In his 1962 essay, Greenleaf briefly explores ‘Paradox.’  When he wrote about servant-leadership eight years later he noted that at our healthiest we are living paradoxes.  In his 1962 essay, Greenleaf writes:

…there is an important internal attribute that does not have as clear an external reference.  It is paradox.

 Usually we think of paradox as an unwanted contradiction, an illogical notion or situation that shouldn’t exist.  I would like to present the idea of paradox as a necessary and desirable attribute of life.

 Webster’s Dictionary admits paradox to mean something seemingly contradictory but that may be true in fact.  I would like to explore here the paradoxical aspects of strong, responsible, successful people.  For instance, a leader – or anyone responsible for other people – may sometimes be both soft and tough at the same time, dealing with the same set of conditions. 

 This is the paradox: the seeming contradiction between a set of attributes that are quite opposite, the blend of which makes for great strength…

 How does one separate paradox, the necessary embodiment of contradictory qualities which strong people who are carrying responsible roles are likely to have, from those obvious undesirables: two-facedness and hypocrisy?

 The difference, it seems to me, lies in the motives and the quality of the person.  A man of lesser character than Lincoln might not have it said about him that, “He expressed and acted on these usually incompatible motives and ideas with such rare propriety and amenity that their union in his behavior and spirit passes not only without criticism but almost without comment.”

 The moral, I take it, is not to strive for that consistency which Emerson called “foolish” and “the hobgoblin of little minds” but to strive rather for those qualities of propriety and amenity the possession of which renders the paradox of inconsistency a source of strength rather than a liability.

 There is probably a logic underlying paradox, but it is not syllogistic logic.  It is more likely…what Emerson was trying to convey when he spoke of “The good of evil born.”  Man at his greatest…is paradox and it seems right that this should be his nature.

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In his 1962 essay, Greenleaf noted ‘three issues’ that emerged rather sharply out of my own experience.  This morning, gentle reader, I will conclude this topic as I share with you Greenleaf’s third issue.  Greenleaf writes:

The third issue that needs to be dealt with is the struggle for significance

 One of the hazards of prolonged schooling is that one becomes accustomed to living in a system in which the ends of the system are to nurture significance for the individual.  This is what a school is for.

 Once in the world of work, the institution one serves…uses people for its own ends.  All such institutions have other obligations and they commit people who do the work to these obligations.  Most modern institutions are also concerned that the people who do the work find personal significance in their work…

 But what is it that one is expected to find?  I see it as something latent in the individual to be fulfilled: not something fixed or predetermined like a seed, but a potentiality for growth into something new and unique.

 A health adulthood requires that each one find a way to nurture his own uniqueness, and find it among the choices of experience available to him…

 Often, too, significance is blocked by compulsive drives for goals that do not provide fulfillment…  When we achieve what we pursue…there is an emptiness…

 The warning here is that our society holds up values which confuse the search – status, property, power, tangible achievement – even peace of mind – which subvert the emergence of true uniqueness, the only real significance…

 Neither institutions nor aggregates of people have significance, except as it is given to them by living individuals who comprise them.  Even traditions, powerful as they sometimes appear to be, are not viable unless contemporary people understand and believe in them and, by their thoughts, words and deeds, give them current significance…

 Qualities like dignity, significance, integrity are internal attributes of individual people.  They should show on the outside; but the essence is inside, not outside. 


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In his 1962 essay, Greenleaf noted ‘three issues’ that emerged rather sharply out of my own experience.  This morning, gentle reader, I will continue to share with you, in his own words, Greenleaf’s ‘Three Issues.’

The second issue is the tension between the requirement to conform and the essential person. 

 Conformity has become a nasty word…  The attacks on conformity confuse the issue because in any organized society there must be a lot of conformity.  Whenever two people undertake to work together, there must be some conformity.  The problem is to know conformity for what it is: a completely external adjustment to the group norm of behavior in the interest of group cohesiveness and effectiveness.

 Then, knowing conformity for what it is, always keep it in the rational focus as a conscious external adjustment in the interest of an effective society.  Keep it outside, never let it become a part of you.

 The great danger is that one will lose one’s identity in the act of conformity; not knowing which is the essential person and which is the conforming act.


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In his 1962 essay, Greenleaf noted ‘three issues’ that emerged rather sharply out of my own experience.  Beginning this morning, gentle reader, I will share with you, in his own words, Greenleaf’s ‘Three Issues.’

Greenleaf writes: I see three major issues that need to be faced and dealt with…  These are especially relevant to work, to vocation.  Absorbing as work can and should be it is important that one find in his work that which is uniquely oneself. 

 No other achievement, no other end sought will be worth the effort if through the work that occupies one’s best days and years one does not find a way to fan his own creative spark to a white heat… So I want to consider three issues…three that have emerged rather sharply out of my own experience.

 First, the consequences of stress and responsibility.  All work…both develops and limits.  It stretches out in some ways and narrows in others; it both fans the flame and seeks to quench it.

 ….Whenever I think I have really achieved something, up come those powerful lines from Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road’…

 Now understand me well-
It is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition
of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to
make a greater struggle necessary.

 The greater struggle that will be necessary comes because long exposure to stress and responsibility tends to narrow the intellect unless a valiant effort is made to achieve an ever-expanding outlook. 

 ….The intellectual life must expand consistently.  The great risk which the bearers of responsibility assume is that intellectual curiosity and the capacity for a ‘feeling’ response will atrophy and that only a calculating rationality will remain.

 …If one has a problem on which it is appropriate to act, and if one doesn’t know what to do…one should turn to the search for greater depth of understanding about the problem.  The main reason one will ever feel the pressure of a problem, any kind of problem, is that one’s understanding of himself, of the other people involved or of the area in which the problem is less limited. 

 Therefore, the search for understanding is most practical, even though the ‘practical’ people often spurn it.  …it is difficult to understand when the heat is on. 

 One should learn to seek to understand when the head is not on; make a firm habit of it, and try to be aware that this will only serve one well if the habit is firmly enough fixed so that one can manage it when the going is rough, when the stakes are real and when the consequences of failing to understand may be overwhelming.

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Again this morning, gentle reader, I will continue to offer passages from a piece that Greenleaf wrote in 1962.  Perhaps some of them will speak to you.  Greenleaf writes:

As one learns to manage his own life he seeks to avoid error; but he accepts the consequence of error when it comes (as it surely will); he makes sure that he learns the lessons that only error can teach…and starts afresh free from feelings of guilt.

 I have suffered enough from error so that I know how hard this is to do.  It is particularly difficult as one moves toward what he ought to be: sensitive, considerate, responsible, conscientious, venturesome.  To be as one should, and yet be able to clean the slate and start afresh without guilt feelings, takes a special view of the self.  There must be a sustaining feeling of personal significance and worth.

 This feeling of significance and worth comes from the inside (it is not reputation).  I am important to myself.  I am not a piece of dust on the way to becoming another piece of dust.  Each of us is a unique possibility of creation, unlike any that has ever been or ever will be. 

 No matter how badly we may be shaken, no matter how serious the failure or how ignominious the fall from grace, by accepting and learning we can be restored with greater strength.  We must never lose this basic view of who we are. 



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This morning, gentle reader, I will continue to offer passages from a piece that Greenleaf wrote in 1962.  Perhaps some of them will speak to you.  Greenleaf writes:

The most outstanding developer I know about had at the center of his philosophy the idea that the really important lessons in the managerial art are learned only as the result of error, suffering the consequences of error and gathering wisdom from the total experience.

Philosophy.  Each of us has integrated a ‘philosophy of life.’  Servant-first folks have also integrated a ‘philosophy of serving.’  Servant-Leaders have integrated a ‘philosophy of serving and leading.’  I can begin to understand, or understand more fully, my philosophies by emerging, naming, and examining my core values (the 2-3 values that I will, to the best of my ability, never compromise), by examining my core guiding principles (the 2-3 that, to the best of my ability I will never compromise), by examining my deep tacit assumptions (about the world, about people, about myself, etc.) and deciding which to hold onto, which to let go of, and which, if any, to take on.  I can also begin to understand my philosophies by examining my ‘ways of being’ – consider these: Being Authentic, Being Vulnerable, Being Faithful, Being Congruent, Being Consistent, Being Unconditionally Response-Able and Responsible, and Being Trust-Worthy.

Art.  Greenleaf is consistent, even prior to writing about the Servant-as-Leader he noted that ‘Managing’ and ‘Leading’ are ‘arts.’  Science and analytics are important.  Yet, most of the important decisions that Managers and Leaders make are made rooted in a combination of intuition, wisdom (think: learning from experience) and creativity.  Why?  For the simple reason that seldom does the Manager or Leader have all of the information needed AND yet a decision must be made.

 Error.  As humans we are, at our best, imperfect and, as Greenleaf noted in his later writings, living paradoxes (think: we are both ‘good and evil’ – Greenleaf’s words, or are ‘virtue and vice’ or are ‘light and darkness’).  We do not walk the talk as much as we stumble the mumble.  The question is not ‘Will I err?’  The question is: ‘What will I learn from my error?’  Charles Handy reminds us that: Experience plus Reflection is the Learning.  Organizations and Relationships invest a great deal in providing us the opportunity to learn from our errors.  How often do we consciously take advantage of these opportunities?

 Consequences.  There are two types of consequences: Intended and Unintended.  How often do we plan with the ‘Intended Consequences’ in mind?  How often do we plan AND develop scenarios where ‘Unintended Consequences’ dominate?  Why do Managers and Leaders refuse to take the time to identify potential-possible ‘Unintended Consequences’?  How often are Individuals-Relationships-Organizations caught off guard or derailed by ‘Unintended Consequences’?

 Gathering Wisdom.  Consider that ‘Wisdom’ = knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.  Wisdom is rooted in sagacity, discernment, and insight.  Wisdom is only possible with experience-learning over time.  A young person can become ‘wise beyond his/her years’ if the young person has learned from certain life experiences.  Most of us do not begin to drink from the well-of-wisdom until we are older.  I am now recalling one of my mentors, Lowell, who was frustrated with/by me (I was 31 years old at the time and Lowell had been my mentor for close to four years).  He said to me: Richard, I am confused.  You want me to lead you to the font of wisdom.  I lead you there.  When you get there all you want to do is gargle.  When are you going to decide to drink? 

How often, gentler reader, have you stood before the ‘font of wisdom’ and have decided to gargle rather than drink?


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Greenleaf retired from AT&T in 1964, five years later he began to write about his concept, The Servant as Leader.  In 1962 he wrote a piece that he titled: Uniqueness, Paradox and Choice – Notes on Strategy for Potentially Successful People.  I have decided, gentle reader, to offer us some passages from this essay.  I will offer passages that continue to speak to me.  Perhaps some of them will speak to you.  Greenleaf writes:

In my early business experience I had a mentor who believed that every man has the seeds of greatness in him, that the inward experience is man’s most dependable guide…

 …there was a long ‘wilderness’ period in which I sought resources outside myself.  Good years went by.  No answers came.  A long time was spent in discovering that the only real answer to frustration is to concern myself with the drawing forth of what is uniquely me.  Only as what is uniquely me emerges do I experience moments of true creativity; moments which, when deeply felt, give me the impulse and the courage to act constructively in the outside world.

 Every life is a blend of experiences that build ego strength and those that tear it down.  As one’s responsibilities widen, these experiences become more powerful.  Maturity may be described as the capacity to withstand the ego destroying experiences and not lose one’s perspective in the ego building experiences.

 My experience is that a ‘Mentor’ appears and is recognized when I am searching, seeking, open to and have a need for a Mentor.  A Mentor ‘sees’ potentials, gifts, abilities, talents, etc. in us that we do not see (or that we have refused to acknowledge); the Mentor then calls these forth.  The Mentor challenges us and at the same time supports us.  I have acknowledged six mentors in my life – the first, Larry Kelly, appeared when I was in the sixth grade.  He saw potentials in me and he called them forth; often in challenging ways, always with my well-being in mind (as an 11 year old I did not have the words for this experience although I knew, even then, that he cared deeply for me and for my development).

Gentle reader, when have you been in need of and open to receiving a Mentor in your life?  What did your Mentor ‘see’ in you and what did your Mentor ‘call forth’ – in a supportive and challenging way?  Looking back throughout your life’s journey, did you ‘miss’ a Mentor or two – the Mentor was there and you did not invite the Mentor into your life?

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