In PART I (see 17 July, 2020) we began to explore Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test.’ Today we will conclude our exploration. As a reminder, here is the opening paragraph from Part I:
[How do we identify the servant and the servant-first leader? Greenleaf provides us his ‘best test.’ Greenleaf writes: The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those 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 he benefit, or, at least, will he not be further deprived? [NOTE: In 1980 he added a sentence to his best test; he wrote] No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.]
What is the effect on the least privileged in society; will he benefit, or, at least, will he not be further deprived? Greenleaf believed that a major challenge for the servants-first was/is to help create a more just and caring society. A significant step toward reaching this destination has to do with the effect of serving upon ‘the least privileged’ – will they benefit or at minimum not be further deprived? Are ‘the least privileged’ in our society better off today than when Greenleaf wrote these words in 1969? How many of us – especially those of us who espouse to be Christians – truly behave as if we ‘are our brothers’ keepers’? How many of us believe that ‘the least privileged’ are our brothers? For Greenleaf the servant-first is a person and is the organization. He believed that a few large and powerful institutions (for profit organizations, universities, churches/denominations, health care systems, and foundations) could serve so that ‘the least privileged’ would benefit (AND, not be further deprived). Which large institutions are living into and out of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ today?
No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly. I am not sure why Greenleaf added this statement to the Best Test in 1980. People, individually and collectively will be hurt by those who serve. Sometimes this ‘hurt’ will be intentional. Consider this: There will be times when the servant-first (whether leader or not) will be faced with a ‘forced-choice’ dilemma that is a ‘harm-harm’ dilemma. This means that no matter what is chosen, harm will occur; a person or people will be hurt. For example: I must choose between the person and the organization. If I choose for the person the organization (i.e., people) will be hurt AND if I choose for the organization a person will be hurt. The dilemma is that I MUST CHOOSE one; I cannot choose for both. In choosing, the servant-first knowingly chooses to hurt a person or persons. In choosing one over the other it is also possible that another or others will also be hurt, indirectly (for example, a person is laid off and his/her family is then hurt by the action). I am not sure why Greenleaf did not preface this statement with something like: ‘To the best of the servant-first’s ability…’
Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ continues to offer those of us who espouse to be servants-first guidelines and challenges. His ‘Best Test’ continues to be relevant for us today as it was in 1969 – it has ‘staying power.’ It continues to challenge us. It continues to be, in many ways, counter-cultural.