Greenleaf writes: Spirit. . .is value-free.  Hitler had it. . .   Putting value into it, in my judgment, makes it religious.  And what is value?  . . .I will leave it to the reader to judge. . .  In my intense formative experience…I realized that what enabled them…to lead…was that they were able to communicate…what they…valued.  Some of what I learned about leadership…was how to create the conditions in which they would talk freely to each other about what they valued.

 The premise here is that ‘to lead is to go out ahead and show the way when the way may be unclear, difficult, or dangerous…what makes them leaders is that a significant force of people responds. 

…even the ablest leaders will do well to be aware that there are times and places in which they should follow.

 …what distinguishes a leader as ‘religious’ (in its root meaning of ‘religio’ – to bind or rebind) is the quality of the consequences of her or his leadership.  Does it have a healing or civilizing influence?  Does it nurture the servant motive in people, favor their growth as persons, and help them distinguish those who serve from those who destroy?

‘Spirit’ plus ‘Value’ – but what ‘values’?  There are values that one holds that, combined with ‘spirit,’ can move one toward the darkness (and since we are all imperfect human beings we all have some of these values – either active or dormant).  Which values, plus ‘spirit,’ enable one to choose the ‘light’ more than the ‘darkness’?  The great leaders, whether Hitler or Churchill, combined their values with ‘spirit’ and were able to powerfully communicate these to others.  As a result both had folks who freely choose to follow them (there were others who followed because they were coerced or manipulated or persuaded).  Both created the conditions so that they were able to openly and freely communicate their values (I am not sure how open either was when it came inviting others to share their values).

Both Hitler and Churchill went out ahead and showed the way.  They did so even when the way was unclear (more for Churchill than Hitler it seems), or when it was difficult or when it was dangerous.  In each case a ‘significant force of people’ followed (again some freely by choice and others via coercion, manipulation or persuasion).

Hitler, it seemed, was not able to ‘follow’ and this was a major contributor to his down-fall.  Churchill frequently demonstrated that he was open to following and that was a major contributor to his success during WWII.

If being a ‘religious leader’ simply entailed ‘binding’ or ‘rebinding’ then both Hitler and Churchill could be considered to be ‘religious leaders.’  But there is a caveat: Does one’s leading have a ‘healing’ or ‘civilizing’ influence?  This question separates Hitler and Churchill.  Does it nurture the servant motive in people?  At first blush both Hitler and Churchill could respond ‘yes.’  But if we add Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the servant then, once again, Hitler fails the test.  Does the way they lead ‘favor the growth of persons’?  Does it help distinguish those who serve (again using Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ as our guide) from those who destroy?  The answer to each of these questions, again, separates Hitler from Churchill.

Given all that is unfolding – or not unfolding – in our country today, I am sitting here this morning wondering how our current elected officials would measure up to what Greenleaf offers us to consider.  I am also thinking how our role-defined ‘religious leaders’ would measure up.  Like Greenleaf, I will let you, gentle reader, decide for yourself.

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Greenleaf writes: Anxiety is part of the human condition.  …one can learn to live productively with anxiety.  …I do not believe there ever has been in this world…a promise of outward peace.  …the only true serenity is inward.  Serenity is the window through which one looks out on the world of affairs.  It is how one feels inside as he engages, with spirit, in the turmoil and strife of the world of affairs.

 I prefer to view the inward world as real, and the external world as contrived and transient.  …We work with intelligence, courage, and honesty to make the world as tolerable as we can; but we also maintain a detachment from it that puts external achievement, however laudable, in a lower priority than attention to growth in our capacity for wonder.

 What has wonder to do with anxiety? …Wonder is an attitude, it is the filter through which one perceives the world, a filter that tends to substitute moral concern for criticism.  It prompts one to ask, ‘What is going on here?’ before one acts; and, though the provocation may be extreme, it leads to a response of thoughtfulness – even amusement, rather than of fear, anger, or dismay.  It lifts one above the tumult and gives one perspective.  And to wonder is humbling, it opens one to learn…

Anxiety = distress, uneasiness or eagerness.  Some equate ‘anxiety’ and ‘fear.’  Consider that ‘fear’ is a feeling response in relation to a direct, concrete and real threat (i.e. we ‘perceive’ there exists a ‘real threat’).  Anxiety is rooted in the ‘possible’ or the ‘potential’ or the ‘imagined’ rather than in the real.  ‘Stress’ itself is neutral; it is our interpretation of the stress that moves it from stress to either ‘distress’ or ‘eustress’(which is the ‘good stress’ that folks find energizing rather than depleting).  Anxiety can also result from my being ‘eager to. . .’  By the by: One cannot ‘fear the unknown.’  Why?  Because it is ‘unknown.’  One can feel anxiety or anticipation or any number of other feelings.

Serenity is one antidote to anxiety.  Like anxiety, it is an internal response.  If one is ‘serene’ one is internally calm and experiences inner peace.  We are able to experience serenity given what we say to ourselves (our self-talk) plus how we manage our breathing (slow, deep breaths foster and support a sense of serenity and shallow, quick breaths foster and support anxiety).

Greenleaf then adds the element of wonder.  For him, wonder is BOTH an attitude he holds and it is a ‘filter’ through which he perceives the world.  We all have our filters and so it is possible to develop a filter rooted in wonder (or ‘awe’ or ‘beauty’ and ‘fear’ wherein we become ‘fear-full’ or, even worse, we actually ‘become our fear’).

Wonder is ‘inquiry-rooted’ – hence, Greenleaf’s question: ‘What’s going on here?’  We stop…question…think…then we choose which action(s) to take.  Wonder supports one being ‘thought-full’ – responsive rather than reactive.  Wonder enables one to emerge a ‘perspective’ that is rooted in serenity rather than anxiety.

It is important to consider that when one feels anxious then one’s goal becomes to rid one’s self of the anxiety (some folks pass the anxiety on to others in order to rid themselves of the feeling).  Greenleaf suggests that ‘serenity’ is an internal antidote for our anxiety.  Add ‘wonder’ to ‘serenity’ and this antidote becomes even more powerful.



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By three methods we may learn wisdom. First, by reflection, which is noblest, second by imitation, which is easiest, and third by experience, which is the bitterest. –Confucius

Greenleaf writes: …intellectual growth can interfere with wisdom if not kept in perspective.  …Wisdom…is not…teachable, except perhaps by a mentor who goes with his understudy into the real-life situation, asks him what he sees and hears (thereby training his awareness), asks for his tentative judgment, lets him commit an error and discusses the consequences (some of our best wisdom comes from error and suffering the consequences of error), and thereby helps him in acquiring a disciplined, thoughtful approach to real-life problems.  …At the very least, be aware that intellectual prowess is not wisdom…

Wisdom = knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; discernment, or insight.

I have known folks who have ‘grown intellectually’ and were not very wise.  I have also had the privilege of knowing a handful of folks that I experienced to be wise.  The gift that each gave me was the gift of inquiry.  Each of these wise folks would participate in the learning sessions that I guided and then they would take the time to sit with me and ask me questions.  At other times, when I ‘stumbled’ or ‘fell down’ (metaphorically speaking) one of them would also sit with me and ask me questions.  They would help me explore the intended and unintended consequences of my choices and my actions.  They would help me become awake and aware simply by asking questions.  The most powerful questions were the ones they asked from a ‘place of not knowing.’  This enabled us to explore together; because neither of us ‘knew’ our thinking expanded – broader and deeper; this itself was a gift to each of us.

Over many years I found that I developed the ability to ask myself some stimulating and challenging questions and also to offer others questions that would help stimulate and challenge their own thinking.  I learned to offer questions from a place of not knowing.  Wise folks, I believe, ask these types of questions; wise folks tend to shy away from questions that they already have an answer for.

I am thinking of Socrates.  The Oracle at Delphi, when asked ‘Who is the wisest person in the world?’ replied: ‘Socrates.’  ‘Why?’  The Oracle replied that Socrates was the wisest because he was the only person that knew he didn’t know (Socrates developed his capacity for inquiry because he did not know).

I encourage servants, followers and leaders, to develop their capacity for inquiry.  I invite them to consider that the most powerful questions they can offer are the ones that come from a place of not knowing.

Gentle reader, how often do you offer a question from a place of not knowing?  Who are the folks who have provided you the opportunity to gain wisdom simply by offering you questions that stimulate your intellect and challenge your beliefs?  When have you thanked these folks for giving you this gift (a gift that might well reveal the pathway to ‘Wisdom’)?

Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom. –Ben Franklin

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Greenleaf writes: The skill of foresight is crucial.  The ‘lead’ that a leader has is his ability to foresee an event that must be dealt with before others see it so that he can act on it his way, while the initiative is his.  If he waits until everybody sees it, he has waited too long; he cannot be a leader – at best he is a mediator.  Therefore, cultivate the greatest of the creative skills, foresight.  Practice on every significant even you observe; ask yourself, where did it come from, where is it going?  Note your projections and check them in the future.  Practice living partly in the future – all of the time.

 . . .One must have a dependable value system and a reasonably sane outlook. . . some creative people miss because they are ignorant or unskillful.  Others are hampered by a restrictive set of attitudes. . . Still others are unaware and miss the necessary cues.  And then there is the overarching matter of balancing one’s trust between intuition and reason.

I do not know many who have developed the skill & discipline of ‘foresight.’  Almost all of the role-defined leaders I have personally known are, as Greenleaf noted, ‘mediators’ and not leaders in the sense of having developed the skill of foresight.  These role-defined leaders were almost all ‘good people’ and ‘well intentioned.’  Yet, being a ‘good person’ and ‘well intentioned’ does not equate with being an effective leader.  Many of these leaders had a ‘dependable value system’ and were ‘reasonably sane.’  Still, when it came to the skill of foresight they were ‘ignorant’ of the need for the skill or were unskillful & undisciplined when it came to employing the skill.

Many of them were ‘hampered by a restrictive set of attitudes.’  ‘Attitudes’ include deep tacit assumptions (e.g. ‘people are not trustworthy’), beliefs (e.g. ‘people will take advantage of you most of the time’), prejudices (remember, a prejudice can be ‘positive’ or ‘negative’), stereotypes, core values (remember, a ‘value’ is not necessarily a ‘virtue’ it can be a ‘vice’) and judgments.

Because these role-defined leaders did not develop the skill of foresight they missed the cues and hence the opportunities to practice the skill.  As the Quakers note: ‘Way Opens’ and ‘Way Closes.’  These leaders were not aware of ‘Way Opening.’

Many of these role-defined leaders had developed their ‘reasoning skills’ and had neglected developing and/or trusting their intuitive abilities.  The paradox here, was that they did act on their intuition and did not realize they were doing so; after the act they applied their reasoning skills and believed they had acted out of ‘reason’ rather than ‘their gut’ (their intuition).

Almost all of the role-defined leaders I have known were chosen to lead because they were great operationalizers.  Foresight requires one to be a great conceptualizer.  In our culture, great conceptualizers (and hence, those who might ‘naturally’ be able to develop the skill of foresight) are frequently not selected to be role-defined leaders.  Operationalizers view them as ‘dreamers,’ or ‘idealists,’ or worse as ‘flakes.’  Yet, as Greenleaf notes, a ‘great dream’ will motivate followers more powerfully than a charismatic leader (and this great dream will also endure long after the charismatic leader retires: Note Lee Iacocca and his story).

Gentle reader, if you have not already considered the importance of developing the skill & discipline of foresight I invite you to do so now – and then help others do so.


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In his wonderful essay, ‘Have You a Dream Deferred?’ Greenleaf offers us a number of ideas to consider. Here are a few of them.

Greenleaf writes: Distinction is not synonymous with fame. . . ‘distinction’ is a combination of the moral and the excellent.  It is doing the very best you can with the talents you have and the opportunities that you can find.

 …The prime test of rightness of an act is: How will it affect people, are lives moved toward nobility?

…find your own best way to influence [your] community so that it becomes a better institution to serve those who come after you.

 …Accept what you are; make note that no one is perfect and resolve that you will build on what you now are, within a consciously chosen self-image of a responsible person.

One recurring theme for Greenleaf is ‘Distinction.’  Greenleaf was an ethicist – you might remember that his first center was ‘The Center for Applied Ethics.’  For him, being ‘ethical’ and being ‘moral’ were complements; if one was ethical one was moral and if one was moral one was ethical (in our culture today one can be ‘ethical’ without being ‘moral’ – so it is ethical to pay women less than men even though it is not morally good to do so).  Greenleaf was also committed to folks committing to being ‘excellent’ – he felt too many individuals, teams, board of directors, and organizations settled for being mediocre and he was quite critical of them.  How often do we (you and I gentle reader) do the ‘very best’ we can with the talents we have?  How often are we open to ‘opportunities’ and how often to do discern them and how often do we embrace them?  As an adult Greenleaf became a Quaker and embraced their idea that ‘way opens’ and ‘way closes’ and one way of embracing this concept is to be open to ‘opportunities’ and then consciously choosing whether to embrace them or not.

The ‘prime test of rightness of an act’ presents us with no small challenge.  All acts affect folks – beginning with self.  Are lives (beginning with myself) ‘moved toward nobility’?  What a powerful question to consider.  (Noble = an exalted moral character)  What is the effect of our actions upon our moral character and of the moral character of the other(s)?  Holding this question ups the ante when it comes to which actions we choose to adopt.

Again, Greenleaf challenges us to find ways to ‘influence’ (not coerce or manipulate) the communities where we are members such that they become more ‘serving’ today and tomorrow.  How might we influence?  What does it mean for an institution to be ‘serving’?  I am thinking of the Iroquois Confederacy who, in 1000 A.D., committed to the ‘next seven generations.’  How many institutions even come close to committing to even two or three generations?

Self-acceptance.  This is a challenge for many of us.  This is followed by another challenge, to ‘build on what you now are.’  Add to this Greenleaf’s idea of ‘distinction’ and most of us have plenty of work to do.  Greenleaf also reminds us that this charge is embraced ‘consciously’ – we are awake and aware and intentional and purposeful about the choices we make that will enable us to develop into a ‘responsible’ (and response-able) person.

These ‘Ideas to Consider’ will keep many of us quite busy for some time; if we choose to embrace even one of them.  And, as always, we have choice.


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Experience plus Reflection is the Learning. –Charles Handy

Greenleaf writes: the really important lessons . . . are learned only as the result of error, suffering the consequences of error and learning from the total experience. This is an important test of maturity: to seek to avoid error, to accept the consequences of error when it comes (as it surely will), and learn from it and to wipe the slate clean and start afresh, free from feelings of guilt.

. . .this takes a special view of the self: The sustaining feeling of personal significance is important.  It comes from the inside.  I am not a piece of dust on the way to becoming another piece of dust.  I am an instrument of creation, unlike any that has ever been or ever will be.  [Remember] No matter how badly you may be shaken, no matter how serious the failure or how ignominious the fall from grace, by accepting and learning you can be restored with greater strength. Greenleaf writes of ‘error’ not ‘failure.’  We can ‘correct’ error, failure tends to be final.  Edison kept all the light bulbs that did not work for he wanted to remind himself of ‘what did not work.’  He was ‘error’ prone not ‘failure’ prone.  We know that there are consequences for our errors; some we have a sense of beforehand, some we cannot ‘see coming’ and some are certainly ‘unintended.’

No matter, Greenleaf reminds us.  Our charge is to accept the ‘consequences’ AND learn from the ‘total experience.’  As Charles Handy reminds us: ‘Experience plus Reflection is the Learning.’ As we know, Greenleaf was a great supporter of ‘reflection’ as a help in learning.  Greenleaf also reminds us that in addition to learning from our errors we must also be able to ‘let go’ of them (forgive ourselves if necessary), ‘wipe the slate clean’ and begin again (much like the youngster learning how to walk; it appears as if they have a short memory when it comes to starting again after they have fallen down; the child also celebrates each step he or she takes while learning how to walk).  A sign that we are starting fresh is that we are not haunted by guilt (and any of us who have been so haunted know of which I speak).  Guilt can be a real block to starting fresh; so can rumination.

Greenleaf then adds that ‘this takes a special view of the self.’  The view is simple, it is a view that others have offered us to consider during our life time: ‘I am significant.  No other ‘ME’ will ever exist.’  I am here to make my contribution so that my little part of the world is better off than before I arrived upon the scene.  We can learn.  We can grow.  We can contribute.  And because of our experience we can gain the strength to not only carry on but contribute in a positive way.  Because we are imperfect beings we will stumble and fall; we will commit errors.  AND we can learn from them AND we can emerge with more strength so that we might make a positive contribution to our world.

I like Greenleaf’s test for maturity and I also find that it continues to challenge me.  How about you, gentle reader?

Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow. –Goethe

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Maturity is sensitivity to human suffering. –Julius Gordon

Greenleaf writes: The most important lesson I have learned about maturity is that the emergence, the full development, of what is uniquely me should be an important concern throughout my entire life. . . This I learned the hard way.  There was a long ‘wilderness’ period in which I sought resources outside of myself. . . Good years went by.  No answers came back.  It took a long time for me to discover that the only real answer to frustration is to concern myself with the drawing forth of what is uniquely me.  Only as what is uniquely me emerges do I experience moments of true creativity; moments which, when deeply felt, temper the pain of long periods of frustration that are the common lot of most of us and give me the impulse and the courage to act constructively in the outside world.

Every life, including the most normal of the normal, is a blend of experiences that build ego strength and those that tear it down.  As one’s responsibilities widen, these forces become more powerful.  As good a definition as I know is that maturity is the capacity to withstand the ego-destroying experiences and not lose one’s perspective in the ego-building experiences. . .

Gentle Reader, what is the most important lesson you have learned about ‘maturity’?  For years I thought I could find the answer in books; I used to say, ‘This is the ONE, this one will hold the answer for me!’  It did not; none of them did.  What I did learn was that they helped me by stimulating my thinking AND that I had to decide whether I would be responsible and response-able when it came to my own development.

There were several ‘essential life questions’ that have continued to serve me well:  Who are You?  Who are you choosing to Become?  Why are you choosing This Becoming?  What are you doing here?  Where are you going?  Why are you choosing to go there?  These are a combination of ‘Being’ and ‘Doing’ questions.  Too often in my life I have spent more time with the ‘Being’ questions.  My challenge has been to find a balance.  As Greenleaf noted, whatever our ‘maturity-challenge’ is, it is a life-long challenge.

Greenleaf offers us his definition of maturity.  Gentle reader, what is your definition of maturity?   For me, being mature means that I embrace being responsible and being response-able for two relationships.  The first is the relationship I have with myself – at my most mature I am a living paradox.  I am good and evil, I am virtue and vice, I am light and darkness and I nurture and deplete both polarities.  When I am the healthiest I am nurturing the good, the virtues, and the light and I am depleting the evil, the vice, and the darkness.  I accept that I am unconditionally responsible and response-able.

The second is the relationship I have with the other(s).  How do I approach and then engage each relationship?  Am I able to care for and be empathetic toward each person I meet simply because they are also living paradoxes and because as human beings they need me to be caring and empathetic?  I have never met an ‘evil’ person – others say they have.  Yet when I think of someone being evil I pause and recall Terry Anderson’s powerful poem, ‘Satan’ and then. . .   And then, I take a deep, slow breath.

Avoiding maturity is…for many…a life’s work. –Michael Leunig

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