Greenleaf first offered us his ‘Thesis’ in 1971 and, as far as I know, he wrote his last iteration of his ‘Thesis’ in 1986. In 1971 he wrote: This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built… If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them – servants.
Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ and ‘Thesis’ provide those of us who espouse to embrace and live into and out of his concept two daunting challenges. Greenleaf believed that large institutions [large institutions are organic in nature for they are individuals and relationships writ large] would continue to powerfully impact our culture, our society. These large institutions could serve us (and meet his ‘Best Test’) and they could help our culture, our society, become more caring, more just, more serving and more loving and they could also enable our culture, our society, to provide ‘greater creative opportunity’ for each of us.
So, here we are 44 years later – How are we doing? How are those institutions faring when it comes to Greenleaf’s ‘Thesis’ (E.G. the schools, health care systems, foundations, for-profit businesses, not-for-profit service organizations who espouse to embrace Greenleaf’s concept – and there are more of these today than ever before)? Is our culture, our society more caring, more just, more serving and more loving because of these institutions? Because of these institutions does each of us have ‘greater opportunity’?
Which of these institutions have developed a greater capacity to serve and to perform as servants? Which of these institutions have developed ‘new regenerative forces’ that operate within them – ‘servants’? How many of these institutions continue to focus on developing ‘leaders’ rather than ‘servants-first’? It seems that our culture, our society, continues to be enamored with ‘leaders’ – the idea of ‘servant-first’ continues to present the greater challenge. It seems to me that the institutions who espouse Greenleaf’s concept continue to focus on the development of ‘leaders-first’ rather than ‘servants-first’.
It seems as if today, 44 years later, Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ and ‘Thesis’ continue to be truly counter-cultural when it comes to our culture, our society and our institutions. Today it seems that more ‘espouse’ while fewer ‘do.’ Is this because the challenge is too daunting or is it because we really don’t believe, nor embrace, what Greenleaf continues to offer us?