Greenleaf writes: This is written for those who want to serve and are resolved to be led only by servants; and who will respond to the opportunity to lead, if given, to the end that an increment of trust will be put into an imperfect society that is currently very short of it. It is for those who see integrity not just as affirming right thoughts and avoiding error, but as requiring them to be inventive, venturesome, risking the initiative to find better ways and doing the hard and sometimes dangerous work that brings the impossible to reality.
Talk about limiting one’s audience! How many folks affirm all that is contained in Greenleaf’s first sentence? I know many folks, myself included, who strive to serve. I do not know many who are also ‘resolved to be led only by servants.’ How many of us would be wandering around looking for a servant-first leader if we actually committed to following ONLY a servant-first?
Greenleaf continues with the pressure as he notes that the reader of this essay will also ‘respond to the opportunity to lead’ – the opportunity will come via a situation or a role. As if this weren’t enough Greenleaf says there is an ‘end’ (a goal, an outcome): ‘an increment of trust will be put into an imperfect society.’ ‘Increment’ reinforces Greenleaf’s ‘gradualist’ view/approach. ‘Trust,’ as students of his writings will quickly learn, is a key ‘end’ or ‘goal’ or ‘outcome’ that the servant-first seeks to engender as he/she serves. This is one of the intentional and purpose-full commitments the servant-first embraces and strives to live into and out of.
Greenleaf does not let up. This essay is written for those who hold a particular view of ‘integrity.’ Integrity involves more than merely ‘affirming right thoughts and avoiding error’ – as if these two acts are, themselves, easy to commit to doing (which, of course, anyone who has committed to doing them knows how challenging this commitment is).
One who is committed to ‘integrity’ will ‘be inventive, venturesome,’ while ‘risking the initiative to find better ways’ – ‘better ways’ to do what? Better ways to ‘bring the impossible to reality.’ Embracing this commitment involves committing one’s self to do the ‘hard and sometimes dangerous work’ (‘danger’ comes in many guises, physical danger is only one of them and for many leaders physical danger is not the greatest danger).
This morning I am sitting here asking: ‘Who are these folks?’ Who are the servants who have committed themselves to living into and out of Greenleaf’s quoted ‘challenge’ above? Well, gentle reader, a few of these folks actually walked this earth. Here are a few of them: Bill Bottum, Jack Lowe, Sr., Bill Turner, Max Depree, Sr. Joyce DeShano, Ken Melrose, Randy Wingard, Kichiro Hasagawa and Betty Siegel. I have had the privilege of knowing some of these folks; each of them continues to be a powerful role-model for me. They are some of the folks for whom Greenleaf wrote this essay.