Throughout the years Greenleaf offered us a number of iterations of his ‘credo.’ The following iteration is, I believe, his last iteration and it can be found in his 1982 essay, ‘Spirituality as Leadership.’ Greenleaf wrote:
‘My credo for some time has been expressed thusly: 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.’
Greenleaf’s big dream is captured in his credo: the creation of a ‘good society.’ Such a society is created to the extent that we care for one another and this means that the more able and the less able actually serve one another (you might remember Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the servant). This calls for interdependent relationships not dependent relationships. This alone is a powerful challenge for our culture. He also notes that what once occurred person-to-person now occurs person-to-organization and organization-to-person. And for anyone who has ever been directly affected by an organization he or she knows that they are, like each of us, living paradoxes: sometimes they are deeply caring and sometimes they are non-personal; sometimes they are competent and sometimes they are incompetent; sometimes they are moral and ethical and sometimes they are corrupt.
Greenleaf is also clear as to what needs to occur if ‘a better society is to be built’ — and not just any type of society but one that is ‘more just and caring’ and one ‘providing opportunity for people to grow’ — then ‘the most effective’ (remember, Greenleaf is interested in ‘how things get done’ and done with ‘distinction’ not ‘mediocrity’) and in an ‘economical way’ [he seems to be a fiscal conservative] ‘while supportive of the social order’ [although he is counter-cultural, he still believes that we must live within the current social order — i.e. democracy] and this is supported by ‘regenerative forces’ [these ‘forces’ do not destroy — ‘responsible people build, they do not destroy’ — this is important to note]. These ‘forces’ are ‘initiated’ from ‘within’ — they are not external to the society or to the organization. These ‘forces’ emanate from ‘committed individuals — servants.’ This is also highly counter-cultural for Greenleaf does not say that these folks are leaders [we are in love in our culture with the concept of leader], they are ‘servants.’ He concludes with a final crucial point: these ‘servants’ may never predominate or even be numerous — for the past 20 years or so there has been a growing tendency to want everyone to be a servant-leader and Greenleaf reminds us that ‘servants’ (whether followers or leaders) might not be great in number. Nevertheless, these servants will be highly ‘influential.’
My experience is that we who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-as-leader do not spend nearly enough time exploring the deep and powerful implications of his ‘Credo.’ So, Gentle Reader, I invite you to do so – take the time and explore, especially with others, the deep and powerful implications of his ‘Credo.’