Greenleaf writes: As I look through my particular window on the world I realize that I do not see all. Rather, I see only what the filter of my biases and attitudes of the moment permits me to see.
…The world of practice in all fields, as I see it through my particular window, is, on the average, mediocre. No field does very well when judged by what is reasonable and possible with available resources. …How can we do better? We have the resources to do so much better, far better than the mediocre level that now prevails because so much leadership is poor.
The problem of doing better…as I see it, is: How can people perform better in, and be better served by, ‘institutions’?
How often do we remember that our view of the ‘real world’ is quite narrow? In addition, how often do we remember that our view of the ‘real world’ is powerfully influenced by our integrated ‘biases’ and ‘attitudes’? How often do we intentionally and purpose-fully challenge our integrated ‘biases’ and ‘attitudes’ – our beliefs, our core values, our stereotypes, our prejudices, our guiding life principles, our deep tacit assumptions, etc.? What is our response when the ‘other’ challenges any of these?
Greenleaf notes that when he observes the ‘world of practice’ through his ‘particular window’ what he sees is a commitment to being ‘mediocre.’ His charge that all institutions seem to be satisfied with being mediocre emerges over and over again, year after year, in his writings. His audience varies, his message is the same. He queries: Why do institutions continue to choose to be mediocre rather than to be ‘distinctive’ – that is, ‘high achieving’? Why do institutions refuse to use their current resources ‘fully and wisely’? In my experience, institutions that espouse Greenleaf’s concept of ‘servant-leadership’ are the most put-off by these questions. They tend to defend themselves rather than engage in a search in order to discern and to learn.
Again and again, Greenleaf returns to one of his major themes: Institutions as Servants. Institutions, large ones, powerfully formed and framed the lens through which he viewed the world. He continued to invite us to consider that institutions will continue to powerfully frame and influence our world – and we had better pay attention to them. How many of us can truly identify with Greenleaf’s experience?
We do, however, have a common experience – one that each of us can identify with: The Person. We can each embrace Greenleaf’s questions on the personal level: To what extent am I using my resources (my gifts, talents, skills, abilities, and capacities) fully and wisely? To what extent do I settle for being mediocre? How often can I say: ‘I do my best’ or ‘I have done my best’ – ‘I use my resources fully and wisely? What is my response when the other challenges me when it comes to my choosing to be mediocre?
What’s my motivation for choosing to be mediocre? What’s in it for me?
It is astonishing what a different result one gets by changing the metaphor. –George Eliot (‘The Mill on the Floss’)