Greenleaf writes: A new moral principle may be emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant nature of the leader.

Greenleaf invites us (or is it ‘challenges us’) to become counter-cultural by inviting us to consider, if not embrace, the idea he presents in this single sentence. From early on in our lives we are exposed to a variety of moral principles; principles, we are told, that are important to live by. As we mature we are charged with evaluating the moral principles that were taught us earlier in life and we are also charged with discerning, emerging, embracing and integrating ‘new’ moral principles into our lives.

Simply stated: ‘Moral principles convey truths as to right conduct.’ A moral principle supports us and guides us as we seek to engage in ‘right conduct.’ Moral principles are also subject to change. For example, a study of a country’s moral principles will quickly reveal that certain moral principles that were acceptable at one time were no longer acceptable at another time.

Greenleaf suggest that a ‘new moral principle’ might well be emerging. He suggested this in 1969. Did this new moral principle actually emerge? If it did was it nurtured and sustained, embraced and integrated? If so, by whom?

What was this new moral principle? Greenleaf clearly stated that it involved several ingredients. The first was that ‘authority’ is ‘freely and knowingly granted’ – not by ‘Leaders’ but by those who are led (talk about being counter-cultural). The designated role of leader is delegated by other leaders and with the role comes a range of ‘powers.’ Traditionally, ‘power and authority’ were seen to go hand-in-glove. Greenleaf says what is emerging changes the tradition.

Simply stated: ‘Authority is a persuasive force. It is delegated to a person by another person or by other persons.’  For Greenleaf the persons or persons who delegate authority are the led. If one were to pause and reflect the implications of this become clear and for some leaders these implications might bring disturbance rather than comfort.

The led ‘freely and knowingly’ choose to grant authority to the leader. In this new moral principle the led choose to do so in ‘response’ – which implies that the led are ‘response-able’ and ‘responsible’. The led respond to the ‘evident servant nature of the leader.’ They do not respond to the ‘leader’ first; they respond to the servant-first. Greenleaf ups the ante again when he states that it is the ‘nature’ of the servant that the led respond to. This means that the person is, at his or her core, a servant; it is ‘who’ the person is, by nature.

There are two ‘natures’ possible. First, a person is born with a servant’s nature and then he/she strives to fully develop this servant-nature (because we are imperfect the goal is to become more and more consistent not perfect). For those of us who are not servants by first nature we will need to choose to develop, via rigorous discipline, our ‘second nature’ – we become servants via this second nature development. The more we are, at our core, servants-first then the more likely the led will grant us authority when we become leaders (by situation or by role).

The led will trust us and grant us the authority we need to serve and lead. Whether leaders like to admit it or not, the led do grant or withhold this authority.

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