The future depends upon what we do in the present. –Gandhi

Rather than quote and comment, this morning I have decided to offer us a long excerpt from Greenleaf.  I invite you, gentle reader, to take some time and reflect upon the gift Greenleaf offers us and then I invite you to pay attention to the thoughts (observations, questions, considerations, conclusions, etc.) that emerge into your consciousness.

Greenleaf writes: Is there any basis for hope for the future?  I think there is.  Let me state briefly what I see as a basis for hope.

If one is to be hopeful, it seems to me, one must be able to answer ‘yes’ to the following three questions:

Can the large numbers who suffer alienation in our times be helped to find themselves at home in this world as it is – violent, striving, unjust, as well as beautiful, caring, and supportive – by accepting and nurturing their servant natures?

Can those who ‘lead’ and carry the burdens and take the risks and absorb the tensions of showing the way to others, whether in large affairs or small, be helped to find a sustaining level of spirituality that gives them some detachment from, and perspective on, their burdens so that they carry on with clarity of vision, compassion, and grace – qualities of life that only a lift of spirit is likely to make possible?

Will some among us be open to receive the gift of ‘spirituality as leadership’ and then, with that gift, make a mission of healing alienation and assist the spiritual formation of established leaders – in the terms of (1) and (2) above?

If one is to be hopeful, one must have faith (as trust) to answer ‘yes’ to these three questions.  Not belief that some miraculous intervention will rescue our present low-spirit culture, but belief – as trust – that a long series of painstaking steps by normal, competent, dedicated people will bring this present society, in time, to a conspicuously higher level of spirituality…

These steps begin, it seems to me, with the reader and the writer of this essay.  Do WE believe that a small movement toward a more spiritual society will result from steps that WE take with our own personal efforts?  If the readers of this journal will not make that effort, who will? 

…I believe that, in a society in which so much caring for persons is mediated through institutions, the most open course to build a more just and caring society is to raise the performance as servant of as many institutions as possible by new regenerative forces initiated within them by committed individuals: Servants

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As Greenleaf begins his 1980 essay, ‘Servant: Retrospect & Prospect’ he reminds us that he has been writing about the ‘servant theme.’  Greenleaf is clear: It is ‘Servant-First’ – some of these folks are called to be leaders.  A leader is role-defined and hence it will at some time ‘go away.’  The ‘Servant’ is who one is either by first or second nature; the ‘Servant,’ Greenleaf tells us, is who one is ‘at one’s core.’  We can give up our servant-first nature but it cannot be taken away from us. 

Greenleaf believes that to be fully human means that we always have choice; that, in fact, we are constantly choosing.  So, gentle reader, what do servant-first folks choose?  Consider the following (listed in no particular order – except the first three.  Servants-First:

  • Choose to be awake and aware – even though they might well be disturbed by being so
  • Choose to be intentional and purpose-full
  • Choose to be present – they live more in the ‘now’ than ruminate about the past or wallow in anxiety about the future
  • Choose to be unconditionally response-able and responsible
  • Choose to be appropriately responsive and appropriately reactive – they seek to ensure that they are prepared to do both
  • Choose to grow, develop and nurture the four dimensions that ensure they are fully human beings (their P.I.E.S. = the Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spirit[ual] Dimensions).  They choose, over time, to nurture these dimensions more than deplete them
  • Choose to be fully human beings – thus as Greenleaf notes, at their healthiest they are living paradoxes: good & evil (Greenleaf’s words), or virtue & vice or light & darkness; they seek to be ‘whole’ – not to live a divided life and to heal and to help others heal
  • Choose to be authentic – their feelings, words, actions are in alignment; they live into and out of their truth
  • Choose to be vulnerable – to be transparent, to be open, to be risk-takers, and to ‘carry the wound with grace’ (vulnerable comes from the Latin root ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound with grace’ – they will be wounded and perhaps the most serious wounds will be self-inflicted)
  • Choose to balance ‘Being Effective’ with ‘Being Faithful’ – they know that at times they must choose to ‘Be Faithful to…’ even though they might not ‘Be Effective’
  • Choose to live rooted in Integrity
  • Choose to be ‘high achieving’ more than ‘competitive – high achievement is rooted in an abundance mentality and competition is rooted in a scarcity mentality
  • Choose to be continual learners – in a sense they are always ‘beginning’ – they are, in Greenleaf’s words, continual ‘searchers and seekers’
  • Choose to use their power ethically and morally
  • Choose to live into and out of a ‘noble purpose’ – the purpose is something greater than themselves
  • Choose to develop or develop more fully their gifts, talents, abilities and capacities
  • Choose to use their gifts, talents, abilities and capacities to live into and out of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ and ‘Credo’ (they also emerge, embrace and live into and out of their own ‘Credo’)
  • Choose to develop or develop more fully and integrate specific disciplines: listen, first (Greenleaf), reflection, withdrawal (Greenleaf), inquiry, searching conversations, consensus-building (Greenleaf), advocacy, and searching-seeking
  • Choose to invite and honor all voices
  • Choose to develop a tolerance for and an acceptance of all as fully human beings
  • Choose to co-create safe environments, climates, cultures and sub-cultures
  • Choose to use persuasion (and influence) more than coercion or manipulation

There are others but these should suffice for now.  There is one more that seems to me to be a crucial one: Choose ‘consistency’ not ‘perfection’ when it comes to living into and out of your choices; ‘servants-first’ are fully human beings, that is, we are imperfect, not perfect, beings.   

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Recently I was intellectually challenged, stretched and stimulated during a long conversation with the Executive Director of a successful not-for-profit organization.  The topic the Executive Director invited me to think about was ‘Building Trust – Who’s Responsible’ 

Greenleaf provides us with a helpful insight about the responsibility of Trustees, Executive Directors/CEOs and Staff regarding ‘Building-Trust.’ 

Greenleaf writes: Everyone in the institution has a share in building trust.  The staff has the major responsibility for institutional performance that merits trust.  However, if there is not enough trust and if the level of trust has been low enough long enough…then it is the obligation of trustees to fulfill what their title implies and become initiating builders of trust.  They should see this as their role.  They will not supersede staff in doing this.  Rather, they will become strengtheners of staff in ‘their’ trust-building roles.

‘Trust’ continues to be a major tap root in our lives.  We are first of all entrusted with ourselves – with our own health and well-being.  We are then entrusted with building trust in each of our relationships.  When we choose to become members of an organized group we are entrusted with building institutional trust.

As Greenleaf noted, ‘staff has the major responsibility for institutional performance.’  The degree of trust of those the institution serves is directly related to its performance; mediocre performance diminishes trust while distinctive performance enhances trust among those served.  If there is not enough ‘self-trust’ and if there is not enough ‘relational trust’ demonstrated by the staff then there will not be enough trust with those served (as we know the lack of trust directly and negatively impacts the quality of service provided; if the trust is low enough, long enough then dis-ease and dis-function will begin to run amok and the negative effect upon those served will rise exponentially). 

How often do the trustees actually perform a ‘trust-audit’ of the institution?  How often do they seek to understand the impact that trust-or the lack of it-has on the Staff and upon those the institution is called to serve?  When ‘trust has been low enough, long enough’ how many boards of trustees intentionally and purpose-fully seek to become trust-builders (or trust-repairers)? 

How many Boards actually view their role as ‘Directors’ and not as ‘Trustees’?  Greenleaf’s concept of ‘Trustee’ dramatically changes, if not transforms, the role of ‘Director.’  His definition ups the ante for Boards.  How many Boards engage in a ‘Trust-Audit’ as a Board?  How many Boards truly believe they have the response-ability and responsibility to become ‘Trust-Builders’ and ‘Trust-Repairers’? 

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Greenleaf writes: This is an interesting word, ‘competition.’  In its root meaning it has more of the flavor of strive together for some goal – a cooperative venture.  But in common usage it means contend with others for supremacy over them in some sort of win-lose contest.  In a sense, the winner gains power over others.

Is the widespread disposition to compete an inborn tendency or an acquired trait?  We are all raised in a culture that is so competitive from infancy onward that is difficult to know what humans would be like if all were conditioned by a noncompetitive culture. 

For more than forty-five years I have invited folks to consider two concepts: ‘Competition’ and ‘High Achievement.’  Greenleaf is more than a bit critical of institutions that seem to be content with choosing to be mediocre rather than choosing to act with distinction; to be high achieving. 

Consider the following: ‘Competition,’ as Greenleaf notes, involves a winner and many losers.  Because of this mindset (or mental model, if you will), ‘Competition’ is rooted in a scarcity mentality – there is not enough to go around.  ‘High Achievement’ involves a belief that there are many winners and is rooted in a mentality of ‘abundance’ not ‘scarcity’ – that is, there is more than enough to go around.  True, there are times when ‘scarce resources’ become a reality and because of this, the ‘old’ definition of ‘competition’ can be of help – we seek to cooperate in order for each to have some rather than for one (or a few) to have the most, if not all.

High Achievers want others to succeed and excel for they believe that if they do then they (the High Achievers) will be able to ‘move to the next level.’  Here are two examples. 

Many years ago prior to an NBA playoff game, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were – as was their pattern – in the arena early.  Larry was at one end of the court and Magic was at the other end.  Magic had been struggling with his shooting during the first two games of the playoffs.  As he was shooting around, trying to figure out what was wrong Larry was watching him.  After a bit, Larry wondered over to Magic and gave him some feedback.  Magic listened, made the necessary adjustments, found his ‘shot’ and that night lit up the scoreboard.  Later on Larry was asked why he went down to help Magic.  Larry replied that he needed Magic to play his best so that he could play at a high level.  This is one example of high achievement and a belief in abundance.

Walt Disney helped the Marriott brothers develop their theme parks (Six Flags) with the belief that they needed to be successful in order to help Disney move to the next level of theme parks – Disney World.  Disney believed that if Six Flags was successful then kids would tell their parents that they wanted to now go to Disney World; which they did and continue to do.  Disney did not want Six Flags to lose for if they did then Disney World would not succeed – talk about an abundance view. 

‘Wanna-Be’ superstars and ‘Wanna-Be’ Disneys are rooted in a scarcity mentality – there is not enough to go around and so ‘I’ must defeat you in order to win (the competitive model).  What is our mental model?  Is it rooted in abundance or in scarcity?  Is it rooted in win-win cooperation or is it rooted in win-lose competition?  As institutional leaders, how we respond to these questions will greatly determine to what extent our institution is rooted in competition or in high achievement. 

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Greenleaf writes: In my book, ‘Servant Leadership,’ I argue the case for shared power with colleagues who are equals as a preferable alternative to the concept of the single chief.  And in a later essay, ‘Servant, Retrospect and Prospect,’ the suggestion is made that young people who aspire to be servant leaders should be advised never to accept a role in which they wield power over others ‘unless’ that power is shared with close colleagues who are equals – and equally strong.  Such a group will have a leader, but that leader is empowered to lead by one’s colleagues, not by a superior power.

Greenleaf’s counter-cultural idea of a Primus Inter Pares continues to be too challenging for many (most?) folks to consider.  Even folks who have been intimately involved with Greenleaf’s concepts for many years are not able to seriously consider this idea – much less attempt to put it into practice (even the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership has never been able to risk experimenting with Greenleaf’s idea). 

Personally, I have known six institutional attempts.  Three of them were successful as long as the original leader who championed the initiative was present.  Two were successful until the ‘center could not hold and things fell apart.’  One imploded as a result of one of the co-leader’s ‘grab for power.’ 

Part of the reason why organizations have not been able to conceptualize and embrace Greenleaf’s idea is a result of our Culture.  We (in the United States) are a Culture of Individuals.  We stress and stress again the rights of the individual.  Even when it comes to our ‘team sports’ we focus on the individual star or ‘goat.’  Traditionally our schools are constructed to reward the individual’s learning efforts (students, for the most part, resist if not deplore, collaborative learning experiences for they don’t want the weakest student in the group to receive the same grade that they, the most competent, receive).   

I like Greenleaf’s idea.  The group (the team, the board, the Council of Equals) holds the power and delegates the power to a person AND the group is ultimately accountable (that is, the group has the obligation to take the power back if it is misused).  The group is evaluated as a group – true interdependence.  How many organizations who, for example, espouse ‘team work’ actually reward the team and/or hold the team accountable (rewards are still given to individuals and individual scape-goats are still alive and well on most teams). 

Perhaps as our educational systems (partly thanks to technology) continue to evolve ‘collaborative learning’ systems and then, as adults, these students will ‘naturally’ gravitate to Greenleaf’s concept for it will make sense to them.  The current emerging collaborative learning efforts give me hope that Greenleaf’s concept will be embraced and integrated within the next generation or two.           

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