My rationale for the inner work of Servant-Leadership is also concerned with the metaphors we use.  Each person, each relationship (think: team, department, etc.) and each organized group of three or more folks emerges core metaphors.  These metaphors determine the path(s) chosen.  As a culture our society has also integrated metaphors.  In organizations, conflicts emerge when there is a clash of metaphors or when a major metaphor held by an individual is not in alignment with a major relational (think: team, for example) metaphor or with a major organizational metaphor. 

With the Industrial Revolution our society integrated a mechanical metaphor – this metaphor is still alive and well in a number of organizations.  The organization is a machine or is a clock and employees are ‘cogs’ in the machine or ‘wheels’ or ‘springs’ in the clock.  We have also integrated both a ‘war’ and a ‘sports’ metaphor into our society.  These are so deeply ingrained that we freely interchange them and yet generally folks know what we are talking about.  We often, for example, describe war using a sports metaphor and we describe a sporting event using a war metaphor. 

Within the past fifty years our society has integrated what seems to be today’s primary metaphor: the banking metaphor.  Organizations have integrated these metaphors.  Employees are ‘cogs’ in the corporate machine (this metaphor is not nearly as powerful as it was sixty years ago) or employees, are ‘team players’ or our organization must destroy the other organization’s reputation.  The ‘banking metaphor’ is the most powerful organizational metaphor today: people are assets, commodities, resources, investments, etc. 

There are other metaphors available to us and there are a few organizations that continue to strive to live into and out of these.  At times Greenleaf uses a ‘community’ metaphor (the mechanical, war-sports, and banking metaphors are non-organic metaphors and so people are, at best, cyborgs – people are not fully human beings nor are teams nor is the organization).  ‘Communities’ are rooted in trust, in binding covenants and they are committed to the growth, development and health of the individual, the relationships and the organization (the organization is ‘alive’ for it is simply individuals and relationships writ large).  Greenleaf also uses a ‘Garden Metaphor.’  This is a paradoxical metaphor: The individual, the relationship and the organization are BOTH the gardener (the ones entrusted with the garden) and the garden itself. 

Gentle Reader, how many organizations do you know that espouse ‘being human’ and yet ‘live’ an integrated mechanical, sports-war or banking metaphor?  The tensions that exist are captured (talk about a war metaphor) in phrases like: Our employees (human beings) are our most important resources (inorganic, banking metaphor).  If you are not fully human ‘I’ (the organization, in this case) can guilt-free ‘down-size you,’ or ‘re-engineer your department’ or ‘free up some assets.’ 

I believe it is important for the individual, the various relationships (i.e. teams, departments, etc.) and the organization to identify and name the metaphors that determine the path(s) they choose.  Metaphors are more than literary devices.  Metaphors determine our reality.  Here is a poem I wrote many years ago:

The Metaphors we use


The Words we infuse


The Questions we muse


The Paths we choose!

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Regarding Servant-Leadership, ‘My Rationale for Inner Work’ also includes how we – individuals, relationships, and communities (institutions, organizations, families, etc.) – nurture and deplete our P.I.E.S.   Our P.I.E.S. are the four interdependent dimensions that help define who we are – our Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spirit(ual) dimensions.  Each individual, each relationship and each organized group of three or more folks nurture and deplete these four dimensions.  If, over time, we nurture them more than deplete them we will be deemed to be ‘healthy’ and if we deplete them more than nurture them we will, at minimum, be dis-eased and at maximum be deeply harmed.  Greenleaf tells us to ‘see things whole’ and by viewing these four interdependent dimensions as integral to who we are and to who we are choosing to become we are choosing to see the ‘whole’ (person, relationship, and organization). 

If we stop, step-back, and reflect upon each of these dimensions with a goal of discernment we will be able to more fully understand and name our ‘favorite’ ways of nurturing ourselves and we will be able to more fully understand and name our ‘favorite’ ways of depleting ourselves.  For some, a favorite way of nurturing their Physical dimension is by the discipline of regular exercise or by the discipline of getting enough sleep or by the discipline of ‘eating right.’  For some, a favorite way of nurturing their Intellectual dimension is through reading or by engaging in searching conversations – the reading and/or searching conversations stretch and challenge their thinking. 

For some, a favorite way of nurturing their Emotional dimension is to monitor their self-talk for they know that their self-talk results in their experiencing certain emotions.  For others a favorite way of nurturing their Emotional dimension is by identifying and ‘letting go of’ certain assumptions, stereotypes or prejudices.  For some, a favorite way of nurturing their spirit(ual) dimension is to discipline themselves so they pray daily, or so they meditate daily, or so they renewal their spirit on a regular basis. 

As fully human beings we also have our favorite ways of depleting each of these dimensions.  ‘Favorite’ does not equate with ‘liking them’ – ‘Favorite’ has more to do with ‘habit.’  If we stop, step-back and reflect with the goal of discerning and naming our ‘favorite’ ways of depleting each of these four dimensions we will be able to do so.  As Greenleaf reminds us, over and over again, this awareness does not bring comfort or solace – generally it brings disturbance. 

Each person, each relationship, and each organized group of three or more persons nurtures and depletes each of these dimensions.  The servant-first person, relationship and organization will be committed to discerning their favorite ways of BOTH nurturing and depleting these four dimension and then they will commit to discern and implement more nurturance and less depletion.  As living paradoxes, Greenleaf reminds us that we will never be perfect; we can, however, become more and more consistent. 

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Last time I concluded my post inviting you, gentle reader, to consider that ‘Servant-Leadership is Agent-Centered and Relationship-Centered rather than ‘Act-Centered’ (Servant-Leadership is ‘Act-Focused,’ not ‘Act-Centered’).  Many leadership concepts begin with the ‘Doing’ of the leader – they are ‘Act-Centered.’  Servant-Leadership is counter cultural in that Greenleaf begins with the ‘Being’ of the leader – and ups the ante by focusing first not on ‘Leader’ but on ‘Servant.’  The person is ‘Servant-First’ (‘Servant’ is who one is at one’s core – one’s ‘Being’); this ‘inner core’ cannot be taken away (the person can ‘give it up’).  The Servant is then called to the role (designated or situational) of leader – a role that will, at some point in time, ‘be taken away.’  Servant-Leadership is also Relationship-Centered for the servant-leader seeks to and commits to serving the highest priority needs of the other as he/she strives to live into and out of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the servant (more on his ‘Best Test’ later). 

‘My Rationale’ for inner work is supported by my understanding (rooted in Greenleaf’s writings) that Servant-Leadership is concerned with Consciousness, Character & Conduct. 

Consciousness = being awake, aware, intentional, purpose-full and being fully present, ‘Now.’  Greenleaf reminds us that being awake and aware and being present does not bring one comfort or solace – often it brings ‘disturbance.’  The servant, servant-follower or servant-leader is disturbed by what he or she ‘sees’ or ‘experiences’ or intuits or comes to understand.  The great retreat master, Anthony DeMello wrote ‘Awareness.’  This challenging and stimulating book is a wonderful complement to Greenleaf’s idea of ‘being awake and aware and present.’ 

Character = ‘What sort of person should I be?’  ‘What sort of person am I choosing to become?’  ‘What are my core values, core guiding principles, deep core assumptions, core virtues and core vices?’  Who I am powerfully determines what I choose to do.  Who I am powerfully determines how I choose to serve and how I choose to lead.  Greenleaf reminds us that at our healthiest we are living paradoxes of ‘good and evil’ (his words) or ‘light and darkness’ or ‘virtue and vice.’  We are capable of great good and of great harm.  Our Character determines which polarity of the paradox we will choose in a given situation. 

Conduct = ‘What do I habitually choose to do?’  ‘What is the effect/affect of my conduct upon myself and upon the other(s)?’  ‘How does my ‘Consciousness’ and ‘Character’ inform, form and determine my ‘Conduct?’ 

Socrates and the Oracle at Delphi remind us that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ and the Oracle reminds us that to ‘know thy self’ is crucial if we are going to choose to act morally and ethically.  Greenleaf ups the ante again (Greenleaf likes to up the ante) when he writes that ‘to refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.’  When was the last time that you, Gentle Reader, took time to ‘examine the assumptions’ that you live by?    

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My current thinking (‘current’ in this case means for the past 45+ years) is that Greenleaf’s concept of ‘servant-leadership’ is a generational and transformational approach to life (NOT, ‘Life & Work’ for there is ‘Life’ and imbedded in ‘Life’ is ‘work’ – they are not separate; in my mind anyway).  ‘Generational’ means that it involves a commitment that one lives into and out of for many years (a ‘generation’ used to be 25 years so this seems like a good number to me).   ‘Transformational’ means that the person seeks to make a fundamental change in his or her character (one can change one’s ‘character’ by changing one or more of one’s core values, deep beliefs and deep tacit assumptions).  ‘Transformational’ also means that an organization seeks to make a fundamental change in its ‘character’ or structure.  ‘Life’ means that as a fully human being the person seeks to be or become a ‘servant-first’ either by first or by second nature (that is, one is ‘born’ with the potential to be a servant and one then seeks to develop his or her servant-nature or one chooses to become a servant via rigorous discipline so that over time ‘servant’ becomes ‘second nature’ to him or her).  ‘Life’ also means that the organization will seek to be and become a ‘serving-organization’ (see Greenleaf’s essay, The Institution as Servant). 

Greenleaf supports this idea when he writes that ‘A servant-leader is servant first’ and ‘…if one is servant, either leader or follower, one is always searching.’  The process of becoming a servant-first (either by first or second nature) requires many years of inner work.  As Greenleaf reminds us, over and over, ‘it begins in here inside of the person and not out there(outside of the person). 

In this posting and the next few postings I will share with you, Gentle Reader, My Rationale for ‘inner work’ as a major tap root that nurtures and sustain the servant’s (either follower or leader) ‘outer work.  

I begin with Greenleaf’s belief: ‘Servant-Leaders are servants, first.’  ‘Servant’ is who one is at one’s core (that is, ‘servant’ is first or second nature to the person).  The person as servant-first seeks to ‘serve the highest priority needs’ of the other(s).  I cannot ‘meet these needs’ (seeking to ‘meet them’ is a trap waiting to be sprung), I can, however ‘serve’ them (what this means involves an agreement between the one serving the one being served – How often do we believe that we know what’s best for the other?  How often do we say (in words or in behavior) ‘I know what you need or I know what’s best for you!’ 

‘Servant-First’ also means that servant-leadership is ‘agent-centered (‘agent’ = person) and ‘relationship-centered.’  ‘Servant-First’ is NOT ‘act-centered’ (it is ‘act-focused’ for ‘doing’ reveals, confirms and reinforces the ‘servant-first’ nature of the person). 

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At times leaders, including servant-first leaders, ask me if there are ‘safety’ and ‘leader’ guidelines that are important when the leader and the led gather together in order to work together or think together.  Here are some that I have found to be helpful to the leader, the led and the group as a whole:

  • Invite and Honor ALL Voices – and, you always have choice (the one invited can always choose not to bring his or her voice; no coercion)
  • Listen – Intently and Receptively in order to connect, engage and understand (Greenleaf reminds us, over and over, that ‘listening first in order to understand’ is crucial for the servant-first leader or follower)
  • Inquire (more than Direct) – Inquire in order to draw forth both the ‘breadth’ and ‘depth’ of the others’ thinking (to strive to frame ‘burning questions’ and questions from ‘a place of not knowing’); trust that the wisdom of the collective is greater than the wisdom of the wisest person in the room.
  • To Provide and Honor times for Quiet Reflection – this time helps ensure that folks will not simply ‘shoot from the lip’
  • Do not seek to Coerce, Convert or ‘Fix’ anyone – Share ‘your voice,’ ‘your truth’ and ‘your story’
  • Invite and Honor others to offer additional safety guidelines – guidelines that will help ensure that the ‘space’ is indeed safe for each person. 
  • Commit – each participant verbally commits to holding the safety guidelines (my experience is that when one commits then one does, indeed, hold them)

In the 1920s there lived a wise American Indian Shaman – he had a number of names.  The American Indian Chief who told me about this Shaman said that the Shaman’s name was Pete Ketchum.  The story goes that one day a group of elders approached a dozing Pete Ketchum with a question (they had been attempting to talk together about an important tribal issue and things were not going well for them so they decided to seek Pete out to see what advice he would give them): ‘How can we productively work together?’  Pete held the question and after a bit he looked up and said the following: SHOW UP!  PAY ATTENTION!  FOLLOW ONLY WHAT HAS MEANING TO YOUR HEART!  LIST OUTCOMES AND DON’T BE ATTACHED TO THEM!  

Like all great stories, especially teaching stories, facts do not matter.  What matters is the teaching.  For me, ‘SHOW UP!’ means, bringing all of yourself to the gathering.  ‘PAY ATTENTION!’ means that I must first pay attention to what emerges from within me (Greenleaf says, over and over and over, ‘it begins in here’ not ‘out there’) and at the same time I must pay attention to what is emerging from within the other(s).  ‘FOLLOW ONLY WHAT HAS MEANING TO YOUR HEART!’ – I often add (AND TO YOUR SOUL).  Too often, it seems, we spend too much time focusing on the ‘meaning it has to our heads, to our intellect’ and we don’t trust the meaning that emerges from deep within our hearts and souls.  ‘LIST OUTCOMES AND DON’T BE ATTACHED TO THEM!’  It is crucial that we identify and emerge and name the outcomes we want to achieve AND at the same time we must not be attached to them – we must also be open to being influenced by ‘new’ or ‘other’ ideas and we must be flexible enough to embrace them. 

Gentle Reader, I have found that these ‘guidelines’ serve others well.  Perhaps they will also serve you well. 

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