Do those served grow as persons…-Robert K. Greenleaf
An Essential for Greenleaf is an ‘organic metaphor.’ People are fully human beings. They are, also, at their best living paradoxes of good evil (Greenleaf’s words; others use ‘virtue & vice,’ or ‘light & darkness,’ or ‘light & shadow’). Institutions are also organic; they are simply individuals and relationships writ large. Greenleaf’s organic metaphor is also counter-cultural for our Culture’s major metaphor these past 50+ years has been – continues to be – a ‘Banking Metaphor.’ What does this mean? For example, people are not fully human, they are assets, commodities and resources to be used and used up. If these do not provide a ‘return on investment’ they are then ‘traded’ or ‘cashed in.’
[AN ASIDE: By the by, gentle reader, in our Culture the Mechanical and War Metaphors are still deeply imbedded in our organizations. For example, with an organic metaphor an institution will engage in ‘developmental planning’ and with a war metaphor an institution will engage in ‘strategic planning’.]
Speaking of ‘paradoxes.’ Greenleaf offers us his seminal paradox: Servant-Leader. A paradox is a seeming contradiction. It is rooted in ‘both-and’ not ‘either-or.’ This paradox is also counter-cultural for in our Culture we are enamored with the concept ‘Leader’ and we have integrated a negative view of ‘servant.’ Greenleaf was clear that he choose this paradox on purpose; he also choose to have ‘servant’ be the major tap root that nurtures and sustains the person at his or her core. ‘Leader’ is a role that will go away – or be taken away. ‘Servant’ is who one is at one’s core; it cannot be ‘taken away’ and yet it can be ‘given up’ by the person. For Greenleaf the emphasis is always on ‘servant-first.’
Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-leader is inherently ethical-moral. The servant-leader and servant-follower seek to be in a relationship rooted in trust, in mutual support and in mutual accountability. ‘Leadership’ then is a by-product of the relationship between the servant-leader and the servant-follower. If the relationship is ‘strong’ then leadership will be ‘strong.’ If the relationship is dysfunctional then leadership will also become dysfunctional. BOTH are accountable; both are unconditionally response-able and responsible. This is also a counter-cultural view-position.
Greenleaf is also clear, it is Essential that the servant always begins ‘in here’ and not ‘out there.’ This makes sense because Greenleaf’s concept is ‘being precedes doing’ and the servant is who one is at one’s core. Given this, the ‘first move’ is to look inward. Consider, if the institution is also ‘servant-first’ then the institution’s first move is also to look inward (Think: What are our core values, core guiding principles and what is our Purpose, our Vision and our Mission?).
The servant-first is ‘agent-centered + relation-centered + act-focused.’ Traditionally, leadership is ‘act-centered’ – What does the leader do? Greenleaf begins with the ‘Who’, as in, ‘Who you are will determine how you will lead and what you will choose to do, especially when the pressure is on.’
Responsibility requires that a person think, speak and act as if personally accountable to all who may be affected by his or her words, thoughts, and deeds. . .Awareness is important. –Robert K. Greenleaf