Greenleaf writes: The servant prepares himself to lead by a process of growth through experience guided by a self-image as a builder and within a conceptual framework that suggests strengths that will emerge if allowed.
Leaders are not trained, they evolve. A step-by-step conscious striving will produce something, of course. But a contrived synthetic person is not likely to reach that level of servant-leader as will one who has evolved with his own natural rhythm.
As Greenleaf continuously reminds us, some are ‘natural-born’ servants. These folks then develop their servant-first nature in order to move from ‘potentially being a servant’ to ‘actually being a servant.’ There are others – most of us it seems – who via a rigorous disciplined process become ‘second-nature servants.’
Once a person has developed his or her servant-nature then one begins to prepare to become a leader. This development involves a ‘process of growth through experience.’ The implications contained in this statement are crucial: The leader will not develop by sitting in a classroom. The leader will not develop by intense immersion in ‘case-studies’ – the ‘case-studies that appear in text books or in journals.’ The person will have an opportunity to develop as a leader by immersing him/herself in experiences. AND, experience is not enough.
One also needs to take the time to reflect upon the experience. One also needs to prepare for the experience (without, Greenleaf reminds us, knowing exactly what one is preparing for). I am thinking of a ‘formula’ that might help us: ‘How does a potential servant-leader learn good judgment?’ Experience! ‘How does a potential servant-leader gain experience?’ Bad Judgment! Consider that emerging servant-leaders spend more time ‘stumbling the mumble’ than they do ‘walking the talk’.
Greenleaf also reminds us that the person who is developing his or her leader capacities needs to be guided by a certain ‘self-image.’ The self-image of being a ‘builder’ is important. A leader ‘builds’ or helps build many things. The developmental learning process and the image of self as one who builds are not enough. One also needs a ‘conceptual framework.’ This framework is rooted in ‘strengths’ not in weaknesses. As Peter Drucker noted many years ago, the leader develops his or her strengths so that weaknesses become irrelevant.
One’s strengths will emerge, if allowed. Many ancient wisdom figures – and some not so ancient – remind us that we humans are more fear-full of our light (think strengths) than we are of our darkness. Why might this be so? Consider that if one identifies and embraces his or her strengths then one is also entrusted with developing them and using them to address needs that exist in the world. One becomes unconditionally response-able and responsible. This insight tends to raise one’s anxiety. It is better to ignore or deny one’s strengths for then one can say, guilt-free, ‘I am not responsible!’ Of course, this is an illusion, one might not be accountable but one is always responsible.
Greenleaf also reminds us that leaders ‘evolve’ – they are not trained (I prefer the concept of ‘development’ more than ‘evolve’ for ‘evolve’ for me implies a ‘natural process). In our city there is a university that says they ‘train leaders, one credit hour at a time.’ They are not the only university that takes this approach. The developmental process – the evolutionary process – is a never-ending process. When it comes to one’s development as a leader, one never ‘arrives’ – like one’s life story; it is never-ending.