Servant-Leadership is one way of serving and leading. Servant-Leadership is a generational and transformational approach to life.
Generational: First, for a generation Greenleaf’s writings were spread primarily by word of mouth. Greenleaf was not interested in becoming a guru. He was interested in providing us a deep current, not a wave [all waves crash at some point while deep currents move slowly and powerfully over time]. It took more than a generation for ‘the word’ to spread and for a ‘movement’ to occur [the ‘movement’ has generated a number of waves that folks have been riding for a few years now; some of these have crashed]. Currently there is a tension between the waves that continue to appear as a result of Greenleaf’s deep currents and the deep currents themselves. We appear to be losing our connection to the deep slow moving currents for we enjoy the ride on the waves and we are a culture that does not tolerate ‘slow and steady.’
How many ‘leadership waves’ have crashed during the past 40 years — there name is legion. Why did they crash, why will they continue to crash? They crashed and they will continue to crash because they are not supported by deep currents [although some have been generated by deep currents]. The wave that is servant-leadership will also crash if we lose our connection to the deep currents that Greenleaf provided us. Moreover, it also takes an individual many years, frequently a generation, before he or she develops the ‘second nature’ of a servant and this requires commitment and patience and time and energy. [An Aside: few, it seems to me, are natural-born servants and even if one is born a ‘natural’ servant it will take one many years in order to fully develop one’s servant-nature.]
Transformational: Consider that individuals, relationships, and/or organized groups of three or more folks can ‘shift,’ ‘change,’ or ‘transform.’ Many times we seek to or settle for a ‘shift’ [a movement from here to there]. We change jobs or spouses or putters or abodes or take on the newest technology or embrace the newest fad or the current wave (e.g. the leadership wave of the month). Too often we discover that the ‘shift’ doesn’t get us what we want or that the series of shifts that I embraced didn’t get me what I wanted. So, we decided to ‘change.’ ‘Change’ is a physical or social maneuver; it is an alteration or a passing from one phase to another in order to preserve the identity. Too often the change(s), like the shifts, do not get us what we want. [An Aside: Many times we are not clear about what we want, or need.] Then there is ‘transformation.’ A ‘transformation’ is a fundamental change in character or structure [requiring, at minimum, a change in one or more of our deep tacit assumptions]. Most individuals, relationships and organized groups of three or more spend a great deal of energy avoiding ‘transformation’ while using the term as if they were indeed involved in a transformational process. Unless we have a ‘St. Paul’ (the man, not the city) experience a transformation requires significant time, energy, commitment, and capacity building.
Life: ‘Servant’ is a way of being that supports and is supported by our ‘doing.’ ‘Life’ is ‘wholeness;’ too often we separate, fragment and categorize as we do when we speak of balancing ‘life and work’ — the implication is that our ‘work’ is not our ‘life.’ Too often we live a ‘divided life’ [the executive who is warm, caring and loving at home is not this way at work, for example]. The other phrase that indicates a separation is ‘the real world.’ It is all the ‘real world’ [although there are some who do seek to live in a fantasy world, most are not able to pull this off]. Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-as-leader calls us [requires us?] to live a life that is not divided; we are called to be fully human beings.