Oh, would that my mind could let fall its dead ideas, as the tree does it withered leaves! –Andrè Gide

In early 2012 when I decided to write and post I took some time to emerge a guiding statement.  The statement that emerged into my consciousness is the one that appears at the top of this blog: A tribute to Robert K. Greenleaf’s Legacy: Consciousness, Character, Conduct.  For me, these three concepts capture Greenleaf’s Legacy.

In his writings, Greenleaf is clear.  His primary focus was on the servant theme.  The servant, for Greenleaf, was not a role; the ‘leader’ is a role that can and will go away.  For Greenleaf, the servant is who one is at one’s core.  The leader, whether by situation or role, is rooted in ‘doing.’  The servant is rooted in ‘being’ – who one is at one’s core.  This ‘being’ cannot be taken away; it can, however, be ‘given up’ or ‘transformed’ by the person.

As is his wont, Greenleaf ups the challenge.  Greenleaf views any organized group as an organic, not inorganic (think: mechanical), living organism.  Hence, as a living organism it is capable of developing (becoming more complex and of a higher order – we call this evolution or at the extreme, transformation).  Thus, the ‘Institution’ can also become a ‘servant’ – at the ‘core of its being’ the institution can also become a servant, first.

Greenleaf was, and continues to be, counter-cultural.  We in the West are rooted in the mechanical metaphor (thanks to the Industrial Revolution).   We had expanded this metaphor and in the 1920s we added – and eventually embedded into our consciousness – another metaphor: The Banking Metaphor.

So, today, if one were to pay attention to our word choice we hear people referred to as ‘cogs’ (a term still popular) but more likely they will be referred to as: resources, assets, or commodities.  When they lose their value they are cashed in or traded.  As a Culture of consumers our institutions, more so today than ever before, consume their resources, assets, and commodities.

Greenleaf offers us, in addition to servant, two other metaphors: Community and Garden (again, living, developing, organic systems).

By the by, in our Culture, we have also added – actually combined – two additional metaphors: sports & war.  We freely interchange these two metaphors – which is scary in itself.  During the First Gulf War, the General who spoke to us every day, via television and radio, employed a ‘sports metaphor’ to describe the war.  We, for the most part, did not question his choice for we knew what he was talking about (war was a sport).  As a contrast, in Indiana at the same time we had a famous basketball coach who was called ‘The General’ and when he talked about a game he used ‘war words’ and, again, we all knew what he was talking about: ‘Sports is War!’  The implications seem to elude us, even today.

Because Greenleaf’s concept is organic, developmental, evolutionary, and transformative it is crucial for us who want to understand and embrace his concept to understand his ‘Legacy’: Consciousness, Character, Conduct.

Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

Here is one of my favorite photos of Greenleaf.

Robert K. Greenleaf


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