Greenleaf writes: The servant prepares him[her]self to lead by a process of growth through experience guided by a self-image as a builder and within a conceptual framework that suggests the strengths that will emerge if allowed.
He continues: Leaders are not trained, they evolve. . . Leadership overarches expertise and it cannot be reduced to style. A leader is not an identifiable style of a man [or woman].
He adds: Effective leadership defies categorization, but one is risked – key words: direction, values, competence (including judgment) and spirit. Ultimately every established leader has his [her] own ideas about the art (and it is truly an art). [The Servant-as-Leader, circa 1969, pp.10-11]
So, preparation is crucial. This preparation entails a process of growth through experience – trial and error, experience plus reflection, examining motivation, choices, actions/behavior, and intended and unintended consequences. This process is guided by a self image. Not any self-image, but the self-image of a builder [Greenleaf consistently challenges servant-leaders to make sure that growth is a conscious commitment; the growth of the person, the relationship, the organization]. We also know that the clearer the image one holds the more likely one will live into the image – to move the image from the potential to the ‘concrete.’ Added to this is a need for a conceptual framework. Not any framework, but a conceptual one. Not just any conceptual framework but one that supports the emergence of one’s strengths.
How is the evolution of the leader in contrast with training? Training generally involves skill building and ‘tool-using’ while evolution is a generative process. A generative process means that only over time, or through time, will one evolve into a leader. A generative process requires patience – a virtue that we Americans are not known for. We all know that a person can be given the role of a leader and not be a leader.
What words come to your mind when you read Greenleaf’s ‘key words’? What words would you add? What words, if any, would you remove? Why?
Do you believe that leadership is an art? You might check out Max DePree’s book, Leadership is an Art for one man’s idea that it is, indeed an art.