Each of us experiences ‘Life Markers’ that powerfully influence us, if not change us or even over time transform us. Some of these ‘Markers’ are events – Kennedy’s Assassination in 1963 was one for me; some are life experiences – my choosing not to take my own life when I was 20 was one for me; some are people – there have been, and continue to be, mentors, authors, and friends who have impacted, and continue to powerfully impact, my very being. Greenleaf honors five individuals whom he identified as ‘Markers’ in his life. These ‘Markers’ powerfully impacted his ‘Life Choices.’
His Father – George Washington Greenleaf. Greenleaf’s father modeled three behaviors that powerfully contributed to who Greenleaf chose to become as an adult. Listen, first. Honor All Voices. Pay Attention. When Greenleaf was young his father, at that time an elected official, would take Greenleaf along to meetings and young Greenleaf would observe his father model these three behaviors. As he matured, Greenleaf then strove to integrate these so they would become ‘habits’ and become ‘second nature’ to him. People who knew Greenleaf told me that he was one of the most powerful listeners they had ever met. While he was at AT&T Greenleaf spent years seeking ways to call forth and honor a diversity of voices (women and minorities, for example). In his writings Greenleaf tells story after story about ‘Paying Attention’ (being awake and aware), about ‘Listening, first’ and about ‘Honor All Voices.’
A College Professor – Oscar Helming. During his senior year at Carlton College in Minnesota this professor advised his students to seek out a large institution – for they were going to powerfully impact our Culture – find your place of influence in this institution, stay a long time and you will, then, be able to make a difference: Discern, Commit, Generational, Influence. Greenleaf was moved to action. He learned that AT&T fit the bill for him; he was hired on and he stayed at AT&T for 38 years. He sought and found his place of influence (rather, ‘places of influence’) and over time he did make a difference.
An Author – E.B. White. E.B. White had been writing for the ‘young’ New Yorker Magazine (I believe the New Yorker was about five years old). Greenleaf read White’s essays ‘religiously.’ In one of his New Yorker essays, White spoke about the need ‘to see things whole.’ Today, we call this ‘systems thinking.’ My actions, my words, my attitudes and my emotions directly and indirectly affect, if not impact, many others and I am directly and indirectly affected by, if not impacted by, the actions, words, attitudes and emotions of the other(s). Greenleaf took this idea and integrated into his life and work at AT&T. Later on this need also impacted Greenleaf’s thinking and writing as he emerged his theme of ‘servant-first’ and ‘servant-as-leader’ and ‘servant-leadership.’
A Radio Commentator – Elmer Davis. During his mid-late 30s Greenleaf was a regular listener to Elmer Davis’ commentaries. During one of his radio broadcasts Davis said that when a professional reached about the age of 40 (Greenleaf was then about 40) that the professional should plan for the future – for life beyond ‘retirement.’ The professional should also plan without being attached to the plan (be flexible so you can adjust quickly if necessary). Greenleaf began to plan and later on he decided to take early retirement from AT&T (and the rest, as they say, is history).
His Wife – Esther Hargrave Greenleaf. Greenleaf said that Esther taught me about love and friendship. He also said that she reminded him to ‘be aware’ and to ‘learn’ as a result.
Here a photo of Bob and Esther (it was a gift from their son, Newcomb):