[NOTE: The following post is almost twice as long as my ‘usual’ postings – just to give you, gentle reader, a heads-up]
Two days ago I had a conversation with a person who is a member of the ‘Greenleaf Community.’ During our conversation this person noted that Greenleaf’s 1970 essay (‘The Servant as Leader’) did not resonate/connect with people today, especially with younger people. Once our conversation concluded, I began holding and reflecting upon this ‘observation.’ By the by, gentle reader, this is not the first time someone has shared this ‘observation’ with me.
In March, 1975 my mentor, Lowell, handed me Greenleaf’s ‘little orange essay’ – The Servant as Leader. As I read, reflected and conversed with Lowell I experienced a deep resonance and connection with Greenleaf and his servant-theme. I was searching and seeking and, as the Quakers note, ‘way opened’ within me. I created an open space for Greenleaf to come and reside a while (I had no idea that today, 42 years later, Greenleaf would still be making a home within my mind, heart, and spirit; he has become ‘second nature’ to me).
As I brought Greenleaf into my work in 1980 I began to meet other folks who had been ‘exposed’ to his concept and I began to introduce others to his concept. In the late 1980s a ‘way opened’ and an entire organization began to embrace and integrate Greenleaf’s concepts of servant-first and servant-leader. The ages of the folks in this company spanned three generations, as I recall the youngest person was twenty and the oldest was in his mid-sixties.
Within this age-range, some immediately felt a deep connection and resonance with Greenleaf’s concept of servant-first (‘This is what I have been thinking about and talking about,’ said the owner to the staff, ‘I now have the words and the concepts that explain my thinking’). At the other end of the continuum, others found Greenleaf’s writing to be quite challenging – a bit of an understatement for some.
Nevertheless, as a consequence of many hours of searching conversations almost everyone ‘made sense of’ and ‘worked at embracing and integrating’ the servant-first concept. During a three year period a few left the organization for they were not able to embrace the new culture that was emerging. In addition, as a consequence of the new culture emerging, the organization radically shifted how it went about recruiting and hiring. This organization embraced Greenleaf’s concepts because they came to believe that ‘this was the right thing to do.’ A by-product of their doing ‘the right thing’ was that they became one of the best places to work and they became a ‘model’ for their industry.
During a seven year period (1991-1997) I met many people in six countries that had been introduced to Greenleaf’s concept via ‘word of mouth.’ During his life-time Greenleaf believed that a ‘word of mouth’ was more effective than a marketing strategy and all of these folks I am referring to now received Greenleaf’s ‘little orange essay’ as a gift from another person. Here’s one example: A fellow in the United States was given Greenleaf’s ‘little orange essay’ by a friend. This this fellow gave it to a friend of his in Japan. The friend in Japan gave it to a friend in Australia.
These three folks also passed Greenleaf’s essay on to a number of others. The fellow in Australia introduced his organization to Greenleaf via the ‘little orange essay.’ I had the opportunity and the privilege of spending time with each of these folks (here in the States, in Japan and in Australia). We all marveled at the power of ‘word of mouth’ when it came to folks getting their hands on Greenleaf’s essay.
Also, during these seven years, I had the opportunity and the privilege of meeting and of introducing countless folks to Greenleaf’s concept using the ‘little orange essay.’ Their ages ranged from fifteen to their mid-eighties.
The pattern was the same: For some, there was an almost immediate deep connection and resonance and at the other end of the continuum there were those who struggled mightily with Greenleaf’s ‘style’ and his ‘randomness.’ Deep reflection rooted in searching conversations helped many understand Greenleaf’s ‘deep currents’ and helped those who struggled begin to understand. ‘Way Opened’ for almost all of those who continued to search and seek.
These past twenty years (since 1997) I have continued to have the privilege and opportunity to introduce folks in seven different countries to Greenleaf’s concept via his essays, transcribed talks and letters. The ages of these folks continues to cross 3-4 generations. Within these generations folks of different faith traditions (think: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, and Sikh) and philosophic/humanistic/spiritual traditions (Think: Buddhists and Confucianists) have resonated with Greenleaf’s writings.
Students (high school through post-graduate residencies), Government Officials, Law Enforcement Officers, Senior Grade Military Officers (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard), Educators, Clergy, Health Care Professionals, Craftsmen (think: Painter, Construction Workers, Welders, Carpenters), Attorneys, Scientists, and Engineers, plus a wide-range of employees from Hotel Valets, to Administrative Assistants, to Receptionists to. . . All of these folks have also resonated with Greenleaf’s writings.
For more than 42 years these – and other – folks have been able to read, come to understand and deeply resonate with Greenleaf’s writings. So I am a bit confused as to why the observation that folks today (especially the younger folks) do not resonate with Greenleaf. This has not been my experience; this is not my experience.
I do not deny the ‘observation’ – reality is perception. Given this, I have also been thinking about what might contribute to the ‘observation.’ Next time we will briefly explore some of the ‘contributors’ – ‘real’ and ‘potential.’