THE PRUDENT MAN, THE PRACTICING LEADER… 

Greenleaf writes: The prudent man is the man who constantly thinks of ‘now’ as the moving concept in which past, present moment, and future are one organic unity.  And this requires living by a sort of rhythm that encourages a high level of intuitive insight about the whole gamut of events from the indefinite past, through the present moment, to the indefinite future.  One is at once, in every moment of time, historian, contemporary analyst, and prophet – not three separate roles.  This is what the practicing leader is, every day of his life.

Prudent = wise or judicious in practical affairs; showing acute mental discernment

There is an interesting juxtaposition in this definition between the ‘practical’ and ‘mental discernment’ (which, as we know can be most ‘impractical’).  The leader, Greenleaf tells us, is capable of engaging both at the same time when he consciously uses the word ‘prudent.’  Greenleaf also helps us (or complicates things for us) when he defines ‘now’ as incorporating the past-present-future simultaneously.  Greenleaf also notes that this ‘unity’ of the ‘three’ is ‘organic.’ 

Organic = developing in a manner analogous to the natural growth and evolution characteristic of living organisms; arising as a natural outgrowth.  Viewing or explaining something as having a growth and development analogous to that of living organisms.

For Greenleaf, the leader is able to perceive (think: intuitive insight) the whole gamut of events – the indefinite past, the present moment, the indefinite future.  The leader develops his or her ability to ‘see’ the ‘whole’ and not just the ‘parts.’  This is crucial.  How many leaders are able to focus on one of the three parts only?  How many truly believe that it is crucial for the leader to develop the ability and capacity to focus on (to ‘hold’) all three at one time?  What if the leader is not capable of developing this ability?  Would such a leader who is not capable of doing so ensure that he or she has such a person as a thought-partner? 

Greenleaf is helpful, I think, when he more specifically defines each role: historian, contemporary analyst, and prophet.  These roles require different disciplines, skills, abilities, and capacities (remember, Gentle Reader, that I can have developed a skill and ability and not have developed the capacity I need).  Gentle Reader, I invite you to stop, step-back and take some time and reflect upon this question: Specifically, what are the disciplines, skills, abilities and capacities the leader must develop, or develop more fully, in order to become an adept historian, contemporary analyst and prophet?

Finally, what if Greenleaf is correct that: This is what the practicing leader is, every day of his life? What are the implications for those leaders who espouse, and seek to embrace, Greenleaf’s concepts of ‘servant-first’ and ‘servant-as-leader’?  What are the implications for all leaders?  What are the implications for you, Gentle Reader?   

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CHOOSING ‘COMMITMENT’

Greenleaf tells us that the servant-first and the servant-as-leader chooses to become committed, among other things, to the following: to be awake and aware, to seek to understand, to listen-first, to use power ethically, to seek to do no harm, to care for individuals and for institutions, to help co-create a society that is more just and more caring/loving, to be ‘healers’ and to be trust-builders and trust-repairers.

Greenleaf also employs a number of metaphors and two of these are the tap roots that support the commitments I listed above.  One of these metaphors is: Community.  The other metaphor is: Garden.  These are ‘organic’ metaphors which means that ‘growth’ and ‘development’ are crucial for individuals and for all organized groups (‘society’ is the largest group he mentions and my hunch is that if he were alive today then the ‘global community’ would be the largest he would directly address). 

How many of us who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of servant-first and the servant-as-leader invest time and energy into living into and out of these ‘commitments’ and ‘metaphors’?  How many institutions who have espoused his concepts have invested time and energy into living into and out of these ‘commitments’ and ‘metaphors’?  How often do we, as individuals, and we, as institutions, stop, step-back, reflect, evaluate, re-commit and then renter refreshed?  (This last question is rooted in another of Greenleaf’s key concepts: Renewal). 

Each person and each organized group is unique.  How many individuals and organized groups have taken the time and invested the energy in discerning the specific ‘rigorous disciplines’ required in order to integrate the ‘commitments’ and organic ‘metaphors’ that Greenleaf provides us?  How many believe that taking the time to identify and embrace the ‘rigorous disciplines’ is essential for them if they are going to truly embrace Greenleaf’s concepts of ‘servant-first,’ and ‘servant-as-leader’? 

Gentle Reader, if you have not already noticed, I am addressing the ‘being’ more than the ‘doing.’  How many who espouse Greenleaf’s concepts are more focused on the ‘doing’ and thus minimizing Greenleaf’s major tap root of ‘being’

Consider, that the most difficult and challenging ‘work’ involves our ‘inner work.’  Both individuals and institutions resist, and hence tend to give lip service to, the ‘being/inner work’ that Greenleaf deems to be the major tap root that feeds, nurtures, and sustains the ‘doing/outer work.’ 

Greenleaf’s emphasis on ‘being/inner work’ is what truly sets his concept apart – culturally and ethically – from many, if not most, other leadership ‘models’ or ‘philosophies.’  Greenleaf’s emphasis on ‘being/inner work’ determines his concept to be inherently ethical/moral.  Individuals and Institutions can (and do) engage ‘doing’ without the ‘being/inner work.’  What we have learned, however, is that then, when the pressure is on, these individuals and institutions will quickly abandon Greenleaf’s concept of ‘servant-first’ and ‘servant-as-leader’ for they are not ‘at their core’ – they have not become ‘second nature’ to them (‘at their core’ is, for Greenleaf, an – if not ‘the’ – ‘essential’ – this is the ‘nature’ that Greenleaf refers to). 

I leave us this morning with three quotations:

Nosce te ipsum – Know thyself. –The Oracle

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

I am my message. –Gandhi

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TWO SEPARATE ‘ANXIETY’ PROCESSES…

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

Greenleaf writes: Two separate ‘anxiety’ processes may be involved in a leader’s intuitive decision, an important aspect of which is timing, the decision to decide.  One is the anxiety of holding the decision until as much information as possible is in.  The other is the anxiety of making the decision when there really isn’t enough information – which, on critical decisions is usually the case.  All of this is complicated by pressures building up from those who ‘want an answer.’  Again, trust is at the root of it.  Has the leader a really good information base (both hard data and sensitivity to feelings and needs of people) and a reputation for consistently good decisions that people respect?  Can he de-fuse the anxiety of a lot of people who want more certainly than exists in the situation?

[the] courage to act on his insight and take immediate losses in the interest of long term sound actions may be the greater virtue.  It gets down, in the end, to humility.  Is the leader really a servant?

As is his wont, Greenleaf packs a lot into a paragraph and two sentences.  Our space is limited so I will focus upon a few of his points. 

How many leaders give in to the ‘pressure’ from those who ‘want an answer’?  I am thinking of James E. Burke.  During the Tylenol poisonings in 1982 he refused to be pressured into a quick and partial decision.  He insisted that they take time and engage in many hours of searching conversations.  He, and others, did not have all of the information AND they had to make a decision.  Burke insisted on a decision that would embrace both the short-term and the long-term.  One major piece of information they did have was ‘Johnson & Johnson’s Credo.’ 

The decision to remove all Tylenol from every market was rooted in the ‘Credo’ not just in the information they had about the poisonings (which appeared to be localized – the Chicago area). 

‘Trust’ was crucial.  J & J trusted the public for J & J committed to a ‘model of transparency’ and kept the public fully informed (very unusual for that time and for today).  The employees of J & J trusted James Burke and his team.  James Burke had invested more than 25 years in developing ‘trust’ and so it was not difficult for people within J & J and, thus for the public, to trust him. 

James Burke and his team were able to help defuse the public’s anxiety by, first, pulling all Tylenol from every shelf everywhere and second, by, having the R&D folks develop the first ‘safety-cap’ (now standard industry-wide). 

James Burke and J & J committed to taking a short-term hit (which they did) when it came to ‘profits’ and in doing so were able to maintain – and enhance – their reputation as an organization whose ‘Credo’ was more than just ‘pretty words on a piece of paper.’ 

James Burke and J & J truly ‘lived’ out the concept of ‘servant’ by protecting ALL from potential harm (Greenleaf’s addendum to his ‘Best Test’ – ‘to purposefully do no harm’ – was lived into and out of by James Burke and J & J).  James Burke and J & J could have taken a ‘pride-full’ position and decided to take a ‘humble’ position instead.  This served them, and their end users well both in the short and in the long term. 

‘We don’t grow unless we take risks.’ –James E. Burke

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AN INFORMATION GAP…

Greenleaf writes: As a practical matter, on most important decisions there is an information gap…between the solid information in hand and what is needed.  The art of leadership rests, in part, on the ability to bridge that gap by intuition. The person who is better at this than most is likely to emerge the leader because he can serve…  Others will depend on him to go out ahead and show the way because his judgment will be better than most. 

Intuition = the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning; a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.

Gentle Reader, how many leaders do you know who trust their intuition?  What are some of the indicators that a leader trusts his or her intuition?  Gentle Reader, do you trust your intuition? 

The dictionary tells us that ‘Intuition is an ability…’  Does this mean that anyone can develop this ‘ability’?  Are there other terms that leaders use that capture the same idea/concept as does ‘intuition’?  I am thinking of a leader who told me that he didn’t trust his intuition but he did implicitly trust his ‘judgment.’  Another leader told me that he trusted his ‘hunches.’  Another told me that she trusted her ‘teacher/guide within’ (Parker Palmer wrote a wonder-full essay, ‘The Teacher Within’). 

If I need to make a decision, AND I know I do not have all of the facts, then what do I rely on that helps me actually make the decision?  It seems to me that whatever ‘it’ is that I will benefit from seeking to understand ‘it’ more fully and to understand why I allow ‘it’ to help me. 

I ‘know’ I am highly intuitive.  I am not, however, highly intuitive all of the time.  I trust my intuition when I am consciously attending to another, when I am serving the other’s highest priority needs.  My intuition also emerges when I am guiding a learning session, a work-treat or a retreat.  I also know that I must ‘prepare’ myself so that I make ‘space’ for my intuition and that I am also open to my intuition; I ‘trust’ my intuition. 

I have never been able to describe ‘it’ for ‘it’ is not a rational process – I don’t ‘think’ about ‘it.’  When I am listening intently and when I am guiding a process – and I have made space for, and I am open to, my intuition – I will experience moments when I will ‘know’ that I must ‘choose’.  Even now I am having difficulty describing how my intuition ‘works.’ 

I have just paused for about five minutes thinking about my intuition.  I am aware that one way my intuition guides me is to provide me with a ‘question’ that I then offer to the person or to the group.  The question seemed to emerge out of nowhere (there are questions that gradually emerge into my consciousness and I might spend some time attempting to frame the question).  The most powerful questions emerge from a place of not-knowing.  My intuitive questions stimulate an immediate shift, change or transformation in the person or in the group.  As the Quakers note, ‘way opens’ as a result of the question. 

As I reflect upon all of this I am thinking of the many leaders I know – have known – who trusted their intuition.  ‘Way Opens’ captures the essence of what happens when they choose to trust their intuition.  THEN, they are trusted enough and others choose to follow them into the ‘way that has opened.’ 

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‘ACCEPTANCE REQUIRES’…

Greenleaf writes: Because of the vagaries of human nature, the lame, half-made creatures that we all are; the great leader would say what the wife said about home in Robert Frost’s poem.  The interest in and affection for his followers which a leader has…is clearly something followers haven’t to deserve.  …deep down inside the great [leaders] have an unqualified acceptance of those who go with them.  Acceptance requires a tolerance of imperfection.  …the secret of institution building is to be able to weld a team of people by lifting them up to grow taller than they would otherwise be. 

Men grow taller when they are accepted for what they are and are led by the ablest and strongest and ethically soundest people. (Ethical in the sense of being sensitive to what helps people grow taller and more autonomous and disposed to act on that knowledge.)  Leaders who fully accept those who go with them are more likely to be trusted.

How many of us who espouse Greenleaf’s concept intentionally and purpose-fully demonstrate an interest in and an affection for those who have chosen to follow?  Who defines ‘interest in’ and ‘affection for’?  How often do leaders seek ‘confirmation’ and ‘disconfirmation’ from the led?  Consider that without the led ‘confirming’ that ‘interest in’ and ‘affection for’ has taken place that, in fact, they have not taken place.  The old adage, the message received is the message’ holds true here as well.

What does ‘unqualified acceptance’ look like, sound like, and feel like?  Again, who defines the terms?  Greenleaf provides us one hint: ‘a tolerance of imperfection.’  Then, again, the terms ‘tolerance’ and ‘imperfection’ must also be defined and so, who is going to define them? 

Consider that the most powerful and impact-full definitions are those that emerge from the good thinking of a number of diverse people.  Anyone who has attempted to emerge definitions in this way knows how challenging it is and how rewarding it can be. 

Greenleaf takes us back to his ‘Best Test’ for the servant and the servant-leader when he offers us the secret of institution building.’  Teams are developed so that the team and each member grow taller than they would otherwise be.  Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ does provide us some words to guide us: freer, more autonomous, wiser, and more likely to become servants.  Additional words are probably needed – so, again, who emerges them and who defines them? 

Greenleaf continues to challenge us when he adds that the leader (servant-leader) will be an ethically sound person.  Servant-Leadership is one of the few leadership philosophies that is inherently ethical and moral.  This is one reason why so many organizations have difficulty in embracing Greenleaf’s concept (he did not expect that many organizations would choose to do so; ‘numbers’ were not one of his requirements). 

Finally, for this piece anyway, Greenleaf brings us back to ‘trust.’  Who defines ‘trust’?  ‘Trust’ involves more than ‘building trust.’  Because we are imperfect beings, ‘trust’ will be broken – or betrayed.  Thus, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation are crucial.  A balance between ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’ needs to be sought.  As we well know, none of this is easy (nor should it be easy).  Trust building and trust repairing require, courage (think: heart), risk and being vulnerable (vulnerable, is rooted in the Latin word ‘vulnus’ which means: To carry the wound with grace). 

I leave us today with one of Greenleaf’s most challenging questions: Do those served grow as persons?

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