DOMINANT IDEAS. . .PART IV

I will conclude these entries with two more of Greenleaf’s ‘Dominant Ideas’ (Dominant = major, exerting influence). There are other ‘Dominant Ideas’ – e.g. Community, Ethical Use of Power, Withdrawal, ‘In Here,’ ‘Reflection,’ and Theology of Institutions; perhaps someday I will address these. But for now, I will conclude with the following two ‘Dominant Ideas.’

The first is ‘Persuasion.’ In his essay ‘The Leadership Crisis’ Greenleaf compares and contrasts coercion, manipulation and persuasion. As he describes ‘persuasion’ I think of ‘influence.’ To ‘persuade’ is by definition ‘to convince.’ What Greenleaf describes is more akin to ‘influence.’ When we persuade we use logic and reason in order to prevail upon the other(s) to do something. Greenleaf describes a person (e.g. the Quaker John Woolman) using inquiry (certain questions) in a gentle and persistent way such that the others will emerge a response that the others then ‘own.’ They, in effect, convince themselves. For me, the best that coercion or manipulation obtains is ‘compliance.’ On the other hand, Persuasion will engender ‘buy-in.’ And Influence will move one to ‘emotional ownership.’ Persuasion relies upon the ‘speaker’ to provide the logic and reason so that the recipient is ‘convinced’ and thus chooses to act in a certain way. Influence relies upon the speak to offer certain questions that will then stimulate the reflective-thinking of the recipient such that the recipient emerges a response (followed by an action) that he/she will embrace as ‘their own’ (for it will truly be their own). Influence is rooted in the assumption that the recipient is capable of reflective-thinking and is capable of ‘owning’ his/her response and is willing then to own his/her behavior (and subsequent consequences).

The final ‘Dominant Idea’ I want to briefly explore is ‘Listen-first.’ Before we act we are to ‘listen-first.’ This is a challenge for me and I do not believe I am alone when it comes to embracing this challenge. Listening-first helps one move to be ‘responsive’ more than ‘reactive.’ It allows one to ‘seek to understand’ rather than seek to be understood. Listening-first promotes ‘inquiry’ more than ‘advocacy.’ Listening-first honors the other; is – in effect – a gift given to the other. Listening-first is rooted in the belief that the other has something significant to contribute. Listening-first says that ‘you have something to contribute and I will seek to learn what that is.’ Listening-first ‘buys one time’ (and often leads to ‘Reflection’). Listening –first helps quiet my inner voice – the one that distracts me from what you have to offer. Listening-first helps quiet my ‘outer voice’ so that I am less likely to ‘shoot from the lip.’

The ‘arts’ of Persuasion and of Listening-first are skills to be developed and capacities to be developed. The skill alone is not enough. Once one has learned the skill one is then challenged to develop his/her capacity so that the skill can be utilized more fully. Once one ceases to develop capacity one begins to lose capacity (e.g. if you have developed the skill to ride a bicycle and then developed your capacity to ride 100 miles without stopping and then you don’t ride a bike for five years you will retain the skill of riding AND lose the capacity to ride 100 miles without stopping). Developing the skill for Persuasion and for Listening is not enough – skill plus capacity is what is needed.

Greenleaf’s ‘Dominant Ideas’ continue to be, for many folks, the road less traveled. And as the poet Robert Frost noted, once we take the road less traveled we will discover that this will make ‘all the difference.’ Indeed it will!

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