Given all that continues to emerge in our world I have decided to remind us of the challenge Greenleaf invited us to embrace. He provided us his ‘Challenge’ via his ‘Credo.’ As far as I know he provided us his final iteration in 1980. His ‘I believe’ statement, his ‘Credo,’ opened his 1980 essay: ‘Servant: Retrospect and Prospect.’ Greenleaf wrote:
I believe that caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is what makes a good society. Most caring was once person to person. Now much of it is mediated through institutions – often large, powerful, impersonal; not always competent, sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one more just and more caring and providing opportunity for people to grow, the most effective and economical way while supportive of the social order, is to raise the performance as servant of as many institutions as possible by new voluntary regenerative forces initiated within them by committed individuals: servants.
Such servants may never predominate or even be numerous; but their influence may form a leaven that makes possible a reasonably civilized society.
Today, more than ever before, there are more individuals and more organized groups of two or more folks around the world who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of the Servant as Leader. I am not sure of their impact when it comes to living into and out of Greenleaf’s invitation and challenge: Among other things – co-creating a good society.
The ‘Greenleaf Wave’ began to become a white-cap in the mid-to-late 1990s. Greenleaf centers emerged in The Netherlands and in England at the same time. Then a center in Australia emerged and then a center in Singapore. Other countries since 1999 (the year Singapore gave birth to a center) have given birth to Greenleaf Centers.
In our country beginning in the 1990s more and more educational institutions, more not-for-profit and for-profit organizations and more local and state government agencies/departments and more federal agencies/departments began to explore Greenleaf’s concept. More and more folks – individuals and collectives – began riding the ‘Greenleaf Wave.’
For me, there is a paradox in this (perhaps it is ‘irony’ more than ‘paradox’): Greenleaf’s invitation is to dive deeply and swim in the depth with the deep currents. It is the deep currents that, over time (remember Greenleaf was a gradualist), would not just shift or change the deep landscape but would transform it. All ‘Waves’ crash – that is their nature. ‘Deep Currents’ continue for eons and over great lengths of time they transform (‘Transform’ = a fundamental change in structure or character rooted in a fundamental change in one or more core values, core beliefs, core guiding principles and deep tacit assumptions; remember Greenleaf’s admonishment: To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.).
For more than 46 years now I have been a ‘reflective-participant-observer’ of the ‘wave’ and the ‘deep currents’ that are known as ‘Greenleaf’s Concept’ or ‘The Servant as Leader’ or ‘Servant-Leadership.’ The question I have held for 40 of these years is: ‘To what extent do individuals and organized groups of two or more individuals seek the thrill of riding the waves and to what extent do they seek to swim in and be moved by the deep currents?’
How many have immersed themselves, over time, in Greenleaf’s writings? How many have spent significant time searching and seeking in order to understand, in order to learn, in order to become, themselves, transformed (for Greenleaf this meant immersing oneself in the rigorous disciplines that would support a ‘second-nature’ birth – the birth of the ‘servant-first nature’)? How many individuals and how many organized groups of two or more folks actually transformed so that they became, via ‘second-nature,’ ‘servants-first’?
As Greenleaf noted, over and over again, and as he notes in his 1980 essay, his theme is ‘servant’. How many who espouse Greenleaf’s concept have shifted the focus from ‘servant-first’ to ‘leader’ or ‘leader-first’?
Greenleaf was, and continues to be counter-cultural. Why? Because his theme is ‘servant-first’ and we in our country (and, I think in many other countries) are in love with ‘leader-first.’ Being ‘servant-first’ requires swimming for a long time in the deep currents. Our ‘quick-fix’ culture our ‘short-term focused’ culture and our ‘short-attention span’ culture do not resonate with Greenleaf’s invitation to be ‘servant-first’ and to swim in the deep currents.
Greenleaf continues to offer us his ‘Credo’ and his ‘Challenge’ – How are we going to respond? How are we responding?