Greenleaf writes: The servant prepares him/herself to lead by a process of growth through experience guided by a self-image as a builder and within a conceptual framework that suggests the strengths that will emerge if allowed.
He continues: Leaders are not trained, they evolve. . . Leadership overarches expertise and it cannot be reduced to style. A leader is not an identifiable style of a man [or woman].
He adds: Effective leadership defies categorization, but one is risked – key words: direction, values, competence (including judgment) and spirit. Ultimately every established leader has his [her] own ideas about the art (and it is truly an art). [The Servant-as-Leader, circa 1969, pp.10-11]
Gentle Reader, within these three short excerpts, Greenleaf offers us a variety of considerations for us to reflect upon. I have found that engaging in personal reflection and a searching conversation with others to be most helpful to me in my searching.
My experience is that most of us know that preparing is crucial. Greenleaf does not begin with ‘theory,’ however. For him, preparing entails a process of growth through experience – trial and error, examining motivation, choices, actions-behavior, and exploring both intended and unintended consequences. ‘Experience’ is crucial and, for me, experience plus reflection is the learning that is most impact-full. A Question: How often do you, gentle reader, invest time in engaging in a reflective process (alone and/or with another) after an ‘experience’?
The ‘preparing process’ is guided by a self-image. Not any self-image, but the self-image of a builder [Greenleaf consistently challenges servant-leaders to make sure that growth is a conscious commitment; the growth of the person, the relationship, the organization]. We also know that the clearer the image one holds the more likely one will live into the image – to move the image from the potential to the ‘concrete.’ Added to this is a need for a conceptual framework. Not any framework, but a conceptual one (think: how many folks are good at emerging an operational framework and downplay or ignore a conceptual framework). Not just any conceptual framework but one that supports the emergence of one’s strengths. A Question: How often do we actually identify, assess and help develop more fully everyone’s strengths?
How is the evolution of the leader in contrast with the training of the leader? Training generally involves skill building and ‘tool-using’ while evolution is a generative process. A generative process means that only over time, or through time, will one evolve into a leader. A generative process requires patience – a virtue that we Americans are not known for. We all know that a person can be given the designated role of a leader and not be a leader. If ‘evolution’ does not resonate with you, consider the process of ‘developing one’s capacities in order to become a leader.’ Personally, I favor a ‘developmental process’ rather than an ‘evolutionary process.’
What words come to your mind when you read Greenleaf’s ‘key words’ – the one’s I highlighted in bold italics? What words would you add? What words, if any, would you remove? Why?
Do you believe that leadership is an art? You might check out Max De Pree’s book, Leadership is an Art for one man’s idea that it is, indeed, an art (if this book resonates with you then you might also check out his second book: ‘Leadership Jazz’).