THE ‘INSPIRED’ ESSAY – THE INTRODUCTION, PART II. . .

In his ‘Introduction’ Greenleaf writes: Behind what is said here is a twofold concern: first… What is basic is the incremental thrust of an individual who has the ability to serve and lead.

My second concern is for the individual as a serving person and his tendency to deny wholeness and creative fulfillment for himself by failing to lead when he could lead.

In describing his first concern Greenleaf introduces us to four themes that he will reflect upon and write about for the next twenty years (1969-1989). The first theme concerns a ‘gradualist approach’ (the incremental thrust). Greenleaf was not interested in rolling things out; he was not interested in the quick hit. His many years at AT&T reinforced for him the power and need for a gradual approach. In our culture we suffer from what Kundera called ‘hurry sickness’ – we are addicted to ‘speed’ and so Greenleaf’s incremental thrust was and continues to be both counter-cultural and an antidote for our addiction to speed. Two days ago I was with the President of an organization; he wanted to know why an initiative they had ‘rolled’ out two years ago was ‘stuck’ – the implementation was not going well. The previous week I had invited him to ask his leadership team plus six other employees (two from each major sub-culture) to write out a definition of the initiative.

As soon as we sat down he said that he had had a great revelation: There was no agreement when it came to defining the initiative. In fact, there were heated exchanges among the members of his leadership team as to the definition (it turns out that the team never signed off on the definition). The marketing department had defined the initiative and had developed really neat marketing materials touting the initiative. I had also spent time with the marketing materials and compared them to the organization’s written vision, mission, and core values statements. None of the marketing materials contained statements about or references to the vision, mission or core values. Talk about a BIG GAP! Rather than taking an ‘incremental approach’ the goal was to roll out the initiative so they could market it to current and potential customers.

The second theme that Greenleaf introduces us to is the theme of the individual. As a gradualist it makes sense to me that Greenleaf will also focus on the impact that, over time, a person can have. This idea is also directly rooted in his experience at AT&T for Greenleaf — just one person – gradually, over time, powerfully influenced others so that significant changes were made at AT&T. Greenleaf’s lived experience confirmed for him the importance of the individual and of the gradualist’s approach. If one were to spend time with his writings one would learn that Greenleaf was not interested in ‘numbers’ – in fact he believed that his concept would not be embraced by great numbers AND that the impact might well be significant simply because a few individuals lived into and out of his concepts; like Greenleaf they would embrace gradualism.

The third theme directly involves ‘serving.’ The servant-first develops his/her ability to serve and then seeks to serve-first. His ‘servant-theme’ is Greenleaf’s primary (if not ‘the’ primary) theme.

Greenleaf follows this with his final theme: to lead. The servant always seeks to serve. Some servants are then called to lead (by role or by situation). One is challenged to prepare one to become ‘servant-first’ and one is then challenged to respond to the opportunity to lead when it is presented.

The ‘serving person’ denies ‘wholeness’ and hinders ‘creative fulfillment’ when he or she does not respond to the opportunity to lead when it is presented. As Greenleaf consistently notes in his writings, the ‘servant-first’ will have the opportunity to lead no matter where they are. Consequently, the individual develops his or her first or second serving nature and then prepares him/herself to lead so that when the opportunity presents itself the person will respond by choosing to lead.

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