It is Essential that the servant-first seeks to serve others’ highest priority needs.  This is crucial.  The servant-first does not seek first to serve the others’ wants, desires, wishes or even needs; it is the others’ highest priority needs’ that are to be served.  Among other things, a major challenge is identifying and naming the others’ highest priority needs.

Servant-Leadership is holisticSeeing things whole is Essential.  It was the author E. B. White who introduced Greenleaf to the concept and the importance of seeing things whole.  Today this concept is often referred to as ‘systems thinking.’  When one sees things whole one seeks to understand how a part impacts the whole.  A classic example is called The Butterfly Effect.  A butterfly’s flickering wings will affect the weather thousands of miles away.

Arthur Koestler in his book, The Ghost in the Machine, introduced us to the concept of ‘Holons.’  A ‘Holon’ is, literally, a ‘whole-part.’  Everything is a holon.  For example, my heart is a ‘whole’ – complete – AND it is a ‘part’ of me.  I am a ‘whole’ – complete – and I am a ‘part’ (of a relationship, of the human community, etc.).  It is ‘holons’ all the way up and all the way down.  So, seeing things whole involves seeing holons.

Another Essential involves an organization’s structure.  Traditionally, organizations embrace a Pyramid Structure (Greenleaf calls this the ‘Moses Model’ with the single chief at the top).  Greenleaf suggested that organizations change the structure of the single leader at the top.  He provides a number of reasons that this change is required.  Consider just one: The single leader at the top is vulnerable to be seduced by power.  When one has all of the power one is less likely to be told by those who report to him that he is wrong (the instances of this is legion).

Greenleaf offers us the Primus Model – the first among equals.  Theoretically, Boards of Directors are to function rooted in the ‘Primus Model.’  How many Boards actually function this way is debatable.

Consider if you will, gentle reader, two other Essentials.

The first is Greenleaf’s Best Test for the Servant.  Here is Greenleaf’s 1980 version of his ‘Best Test’Do those served grow as persons; do they while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?

 The second is Greenleaf’s Credo – his ‘I believe’ statement.  Here is Greenleaf’s 1986 version of his ‘Credo’I believe…if a better society is to be built, one more just and more caring and providing opportunity for people to grow, the most effective and economical way, while supportive of the social order, is to raise the performance as servant of as many institutions as possible by new voluntary regenerative forces initiated within them by committed individuals – servants.

In his seminal essay – his essay written to and for college/university student leaders – Greenleaf ends his essay with Five Concluding Observations:

  • True servant-leaders are artists in the deep meaning of being open to chaos
  • Not much happens that is really important can be accomplished with coercive power
  • Nothing much happens without a dream; for something great to happen there must be a great dream
  • To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral
  • In the end, all that matters is love and friendship.



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