IS GREENLEAF’S CONCEPT ‘REALISTIC’? – PART I. . .

It begins in here. –Greenleaf

In March, 1975 my mentor, Lowell, gave me a copy of Greenleaf’s ‘The Servant as Leader.’  Lowell and I spent a year reading, reflecting upon and exploring via deep searching conversations Greenleaf’s concepts: servant-first, servant-as-leader and servant-leadership.  In June of 1977 I was in a book store and came across a collection of Greenleaf’s essays.

For the next three years I continued to immerse myself in his writings.  I had committed myself to taking Greenleaf’s counsel: It begins in here.  Who I was, at my core, would determine how I would serve.  In 1980 I decided to integrate Greenleaf’s concept into my work.  During these past 39 years I have continued to immerse myself in Greenleaf’s writings in order to continue my own development.

When I began to introduce others to Greenleaf’s concepts I experienced a repetitive set of questions.  They were all essentially the same: Is Greenleaf’s concept ‘realistic’?  Will Greenleaf’s concept ‘work’ in the ‘real world’?  What organizations are using his concepts – and, are they successful? 

I was able to explore the first two questions with folks and it was not until 1990 that I learned about an organization that had embraced and integrated his concepts.  I was also, at that time, helping two organizations explore, embrace and integrate his concepts.  In 1991 I learned of two more organizations.  I was now able to share five organizational stories.

Each subsequent year I learned about more organizations that were exploring, embracing and integrating Greenleaf’s concepts and I was also able to help a number of other organizations explore his concepts; some of those organizations also embraced and integrated his concepts – some explored but chose not to embrace and some explored and embraced but, after some time, chose not to integrate his concepts.

Although Greenleaf does not offer us ‘practical steps’ he is clear as to a ‘path’ that, if followed, will help us explore, experiment and decide whether to embrace and then perhaps choose to integrate his concepts.  The path is ‘simple’ but is not, as anyone who has journeyed along this path knows, ‘simplistic.’  It is often the ‘simple’ that becomes the most challenging.

What helped me, in 1975, and what continues to help me today is to keep in mind the ancient philosophers.  Too often today philosophy and philosophers are viewed as existing outside of the ‘real world.’  They are certainly not ‘practical.’  For the ancient philosophers, philosophy was a way of being; it was not a theory to be studied (although study was involved).  Being a Philosopher was one of the most practical ways of living.  ‘Being a philosopher’ was who one was at one’s core.  It was a way of being in the world. [I refer you, Gentle Reader, to Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ as an example of being a philosopher in the real world.]

Greenleaf invites (challenges?) us when it comes to being a servant at our core.  Some of us, he notes, are natural born servants – our charge is to develop our natural servant-nature.  Most of us, myself included, need to develop so that we become servants at our core via our second-nature.  Consider, for example, riding a bicycle; once integrated this skill becomes ‘second-nature’ to us (actually the number of skills we have integrated into our ‘second-nature’ are legion).

This is why Greenleaf’s counsel is crucial: It begins in here.

What does this mean – practically and in-practice?

My life is my message. –Gandhi

 

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