Greenleaf writes:

Evolving as our society has from a very long era of despotic governments with their armies and police, it was natural, I suppose, that when other types of institutions began to evolve…that power-centered control, with a hierarchy and somebody as king, would be the accepted means of moving the institution toward some sort of goal  And we have lived so long with this assumption that, destructive of human spirit as it appears to be there is little capacity to think about a better, more spirit-nurturing, way for institutions to function. 

 When I wrote my essay the ‘Institution as Servant’ some years ago I sharply challenged the conventional wisdom of a single chief sitting atop a pyramidal bureaucracy and urged in its place a governing group of equals with a primus as their leader.  I was only able to take this modest suggestion because I knew of several large and successful European businesses that were organized that way…

 When framers of our government designed our present Federal structure, out of revolution rather than out of a gradual process of change, they had only the model of king as the primary leader.  To be sure they elected their king rather than allowing hereditary succession and they imposed some restraints on the office, but they left enough sovereign autonomy so that one person,  on his own, could get into a lot of trouble (at the expense of the nation) – as we have recently seen. 

 Clearly the concept was still a king with some quite absolute powers.  Other federal systems that have evolved more gradually have tended toward a parliamentary form in which the key leader is responsible to her or his peers – not perfect, but a superior idea as I see it…

 It seems an unrealistic pipe dream even to think about organized human activity without giving power to some people to push other people around, even though they do it benignly as they sometimes do.  But, heavy handed or benign, I suspect that both holding and using power as it is commonly accepted is destructive of human spirit – in the powerholder as well as in the subject. 

 If we are to move toward a more servant-led society, it is imperative that we find a better way to assign power (if we have to have it assigned at all) than what we have traditionally done and are doing.  Otherwise these institutions of ours will continue to grind down human spirit on a mammoth scale, we will not have many servants, and we will have a weaker society.

 How will we find a better way, a way that empowers fewer than at present to push others around?  A long term gradualist approach is suggested, one that will take at least a generation to make a slight dent on the problem.  The making of a less power-ridden society of the U.S.A. alone may take several generations of gradualist effort, one step at a time. 

 But the effort to take that first step may be a necessary thrust to preserve and enhance our free society and enable us to give some leadership to a faltering world.  A first step is suggested.  The course of next steps will emerge from a successful beginning. 


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This morning, Gentle Reader, I have decided to offer you a shorter entry.  I have offered this short passage to situational and role-defined leaders or those aspiring to be role-defined leaders.  For the past 30+ years I have found this passage to be helpful to me as I struggle with the ‘desire for power’ versus the ‘power of influence.’  Greenleaf writes:

I learned very early about power when I dropped out of college for a while to earn some money to go on.  For a few months I found myself, at age nineteen, jettisoned into a powerful, if small scale, management job, and I had a large enough dose of that virus to last a lifetime. 

 Later, at age twenty-two, when I entered AT&T, I quietly resolved that, whatever I did I would not become a manager.  It took some fast footwork in my early years to avoid being pushed into a manager’s job, clearly for my own good as well-meaning bosses saw it because it was the obvious path to a powerful (and lucrative) spot to which all able and ambitious young people were presumed to aspire. 

 I am deeply grateful that this huge power-centered company, without always understanding what was going on, allowed me to live my life the way I wanted to live it and to evolve ultimately into a position of great influence – without using power (that is, without holding in my hands the sanctions to compel others to do what I wanted them to do). 

 I managed a small staff of influence-wielders who likewise had no power. 

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I concluded my last post with: Spirit.  What are we talking about?  In response, Greenleaf writes:

Spirit.  …dictionaries are not helpful because of the wide variety of meanings that are in common usage.  Therefore it behooves anyone who uses the word ‘spirit’ to say quite clearly what it refers to.  ‘Spirit’ is used here as the drive behind the urge to serve; the force that takes one into the active role as servant. 

 One who has the urge to reform something is more likely to nurture the human spirit in those touched by the reform action if one’s predominant tactic is gradual rather than confrontational…

 The gradualist as reformer seems to manifest more respect for the person than the confrontationalist who is more likely to push some people around.  In voting, a minority may be pushed around whereas in consensus everybody’s position is respected…

 Spirit as the driving force behind the urge to serve, may be a profound manifestation of the deep good – and strength – in a person.  And it may also be a primary ingredient that makes a civilized society possible.  We have as good a society as we have because some chose to serve, enough, at least, to offset the influence of those who use our society for self-aggrandizement…

 At the root of my faith is the quite certain feeling that the potential for a person being guided by the human spirit (as defined here) is quite prevalent at birth, but some persistent virus limits it or kills it off.  In the quiet of my reflective years I have wondered what this destructive virus is and, if we know what it is, can we curb it? 

 And out of my wondering has come the suspicion that this virus is the way the use of power has evolved as we have become as civilized as we are – power being the means in the hands of some to push other people around, maybe in a consciously exploitative way, maybe with a benign intent, but a pushing around just the same.

 I learned very early about power… [To be continued]

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Greenleaf writes:

This encounter [Note: See Part I for the ‘Encounter’]…is an important example because it reveals one of the flaws in contemporary society: that the way our institutions are commonly structured, all of them…all tend to be governed by a single chief atop a pyramidal bureaucracy.  This chief who didn’t want to understand his problem so he could move on quickly to another one, was able, honest, intelligent, and hard-working, with good personal habits.  He had all of the virtues one would like to see in such a person except the desire for understanding.  He didn’t have time to be understanding.  And he was surrounded by a staff of able but unreflective managers like himself…

 When I wrote my essay, ‘The Institution as Servant’ and sharply challenged the prevailing pattern of a single chief atop a pyramid, I had in mind the incident I just described.

 In the tenure of another chief I proposed a study… I found myself in that chief’s office to defend my proposal.  After listening a bit, he turned it down.  “Takes too much time,” he said, “The need is too urgent.”  “OK,” I said, “I will make you a wager.  Let’s each put some money in an envelope and give it to your secretary to be opened in a year.  I will wager that if you will not do this project, or something of equal depth, in a year this problem will be here, just like it is today.”  He wouldn’t bet.  But I would have won, because in a year the problem was there, just the same…

 There may be very few pure types of either gradualist or confrontationalist.  In my own experience as predominantly a gradualist, I have occasionally swung fast on something and later regretted it…

 I have not produced any clear criteria that would guide a gradualist in making an exception.  I can only counsel: think about the consequences before you act…

 In emphasizing a sharp distinction between the two styles, I want to make a special point for those who see themselves as servants: I hope they will give careful thought to the consequences of their acts on people, all of the people who are touched by the action in any way.  And to caution them to be wary that when they reform something in a hurry, to be sure that the remedy is long lasting…that it is spirit-nurturing.

 Spirit.  What are we talking about?  [To be continued]



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Greenleaf writes:

 Gradualism [is] more a disposition than a method…and is equally applicable to any ideological framework I know about…

 My first perspective on gradualism came from what I learned from the Quakers…  I was particularly intrigued by the business meeting in which there was no voting, they moved only by consensus…  The Quakers are humans like the rest of us, I discovered, and I have been in a few meetings where people got mad and called each other names but they never voted…  I have watched particularly the art of clerking, by myself and others.  And I have been careful to observe what tactic and behavior by the clerk seemed to facilitate consensus and what seemed to hinder.  And there seems to be, first a critical quality of faith, firm belief by the clerk that consensus is achievable, no matter how deep the divisions seem to be. 

 Any manifestation of anxiety by the clerk, either by manner or facial expression, no matter how subtle, practically assures that the meeting will get hung up.  Then there is the art of stating and restating a possible basis for consensus, inventing and reinventing both ideas and language (and the two are really inseparable).  Proceeding toward consensus on a controversial matter is slow, sometimes taking several adjourning sessions.  It is true gradualism and it can take a lot of time and patience, especially by the clerk. 

 My most extensive, and interesting, experience with the process, however, has been in my business life.  In any meeting on a contentious issue, whether I was in the chair or not, I often emerged as the consensus finder by manifesting faith in the process and searching for the unifying ideas and language…

 I am grateful to the Quakers for giving me the opportunity to gain confidence and skill in the process before I took it into the sometimes highly charged business environment.  I was not self-conscious about my tactic at AT&T.  I had learned it gradually through my work with the Quakers and it just became a part of my normal way of working, wherever I was. 

[Greenleaf relates a story about his encounter with the ‘Chief’ at AT&T – the ‘Chief’ was the top person at AT&T and at the time AT&T had more than one million employees.  For more than thirty minutes the ‘Chief’ explained his dilemma.  Greenleaf then writes:

So when he finished in about half an hour I said to him gently, ‘As I see your dilemma, your problem is that you don’t understand the problem.  And the only course I see available to you is to set in motion a process of inquiry so that you will get a better understanding of the problem.  Then you will see clearly what to do about it.’

 As I was making my little speech I could see the color rising in his neck and I knew that when I finished I would catch it.  And I did.  He gave the desk a resounding crack with his fist as he literally shouted: ‘G… it.  I don’t want to understand anything.  I just want to know what to do about it – NOW!’ [To be continued…]

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Greenleaf writes:

I have in mind the lives of two great culture shaping gradualists…

 This morning, Gentle Reader, I will share with you the second of the two great culture shaping gradualists – Nikolai Frederik Severn Grundtvig.

Nicolai Frederik Severn Grundtvig (1783-1872)…was the passionate advocacy of the Danish Folk High Schools that significantly raised the quality of life of his country and left a lasting imprint on all of Scandinavia.

 There emerged in Grundtvig a firm faith in the wisdom and hardihood of the Danish peasants that would remake the Danish Culture…

 He conceived of the Folk High School for Danish youth as ‘schools of the spirit.’  These were residence courses of a few months for the farm youth.  They were taught in the Danish language at a time when the so-called ‘cultured’ people spoke and wrote in German and were abandoning their own culture.  Those cultured folk saw Grundtvig as a confused visionary and contemptuously turned their backs on him.  But the indigenous leaders among the peasants heard him and responded to his vision.  They built the schools, at first with peasant resources but later with a government subsidy.

 The teaching was all oral in what Grundtvig called ‘the living word.’  …he personally did extensive research to recover and make available the ancient Nordic myths which, along with Danish history, gave to these eager farm youths a solid background in their culture that was needed for their later creative leadership as adults. 

 No social or economic ideology was taught and no blueprint for a future design for Denmark was suggested.  Grundtvig, a Bishop and a man of deep Christian faith, advocated that the schools should not be explicitly Christian.  Such faith, he believed, could only find a congenial place in the psyche of one who was thoroughly grounded in his culture.  Grundtvig never himself founded or operated a Folk High School although he lectured widely in them.  He gave and sustained the vision.

 The consequence of Grundtvig’s fifty years of passionate advocacy of his vision and making his home a center for sustaining the spirit of the folk school movement was that, in the next generation, the farm youth who had been inspirited and culturally rooted by the schools remade the rural economy by producer and consumer cooperatives on the model taken from England and became a new political force in assuring a sane society.  Today, 100 years after Grundtvig’s death, there are 400 active Folk High Schools throughout Scandinavia.

 …As I reflect on Grundtvig’s life, his last fifty years are seen as an example of the power in an idea when it is passionately advocated and supported with spirit as the central focus of a life. 

 Again, gradualism at its best. 


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Greenleaf writes:

I have in mind the lives of two great culture shaping gradualists…

 The first of these is John Woolman (1720-1772) American Quaker of humble origins.  Largely self-taught he was a dedicated journal keeper and left a document that has become a literary classic.  His claim as a great culture shaping gradualist rests on his work to free the Society of Friends of slaves.  His method was unusual…

 John Woolman’s way was to reason with the Quaker slaveholders, one at a time, as he manifested his love for the slaveholder as well as the slave.  His visits were welcomed by the slaveholder.  Over a period of thirty years, while he earned a modest living and supported a small family, he traveled the East coast on foot or horseback visiting and revisiting slaveholders and pressing his gentle but firm argument.  ‘What will this practice do to your children?’  ‘What kind of legacy are you passing on to the future?’  These were some of his questions.

 Others joined the effort and by 1770 the Society of Friends became the first religious group in America formally to denounce slavery and forbid its practice among its members – 100 years before the civil war.  Woolman could wait.  As an appointed minister by his Meeting, he never ventured forth without the approval of his Meeting.  One of his several memoranda on slavery lay before the Meeting for fourteen years before they acted on it and it could be published.

 What if there had been fifty John Woolmans, or even five traveling the American South during the early 19th Century pressing Woolman’s gentle nonjudgmental arguments?  That effort might have made the difference and prevented that awful war.  John Woolman stands to me as the model of the gentle persuader, gradualism at its best. 

 It can be argued that the Quakers were better conditioned, ethically, than most to respond to Woolman’s approach, and they may have been.  But slaveholders were numerous among 18th Century Quakers and they were a conservative lot.  They were not pushovers for Woolman’s approach. 



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