SERVANT-LED ORGANIZATIONS, PART I. . .

Leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives. –Max de Pree

In 1990 Peter Senge published his seminal work: ‘The Fifth Discipline.’  He introduced us to the concept of the learning organization.  In 1993 Peter wrote this: ‘Learning Organizations are built by communities of Servant-Leaders.’  He followed this with ‘Servant-Leaders are the ones walking ahead, regardless of their management position or hierarchical authority… Servant-Leadership is inevitably collective.’

Traditionally, in our Culture, our conventional notions of the ‘leader’ are embedded in a myth – the myth of the leader as hero.  We forget, or deny, that leadership is a by-product of the relationship between the leader and the led.  Greenleaf’s concept is inherently relational and communal (two reasons his concept resonated with Peter Senge – he told me this when I met him in 1994); it is also inherently ethical.

Within an organization, the hero-leader has never existed.  It has always been – and it will always continue to be – the ‘led’ who determine whether the leader is a hero or not (there have been, of course, individuals who acted as heroes and this is important to remember; these heroes emerge ‘situationally’).

Today, more than ever before in history, our rate of learning must be equal to the rate of change.  This means that no one person can learn at a fast enough rate in order to keep up.  This means that learning must be communal learning – Senge’s ‘Learning Organization’ is one way to enhance communal learning.

Cooperation and Collaboration must replace Competition.  The Community must take precedence over the Individual. The Team must replace the Person.  These endeavors are no easy charge for our Culture – a Culture that is rooted in the primacy of the person – a Culture that is rooted in the Individual more than the Community.

One of the reasons that Senge embraced Greenleaf’s concept is that he was able to discern that the servant-as-leader concept combines idealism & pragmatism.  As an ideal, Greenleaf’s concept appeals to one’s values, beliefs, guiding-life principles, dignity, self-worth and social nature (we humans are social beings).  Greenleaf’s concept is also practical, and, I will add, demanding.  High achievement and working with distinction are goals to be embraced and lived.  At the same time, the highest priority needs of those in the Organization are consciously addressed (we ‘address’ needs, we cannot ‘meet’ them).  All are served so that they, while being served, grow as persons.  Because the servant-leader is relational and because leadership is a by-product of the relationship between the leader and the led, the health of the community is crucial (the metaphor: organization is community becomes a core-value).  ‘Health’ involves the Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual and Social (think: Relational) health of the person and the community.

The emergence and embracing of ‘communal leadership’ does not mean that there are no designated leader-roles.  CEOs and Executives and Managers will continue to exist.  Their existence is necessary and their existence also poses a core challenge for servant-led learning organizations.  This is a challenge that must be embraced – it is not a problem to be solved.  There are guidelines that can help AND there are no specific blueprints to follow (this is one reason it is a challenge – ‘guidelines without specific blueprints’).  This challenge results in dis-ease running amok within organizations.

Dis-ease always infects us when we are confronted by transformational change. –Richard W. Smith

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IS GREENLEAF’S CONCEPT ‘REALISTIC’? – PART VII. . .

…one is always searching. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning we will conclude our brief exploration of some of the disciplines.  As a reminder here are the disciplines, we have explored five thus far:

  • Listening, first
  • Being Aware
  • Inquiry
  • Imaging to help with preparing
  • Withdrawal
  • Making Whole-Healing
  • Being Responsible
  • Seeking-Searching
  • Understanding

Let us continue.

Seeking-Searching.  For Greenleaf the discipline is not the seeking-searching.  The discipline is the seeking-searching without the goal of ‘finding’ – the process itself is what is crucial to the discipline.  What hinders this type of seeking-searching?

Consider the following hindrances (if not direct blocks to the process):  If I am ‘sure’ then I have no reason to seek and search.  If the ‘way’ I do something – parent, teach, serve, lead, etc. – gets me what I want then I will have little, if any, motivation to seek and search.  When my ‘identity’ is threatened then I will not be open to seeking and searching (who wants to give up his or her identity).  If I have ‘found___’ then I am less likely to seek and search.

Seeking-Searching is risky.  I might be influenced by what I encounter (in order to seek and search I must hold an openness to being influenced).  I might have to let go of…and take on….—I might have to shift or change or, what is more challenging, I might have to transform (transform = a fundamental change in character or structure).

This discipline is connected to the next discipline.

Understanding.  How many folks have difficulty seeking to understand because they have equated understanding with agreement?  This equation embodies the typical adolescent argument (in our Culture): If you understand me then you will agree with me!  Their mantra: You don’t understand! Means: You don’t agree!  We perfect this during our adolescent years and carry it into adulthood.

Greenleaf is clear: Develop the discipline of listening first in order to seek to understand.  If one engages in this discipline one runs the risk of being influenced by what one learns (being open to the possibility of being influenced is crucial to seeking to understand).

What do I seek to understand?  First, I seek to understand what I have integrated and then to seek to understand if what I have integrated continues to serve me and others well (for servant, first folks this means to serve so that others grow).  For example, what are the 2-3 core values I have integrated and what are the 2-3 deep tacit assumptions I have integrated and what are the 2-3 core guiding life-principles I have integrated AND do these serve me and others well?

Seeking to understand myself is, indeed, a life-long endeavor.  As I seek to understand myself I also seek to understand the other and his/her core values, deep assumptions, etc.  Again: Understanding does not mean that I will agree with…

For those who choose to embrace Greenleaf’s concept these disciplines are a given, they are integral.  They help individuals and relationships (all organizations are individuals and relationships writ large) serve one another in ways that support his ‘Best Test’ and embrace his ‘Credo’ (of course, each person and each organization is called to develop their own ‘Credo’ and not simply accept Greenleaf’s).

We will be returning to this topic at some point but these entries will have to suffice for now.

…seek first to understand. –Robert K. Greenleaf

 

 

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WAKE UP – BE AWARE – BECOME DISTURBED. . .

Good morning Gentle Reader.  I have decided to step-aside this morning and offer you the following post.  I will continue with ‘Is Greenleaf’s Concept Realistic’ next time.

Awareness does not bring comfort or solace.; it brings disturbance –Robert K. Greenleaf

One of the most challenging things for us to do is to wake up, become aware, listen to what is emerging from within oneself, listen to what is emerging in the ‘world’ and to ‘see.’  We don’t want to engage this process of ‘seeing.’  For example, the Capitalist does not want to see what is good and healthy in Socialism.  The rich do not want to ‘see’ the poor.  The tribe does not want to see the full humanity of the stranger.

Why don’t we want to embrace this process of ‘seeing’?  Consider this, Gentle Reader, if one engages in this process two things might occur: The one ‘seeing’ might well become disturbed by what one ‘sees’ and given what one ‘sees’ one might be called to change or transform [transform = a fundamental change in character or structure].

If one looks and one becomes disturbed one begins to sense a potential loss of control – the loss of the control of the life that one is holding onto.  If one chooses to embrace and engage in this process of ‘seeing’ one must also embrace the possibility that one will have to, at minimum, change or at maximum, transform.

When it comes to our ‘seeing,’ Anthony de Mello offers us three questions to hold, consider, embrace and live:

  • How much are you ready to take? [think: How much ‘seeing’ can you embrace]
  • How much of everything you’ve held dear are you ready to have shattered, without running away?
  • How ready are you to think of something unfamiliar? [think: hold the possibility that you will have to change or transform as a result]

As one embraces and engages this process of ‘seeing’ one – because one is awake and aware – becomes disturbed by the ‘fear’ that is emerging from within.  This is not the ‘fear of the unknown.’  Actually, one cannot become fear-full of the unknown.  It does seem, however, that what one fears is the loss of the known. (Think, for example, the loss of ‘identity’ as one of the potential losses that helps generate and sustain this ‘fear of loss’.)

A second fear one has is the fear that comes with the awareness that one will have to change or transform and in order to embrace and engage this process one will have to let go or empty in order to make room for the new (think: the ‘new’ way of seeing, for example).  Who wants to give up his/her identity?

A third fear one becomes aware of is the fear of isolation or abandonment or shunning by one’s ‘tribe’ (think: family, religious group, political party, club, etc.).  We are social beings and being ‘part of’ is crucial for our well-being.  What will I do if I am ostracized by one or more of these ‘tribes’?

One of my role-models is Jesus.  Jesus was awake, aware and often disturbed by what he saw.  One of the things Jesus modeled for me was how comfortable he was with ‘sinners’ and how uncomfortable he was with ‘the self-righteous.’  Jesus never, not once, indicated that he was better than the ‘sinner.’  Jesus modeled what it was to embrace all human beings without embracing their actions.  He ‘saw’ the fully human being and he responded to the fully human being.

This leads me to the fourth fear.  This is the fear of ‘seeing’ each person as a fully human being.  The implications of ‘seeing’ each person as a fully human being are legion.  By the by, all faith traditions tell us that God will judge each of us based on how we have ‘seen’ and ‘responded’ to our ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ human beings.

If I see you as a fully human being then I must treat you as I want to be treated – for most of us this means that we will treat THE OTHER(S) with compassion, care, love and forgiveness.  We will feed the hungry and shelter the home-less and tend to those who are sick (physically, intellectually, emotionally, and/or spiritually).

Given all of this it is no wonder that so many of us continue to choose to not wake up and become aware and ‘see’.

I am called to be faithful. –Mother Teresa

 

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IS GREENLEAF’S CONCEPT ‘REALISTIC’? – PART VI. . .

Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves. –Gandhi

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning we will continue our brief exploration of some of the disciplines.  As a reminder here are the disciplines, we have explored five thus far:

  • Listening, first
  • Being Aware
  • Inquiry
  • Imaging to help with preparing
  • Withdrawal
  • Making Whole-Healing
  • Being Responsible
  • Seeking-Searching
  • Understanding

Let us continue.

Making Whole-Healing.  If those of us who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of servant, first and serve so that others grow as persons and so that as servant-institutions we strive to help co-create a society that is more just, caring and loving then we are, it seems to me, also committed to helping people heal; to help them become whole.  Greenleaf also reminds us that the root of Religion is religio – is to re-bind and make whole.

In order to serve in this way we must also strive to help ourselves heal and become whole.  For me, this is where Greenleaf’s metaphor of Community becomes crucial.  To serve in this way requires the support of a community.  The concept of community, then, has significant implications for any organized group of two or more folks who, individually and collectively, espouse Greenleaf’s concept of servant-first.  ‘Community’ is rooted in trust, safety, compassion, forgiveness and love (to name a few of the virtues and strengths of a Community).  A Community co-creates an environment where a person can bring all of him/herself; each person can be fully present.

This leads me to the next discipline:

Being Responsible.  Responsible = having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable for things in one’s power.  Therefore, to act at all times rooted in moral integrity.  [Power = one’s ability to act.  The unabridged dictionary definition.  Here is my definition of Power: the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion.]

Many years ago a mentor of mine, Lowell, counseled me that in order to be responsible I need to learn to be unconditionally response-able.  He also strove to help me learn how to prepare so that I could choose to be responsible and, when necessary, to be appropriately reactive (years later, fire-fighters reinforced this idea when I had the privilege of serving them – depending upon the situation they are responsive or reactive).

Twenty years ago I had the opportunity to spend time with the owner of a number of businesses.  At that time he was 74 years old.  He told me that on his 34th birthday he made a commitment to himself (and by extension to others) that from that day forward he would not make a business decision that was not rooted in love.  This commitment was a powerful way of being responsible.

You are given three names in life.  The one you inherit.  The one your parents give you and the name you make for yourself. –Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

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IS GREENLEAF’S CONCEPT ‘REALISTIC’? – PART V. . .

…if one is servant, either leader or follower, one is always searching. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning we will continue our brief exploration of some of the disciplines.  As a reminder here are the disciplines, we explored the first three last time:

  • Listening, first
  • Being Aware
  • Inquiry
  • Imaging to help with preparing
  • Withdrawal
  • Making Whole-Healing
  • Being Responsible
  • Seeking-Searching
  • Understanding

Let us continue.

Imaging to help with preparing.  Research continues to confirm that imaging is not only helpful, it is crucial.  The old adage, ‘If you can see it you can do it’ seems to hold true, over and over again (ask any professional athlete, for example, and the athlete will confirm the power and importance of this discipline).  Greenleaf tells the story of his own imaging – preparing without knowing what he was preparing for.

When Greenleaf worked at AT&T in New York, he lived in New Jersey.  He would take the train (light-rail and sub-way) from New Jersey to New York.  Every day, for years, after he settled in on the train, he would imagine a scenario in which he would have to jump up – and at times jump over people – and pull the emergency cord in order to stop the train.

One morning, after he had settled in on the sub-way, he noticed, as the train began to move, that a man was stuck – he was caught in the door.  People were screaming as they could see that the man would be crushed once the train came to the end of the walk-way and entered the tunnel.

Greenleaf did not ‘think;’ Greenleaf reacted.  He jumped up and over folks and pulled the emergency cord and the train stopped just short of the tunnel.  The imaging that Greenleaf had done for years had served him well.  All first-responders develop the discipline of imaging.  So do professional athletes and many non-professional athletes.  I have been playing golf for more than 62 years and I developed this discipline when I took up the game when I was 12.

This discipline can serve us well – as servants, as servant-leaders and as servant-followers.

Withdrawal.  Greenleaf reminds us, over and over again, that it is crucial for us to develop this discipline.  We can develop the discipline so that we can ‘withdraw’ for a few seconds (think: pause to catch our breath and slow down) or we can ‘withdraw’ for hours – even for days.  In withdrawing we stop, step-back and reflect or ‘clear’ or ‘let go of’ and after some time we re-enter.

For example, prior to guiding a ‘work-treat’ (part workshop and part retreat) I will withdraw for 30-45 minutes.  During this time I will image how I want the experience to go and I will focus my energy on the ‘now.’  I will image myself being fully present to the participants. The discipline of withdrawal enables me to become more response-able and, if necessary more appropriately reactive (think: be responsive to what is emerging during the session).

Next time we will continue our brief exploration of these ‘Disciplines.’

A servant-leader is a person who begins with a natural feeling of wanting to serve first – to help, support and encourage and lift up others.  And because of their noble role-models others begin to lead by serving. –Robert K. Greenleaf

 

 

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IS GREENLEAF’S CONCEPT ‘REALISTIC’? – PART IV. . .

[The servant makes] sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. Robert K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf is clear.  The servant, first (leader or follower), whether the individual or the organized group of two or more, seeks to serve so that those served grow as persons and that the servant seeks to serve the highest priority needs of the one being served and that the servant serves in order to help co-create a society that is more just, caring and loving and that the servant becomes a regenerative force within the group/organization.

Greenleaf also offers us one of his many paradoxes to embrace: The servant, first (leader or follower) must prepare without knowing what one is preparing for.  What?  How can one do this?  Well, Gentle Reader, consider all first-responders – they must prepare in this way; and they do.  Part of their preparation is rooted in embracing and integrating a number of disciplines.  Greenleaf offers us some when it comes to the servant, first’s preparation.  Consider these:

  • Listening, first
  • Being Aware
  • Inquiry
  • Imaging to help with preparing
  • Withdrawal
  • Making Whole-Healing
  • Being Responsible
  • Seeking-Searching
  • Understanding

These will suffice for now; twenty-four years ago I identified close to a 100 disciplines that Greenleaf offered us in his writings.  Let’s briefly explore each of these.

Greenleaf was clear: The servant, first listens first.  James Autry used to tell his direct reports: When there is a crisis, don’t just do something, sit there!  Listen!  Listen to what is emerging from within you and from within others.  During the Tylenol poisonings James E. Burke listened for hours to his ‘advisors’ before seeking to decide.

In order to listen in this way the servant, first must choose to be aware and this implies being awake, being intentional, being purpose-full and being fully present in the nowAwareness, Greenleaf tells us, does not necessarily bring comfort or solace; more often it brings disturbance.  [An Aside: I invite you, Gentle Reader, to check out Anthony de Mello’s powerful little book, ‘Awareness’.]  How often are we not fully present – we are ruminating about the past or we are anticipating the future?

In order to listen, first we need to develop the discipline of inquiry.  If I am rooted in ‘surety’ I will not be open to developing this discipline.  Paradoxically, it is easier to develop this discipline if I am rooted in doubt and/or if I am, at minimum, choosing to be open to the possibility of being influenced.  There are three types of questions that we might frame: the first is the question that we want to respond to immediately – or that we invite the other(s) to respond to immediately.  The second is the question that we will seek to respond to after a time of ‘reflection’ (this might involve experience, research, or a searching conversation).  The third is the question we will hold – or we will ask others to hold.  The great poet, Rilke, counsels us to live the question.  Consider that the most powerful questions are those rooted in the unknown.  How many times do we frame questions that we already know the answer to or that contain the answer in the question?

We will continue our exploration next time…

Responsible people build; they do not destroy.  They are moved by the heart. –Robert K. Greenleaf

 

 

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IS GREENLEAF’S CONCEPT ‘REALISTIC’? – PART III. . .

To refuse to examine the assumptions we live by is immoral. –Robert K. Greenleaf

What else have we embraced and integrated into our ‘second nature’ – into our ‘being’ – that directly impacts what we choose to enact?  Consider this short list.

In addition to our ‘core values’ and ‘core guiding principles’ we have integrated (as individuals and as any organized group of two or more folks – if we have been together long enough) ‘core beliefs,’ stereotypes, prejudices, perceptions (think: how we view the world), judgments, personal life-metaphors, and perhaps most importantly ‘core deep tacit assumptions’.  Our ‘deep tacit assumptions’ reside in our sub-conscious and yet we act as if they are ‘real’ or ‘the truth’ or ‘absolute.’

All of these, together with other ingredients, have defined who we are as persons and as organized groups of two or more persons. Our identity is defined by what we have integrated.  They are, therefore difficult to ‘let go of’ and ‘replace’ because they are intimately connected to our identity.

Greenleaf’s ‘refusal statement’ above is powerful because of how challenging it is for us to emerge, embrace and evaluate our ‘deep tacit assumptions.’  Here are two powerful ‘beliefs’ that I have integrated into my second nature: (1) I believe that people have unlimited potential and (2) I believe that people are not trust-worthy.  I have learned to embrace and develop a greater capacity for #1 and I have learned, via rigorous self-discipline, to over-ride #2 and ‘lead with trust’ rather than lead with ‘mistrust.’ I have become aware of the life experiences that have contributed to both and that has helped me develop the one and minimize the other and replace it with a conscious choice.

Each of us has also integrated 1-3 personal ‘life-metaphors’ (one of these tends to be our dominant life-metaphor).  All organized groups of two or more folks who are together long enough will also embrace and integrate a metaphor that defines who they are and that also guides them.  Remember, Gentle Reader, the metaphors we use determine the paths we choose.  [AN ASIDE: Some of the most powerful and impactful conflicts we have are metaphor-conflicts; the other two are value-conflicts and ‘need-conflicts’.]

Here are some common personal life-metaphors: ‘Life is a struggle.’  ‘Life is a journey.’  ‘Life is an adventure.’  ‘Life is a story to be written and lived.’  Here are a few metaphors that organized groups have embraced and integrated: ‘A family metaphor – we are a family.’  ‘A banking metaphor – people are assets, resources and commodities.’ ‘A mechanical metaphor – people are cogs in the machine.’  ‘A community metaphor – people are interdependent human beings in community with one another.’

Greenleaf’s concept embraces organic metaphors – ‘community and garden’ are two of his favorite organizational metaphors.  Greenleaf also loves paradox and so his ‘garden metaphor’ is also a paradox: I/We are the garden and the gardener at the same time.  The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado captures this in his ‘garden metaphor poem’ and concludes his poem with this line: ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’

If a person or an organized group of two or more folks are going to consider embracing Greenleaf’s concept it is crucial for them to engage in a series of searches that help uncover all that I have described thus far.  Why?  Greenleaf’s concept is, by its very nature, ‘transformational’ (transform = a fundamental change in character or structure).

In concluding today, I offer us Max De Pree’s excellent reminder:

Leadership is a serious meddling in other peoples’ lives. –Max De Pree

 

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