In his seminal essay, The Servant as Leader, 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 the strengths that will emerge if allowed.

I continue to find this to be one of Greenleaf’s most crucial statements.  Let us explore it a bit.

The servant prepares…  Once again, Greenleaf’s concept of servant-first takes center-stage.  Who one is, at one’s core – ‘servant’ – precedes the role – ‘leader’ – that one takes on.  ‘Being’ precedes ‘Doing.’  How do we who espouse Greenleaf’s concept help identify and help develop, or develop more fully, a person’s ‘servant-nature’

Greenleaf says that there is a time in one’s life when the development of one’s ‘servant-nature’ might be most efficacious; this time-frame covers about four years (in the United States this equates to our high school years).  How much time are we, who espouse Greenleaf’s concept, spending helping this age group develop their ‘servant-nature’? 

During these past 46 years I have helped more ‘natural servants’ develop more fully their capacity to be ‘servants-first’ then I have helped those who are not ‘natural servants’ develop ‘servant as their second nature.’  ‘Second-Nature’ development for any of us is far from easy (talk about an understatement).  I don’t think I am alone when it comes to this challenge.

…a process of growth through experience… Experience alone is not enough.  Experience must be rooted in Reflection.  As Charles Handy noted: Experience plus Reflection is the Learning.  One powerful experience that a person can reflect upon and learn from is called ‘Service Learning.’  An experience of serving provides the ‘food for reflection.’  There are many excellent service-learning experiences that are located in high schools, in colleges, in universities and in post-graduate programs.  I have also experienced powerful service-learning experiences that are imbedded in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations of all types. 

The complementary experience to service-learning is to have the person experience the role of leader (there are more than enough ‘situations’ in all schools and organizations that need someone to ‘step up’ and lead – how do we help prepare people to step into the opportunity and how does a school or organization create the ‘space’ for someone to step into the opportunity). 

…guided by a self-image as a builder…  Greenleaf reminds us that servants and servant-leaders build, they do not destroy.  How do we help a person identify his or her self-image?  Does the person see him or herself as servant-first?  What ‘mirrors’ does the person use – the ones that will reflect his or her self-image back?  I have also found it helpful to invite the person to identify 2-3 core values and core guiding life-principles that he or she strives to be faithful to (one challenge – to be faithful to even if one is not effective).  In addition, I have found it helpful to invite the person to emerge 2-3 deep tacit assumptions that he or she holds – these assumptions powerfully determine how the person ‘sees’ the other and sees the world.  How do we help the person identify his or her growing edges (the resulting growth will enhance their self-image, not demean it)?

  …within a conceptual framework that suggests the strengths that will emerge if allowed.  We know that it is not enough for a person to be a ‘good person’ who is ‘well-intentioned.’  As we seek to help the person develop we must help the person emerge and embrace a conceptual framework.  The framework must be ‘strength-focused’ so that it is more likely that a person’s strengths will be called forth or nurtured ‘into life’ (the strengths that lie dormant within the person).  An ‘encouraging’ developmental model rather than a ‘discouraging’ developmental model will be favored (a ‘discouraging’ developmental model is rooted in criticism with the idea that if the person is criticized then he or she will be motivated to learn and improve).  There is, as far as I know, one conceptual framework that will serve all – each person is charged with emerging a conceptual framework that will serve him or her the best.

The four ‘roles’ I wrote about in my previous postings will help the one being served.  At times the person needs a ‘teacher’ – knowledge is important.  At other times the person will need an ‘educator’ – it is crucial that one is affirmed via a ‘calling forth’ process.  At other times the person will need a ‘guide’ – support is often provided by one who has ‘been there before’ and who is willing to ‘walk along’ with.  And at other times the person will need to spend time with another ‘searcher-seeker’ so that they can engage the developmental process together. 

Caring is the essential motive. –Robert K. Greenleaf

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