Here is Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his ‘Best Test’ for the Servant:
Do those being 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? No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.
Yesterday my friend Jim sent me an email containing one question (in response to PART I). Here is Jim’s question:
To what degree do you believe that we could substitute ‘Leader’ or ‘Leadership’ for Greenleaf’s Best Test for the Servant (or at least the first part)?
As I sat holding Jim’s question three initial responses emerged into my consciousness: (1) Greenleaf is clear in his writings: He is writing on the servant theme (his words). Thus, his Best Test is for the Servant and the Servant, first Leader. (2) A person could substitute ‘Leader’ or ‘Parent’ or ‘Teacher’ or ‘Mentor’ or ‘Counselor’ for ‘Servant’ and, I believe the ‘Test’ would hold as a ‘valid test.’ (3) Ever since Greenleaf’s first iteration of his ‘Best Test’ (1969) people have sought to refocus Greenleaf’s theme from Servant to Leader.
It seems that the concept of ‘Servant’ continues to be too challenging for us; it continues to be counter-cultural for we are a culture that has fallen in love with the concept of ‘Leader.’ Greenleaf is clear: Servant is who one is at one’s core; Servant is the Being and this nature (first or second nature) cannot be taken away (it can, however be given up). ‘Leader’ is a role; it is the Doing. The role can, and will, be taken away or it will ‘go away’ when the person no longer wears the mantle of leader.
I invite you, Gentle Reader, to hold Jim’s question and see what emerges for you in response to it. Perhaps the most challenging question is implied in Greenleaf’s writings: Am I willing to be or become (by first or second nature) a ‘Servant’ at my core? Greenleaf, as is his wont, ups the ante. Are Trustees willing to become ‘Servants’ at their core? Are Institutions willing to become ‘Servants’ at their core? [AN ASIDE: For Greenleaf it is possible for an institution to become a Servant at its core because institutions are organic entities.]
Let us continue and explore more deeply Greenleaf’s Best Test for the Servant and the Servant, first Leader.