  You might consider Greenleaf’s words as the ‘seeds’ and consider yourself as the garden and the gardener – you will decide which seeds to plant and to nurture into life. 

Greenleaf writes: Persuasion is usually too undramatic to be newsworthy. . .  So much of history deals with coercion because it is rapid, conspicuous, dramatic, and its consequences are so often horrendous.  Significant instances of persuasion may be known to only one or a few. . .

Power is used here in the sense of influence.  The result may be benign and helpful to the persons influenced, or it may be pernicious and destructive.

Coercion is pressure; sometimes, but not necessarily, with an evident or implied penalty; sometimes simply exploiting weaknesses or sentiments.  But pressure!  Pressure may be overt and brutal, or subtle and bland.  The effect is the same: those being coerced act because of pressure, not because they are convinced that they should. . .

Persuasion.  The dictionaries are of little help on its meaning.  In one, after three definitions that do not imply coercion, a fourth suggests coercion, and the fifth flatly states, ‘to bring to a desired action or condition by force.’  Thus persuasion…needs a new definition.  One is suggested: 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!’  The act of persuading helps order the logic and favors the intuitive step.  But the one being persuaded takes that final intuitive step alone, untrammeled by coercive pressure, however mild, or by manipulative strategems.  It is usually a slow, deliberate, and painstaking process.  And sometimes, in the process of persuading, one must endure a wrong or an injustice longer than one thinks one should. 

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Greenleaf writes: The leader is one who goes out ahead to show the way.  …of the many roles that leaders play in group effort only one of these is ‘headship’: chairman, president, chief, etc., and that may be, in many cases, a fairly minor role.  Some of the more important leader roles that have been identified are:

  • Mediator
  • Summarizer
  • Consensus Finder
  • Critic
  • Meliorator – who by their very being and presence are reducers of tensions
  • Keepers of the Conscience
  • Process Watcher
  • Titular Head – chairman, president, etc.

…if all the other roles are well cared for, the titular head may be a quite nominal role.

This concept of many roles…provides leadership opportunities for any who want to assume them by taking roles that are appropriate for their experience, skills, temperaments, and interests.  …Leadership is [available to] all who feel responsible for the quality of the group effort…

How many organizations intentionally and purposefully identify the many roles that leaders can and/or should play?  How many organizations help folks identify their innate skills, talents and abilities regarding the many roles a leader can play?  How many organizations intentionally and purposefully help folks develop their skills, abilities and talents so that these roles can be filled? 

Greenleaf identifies some ingredients:

  • Experience.  What experiences will help a person play one of these roles? 
  • Skills. What are the skills (and talents and abilities and capacities) that a specific role needs the person to possess and utilize? 
  • Temperament.  Each role might well require a specific temperament.  A person whose temperament is rooted in impatience with process might not make the most effective mediator.
  • Interests.  How does an organization help a person identify his/her interests?  What are some of the ‘interests’ that might serve each of the roles well?  What are the skills, talents and abilities that an ‘interest’ might require? 

Consider that each person is called to be unconditionally response-able, responsible and appropriately reactive.  How does an organization help folks develop their response-ability and how does it help them accept ‘being responsible’ and how does it help them develop their capacity to be appropriately reactive?

Consider that folks who take the position that, ‘I am not response-able or responsible’ are not good candidates for one of these roles. 

I know, first hand, that identifying the necessary roles and then seeking the ‘best person’ in the organization to fill the role works – works very well indeed.  I am thinking of an organization that identified that the best ‘mediator’ was a receptionist.  For years she helped the ‘educated professionals’ mediate their internal disputes.  This same professional organization also discovered that the most effective summarizer was a secretary (she was a secretary to a number of the professionals and so she saw the ‘big puzzle’ before they did). 

How many organizations do not use the gifts, talents and abilities of the employees?  Many I think.  As Greenleaf might note: These organizations are not using the skills, talents and abilities of their folk fully and wisely.  I have always been amazed at the number of gifts, talents, and abilities that folks have and that organizations have not ‘identified’ and ‘utilized’ fully and wisely (if at all).  By the by, Gentle Reader, the process for identifying them is a simple one and is quite effective. 

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Greenleaf writes: I have stressed listening because I believe that a disciplined approach to listening is one of the best approaches to a healing attitude.  And I have had enough experience with teaching people to listen to be aware of some remarkable transformations that take place in persons who learn to listen, and who establish listening as the orienting attitude that makes it possible for them to play a healing role. . .  Great as I believe the healing power of listening to be on the one who is listened to, a much greater healing takes place with one who learns, and assiduously practices, listening.

In his writings, Greenleaf is clear: Servants listen first.  They listen in order to understand.  They listen for what is emerging from within themselves AND they listen intently and receptively to the one speaking (I call this ‘listening with undefended receptivity’ in order to understand – by-the-by, ‘understanding’ does not mean ‘agreement’). 

For a number of years Bob and his wife Esther facilitated an intense listening development course; I had the opportunity and privilege of meeting husbands and wives who had benefitted from their experience with Bob and Esther – they described both Bob and Esther as caring, supportive, challenging and as individuals who listened intently and receptively. 

Most of us have the ability to listen; what we have not developed is a greater capacity to listen-first, and to listen intently and receptively.  This type of listening is a discipline and the discipline requires a life-long commitment. 

Greenleaf also reminds us that we bring an attitude with us and he is clear that for the servant the attitude is ‘a healing attitude.’  In listening intently and receptively we give the speaker a gift and if we listen with ‘a healing attitude’ then the gift might well be, in part, a gift of healing. 

I have experienced what Greenleaf experienced.  I have experienced individuals being powerfully and positively affected, and once in a while transformed, as a result of their listening intently and receptively.  I have also experienced a speaker being powerfully and positively affected and at times transformed because they were listened to intently and receptively.  As Greenleaf notes, listening in this way is a gift to both the one listening and to the one speaking. 

My experience is that ‘wanting’ to listen intently and receptively while being rooted in an attitude of healing is not sufficient.  The discipline it takes in order to develop one’s capacity to listen in this way requires, I think, a ‘need’ to do so (a ‘want,’ ‘desire,’ or ‘wish’ to do so is not sufficient – talk with anyone who has ‘wanted’ to quit smoking yet had a ‘need’ to continue to smoke; consider the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’ will become clearer). 

Once a person has identified a ‘need’ to develop one’s listening in this way then the person might well need a ‘coach’ who will help the person choose the practices that might best serve the person and his/her development.  It is crucial to remember that ‘practice does not make perfect’ – ‘practice makes permanent.’  As one practices one also takes the time to reflect upon one’s experience learn from the experience and, if necessary, adjust what one is practicing.  As Charles Handy reminds us: Reflection rooted in Experience is the Learning.

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