A POEM. . .

People pay attention to who we are.  We know this.  The following poem emerged into my consciousness in 2009.

–A Guide for Servant-Leaders-

Be aware of who you are,
others will be
and learn.

Be aware of the words you use,
others will hear
and learn.

Be aware of what you choose to do,
others will notice
and learn.

Be aware of how others mirror you
to you
and learn.

Be aware of the questions you muse,
they determine the path you choose.

Be aware of the path you choose,
others will notice
and may follow.

Be aware that your life
will influence beyond
what you can see.

Be aware of the light you shed
and the shadow you cast,
others will be.

Be aware of the voice you bring – or refuse to bring.

Be aware of the story you live – or refuse to live.


BE aware.


©Richard W Smith  Singapore, 4-15-09

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Leadership is a serious meddling in other peoples’ lives. –Max De Pree

Here is an understatement: Each of us human beings in an imperfect human being!  One consequence of our being imperfect is that each of us will use our power in both healthy and unhealthy ways.  Given this, it is crucial for each of us to be awake and aware to when and why we choose to use one of the four forms of power that we will briefly explore today.  When we choose which form to use we also choose to accept the response-ability and responsibility that comes with our choice.


 Coercive Power.  I am granted, or I assume overt or covert sanctions which I then impose on the other(s).  The teacher assumes the coercive power of grades.  The parent assumes the coercive power of punishment.  The leader assumes the coercive power of threat – think: My way or the highway.  In order for coercive power to exist the one with the power must have certain ‘leverage’ over the other.  The leader seeks compliance.

Manipulative Power.  Greenleaf notes that we manipulate the other when we guide him or her by plausible rationalizations into beliefs and actions that they do not fully understand [Greenleaf also notes that some will not make the effort to understand].  Think: Trust me on this for in the past I have not led you astray!  As those who attempt to sell us today’s best stock tell us, future performance is not guaranteed because of past performance.  The leader seeks compliance.

Persuasive Power.  I seek to convince you through the use of logic and reason.  There is a give-and-take that must occur; this give-and-take does not occur in the first two uses of power for it is not necessary.  The leader is seeking more than ‘compliance.’  The leader is seeking, is advocating for, ‘buy-in.’ The first two uses of power are rooted in a ‘dependent relationship.’  Persuasive Power is rooted in interdependence – We are in this together.  By-the-by: The leader has the ‘final say’ and the ‘buck stops’ with the leader.

Influential Power.  This ‘power’ does not allow for either coercion or manipulation and moves ‘Persuasion’ from advocacy to inquiry and from using logic/reason to inviting discernment.  The process of inquiry and discernment enables one to say with conviction ‘This is where I choose to stand!’  The autonomy and integrity of all is held in trust by all.  Interdependence moves from ‘buy-in’ to ‘emotional ownership.’  The ‘buck stops’ with the relationship, not just with the leader.  The process usually takes significantly more time, energy and effort than the first three do.  A by-product: All grow as a result of the process.

Influential Power requires that one be ‘fully human.’  One seeks to become more and more aware of who he or she is and of who he or she is choosing to become.  One seeks to understand his or her core beliefs, values, guiding life principles and deep tacit assumptions for they guide his or her life.  One chooses to ‘trust’ and seeks to be ‘trust-worthy.’  One also seeks to be vulnerable – to take risks, to be transparent and to carry the wound with grace (Vulnerable is rooted in the Latin ‘vulnus’ which means: to carry the wound with grace).


  • What motivates you to choose NOT to use your power?
  • What motivates you to use your power immorally/unethically?
  • What motivates you to use your power morally/ethically?
  • What is there within an institution that affects how people use their power?

A servant-leader is a person who begins with a natural feeling of wanting to serve first – to help, support and encourage and lift up others.  And because of their noble role-models others begin to lead by serving. –Robert K. Greenleaf

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…if one is servant or leader, one is always searching. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Consider that Greenleaf’s concept is inherently moral-ethical.  There are few leadership concepts that are; most are amoral (neither inherently moral nor immoral).  Given, this, Greenleaf is clear: Power must be used ethically-morally (remember Greenleaf’s first center was ‘The Center for Applied Ethics’).  Let’s explore this concept: Power.

Consider this first definition from an unabridged dictionary: Power = one’s ability to act.  This is an amoral definition.  It is also a definition that challenges many of the definitions of ‘power’ that we generally hold (think: coercive power, for example).  Given Greenleaf’s concept that power must be ethically-morally grounded I have emerged the following definition for power.

Power = the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection.

Given this, consider the servant-first and the servant-leader and his/her Moral-Ethical Use of Power: to purposefully do no harm; to serve others’ highest priority needs; to act at all times rooted in integrity; to be motivated by ‘love-care;’ to commit to serving so that self and others grow as persons; to embrace the paradox that at our best we humans are living paradoxes of ‘good and evil’ (Greenleaf’s words; others soften these with ‘virtue-vice’ or ‘light-darkness’ or ‘light-shadow’).

A Moral-Ethical Use of Power also means that one will choose to be unconditionally response-able and responsible; to prepare in order to be able to appropriately respond.

A Moral-Ethical Use of Power also means that one will intentionally and purposefully prepare in order to be able to appropriately react.

A Moral-Ethical Use of Power also means that one will, at specific times, choose to be faithful to… rather than choose to be effective.  For example, one will choose to be faithful to acting rooted in integrity even if this ‘acting’ might put ‘being effective’ at risk (remember, J&J chose being faithful to their ‘Credo’ and experienced, as a consequence, the loss of profit and market share.  J&J did recover…however, when J&J made the decision there was no guarantee that they would recover).

Before we explore four ways leaders use their power let’s stop and reflect a bit on the concept of Powerless.  Consider the following:

  • Powerless = devoid of resources
  • Powerless = lacking the authority or capacity to act
  • One is Powerless When:
  • One chooses ‘Not to Act’
  • One chooses not to act with ‘Moral Reflection’
  • One choose not to develop the ‘Outer Capacity to Act’
  • One chooses not to develop the ‘Inner Capacity for Moral Reflection’
  • One’s position-role limits or prohibits one from ‘Outer Action’

We become our habits. –Aristotle

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Responsible people build; they do not destroy.  They are moved by the heart. –Robert K. Greenleaf

This morning, Gentle Reader, we will explore a number of ‘Disciplines’ that I have found helpful when it comes to the servant-leader preparing without knowing what he or she is preparing for.  I have also experienced that these ‘Disciplines’ help servant-leaders become more unconditionally response-able and responsible so they are more capable of living into and out of Greenleaf’s ‘Responsible people build; they do not destroy.  They are moved by the heart.’


  • Being Present = being awake and aware, intentional & purpose-full in the ‘now.’ Bringing all of one’s self to the ‘now’ – how many times do we physically show up but are intellectually ruminating about the past or anticipating the future; how many times are we focusing on an emotion or two and hence not fully available to the other?  Greenleaf does remind us that being awake and aware does not necessarily bring comfort – often they bring disturbance.
  • Reflection = experience PLUS reflection supports our learning. Consider that the servant-leader embraces three roles at the same time: reflective-participant-observer.  Some common ‘blocks’ to the ‘Discipline of Reflection’ include, but are not limited to, the following: hyper-stimulation, hyper-noise (both internal and external noise), hyper-busyness,’ distractions and ‘addictions.’
  • Listening Intently & Receptively = listening first in order to seek to understand & empathize (consider that ‘caring’ is rooted in ‘empathy’). Listening in this way also requires the servant-leader to invite and honor all voices.  Greenleaf also challenges us to hold this question: When I speak, how will that improve on the silence?
  • Framing Effective Questions = these are questions that arise from a place of not-knowing’ (Thanks Parker Palmer). These are questions that probe, challenge, and help one ‘go deeper.’  These questions are framed and offered with the belief & attitude that the one receiving them has the potential to respond intelligently, creatively & truthfully.
  • Framing ‘Aching’ Questions = ‘Aching Questions’ might be, for one person, life-after-death questions; for another they might be ‘problem of suffering’ questions. These questions are personal and are to be held not only by individuals but by ‘teams’ (think: departments, divisions, etc.) and by the organization (it is crucial to remember that for Greenleaf ‘organizations’ are living entities; they are communities).  These questions are also ‘profound’ and ‘immediate’ (think: a profound ethical-moral dilemma or a challenge that involves the ‘direction’ a person, team or organization is considering taking).
  • Balancing ‘Being Faithful’ with ‘Being Effective’ = it is crucial for a person, a team and an organization to be effective’ (Greenleaf speaks of choosing to act with distinction rather than to embrace mediocrity). It is also crucial for a person, a team and an organization to embrace being faithful.  I learned about the importance of being faithful in 1995 when I heard Mother Teresa respond to a young reporter’s question with: ‘Young man, I am not called to be effective, I am called to be faithful.’  What is the servant-leader called to be faithful to?  Consider: Acting at all times, rooted in integrity.  Or, serving so that others grow as persons.  There are ‘core values’ and ‘core guiding principles’ that the servant-leader and the servant-first and the servant institution must remain faithful to even if they might risk being ineffective.  Consider, the Tylenol poisonings in the early 1980s.  The President of Johnson & Johnson, James Burke, chose to follow J&J’s ‘Credo’ and risk a big financial hit rather than seek to choose for effectiveness (by the by, J&J did take a financial hit).

I leave us today, Gentle Reader, with several questions that I invite you to reflect upon.  These questions might also help you emerge additional questions.


  • At this time in your life which discipline do you need to develop, or develop more fully? What is your motivation for doing so?
  • Specifically, what are you willing to commit to in order to develop this discipline, or to develop it more fully?
  • How will you know that you have developed it, or developed it more fully?
  • We all have ‘favorite’ ways of hindering or blocking our own development – what are some of your favorite ways that you might ‘call upon’ in order not to help yourself develop or develop more fully one or more of these ‘Disciplines’?


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Anyone who has been a leader or anyone who has chosen to follow a leader knows that some of the most impactful and memorable experiences are not the big events but are, literally, the ‘moments.’  At this ‘moment’ the leader must act or appropriately react.  Greenleaf reminds us that we must prepare for these moments AND YET we do not really know what we are preparing for (Think: We can often prepare for the ‘big event’, the ‘moment,’ by definition, surfaces in an instant – we cannot ‘see it coming’).

The servant-leader is charged with preparing for the ‘leadership moment’ without knowing what he or she is preparing for.  In addition to ‘preparing without knowing what one is preparing for’ the servant-leader must also be open to ‘the moment.’  It is easy to miss ‘the moment’ if one is not prepared, if one is not awake and aware and if one is not intentional and purposeful.  Even an ‘in your face’ moment can be missed.

A STORY:  For years Greenleaf and his family lived in New Jersey.  Each day he would take a train and a subway and travel to his office in New York.  Each morning and each evening he would, upon entering the train or subway, look for the emergency cord.  He would take a few seconds and imagine himself in a situation where he would have to jump up and pull the cord.  He emerged a number of different scenarios that would require his jumping up and pulling the emergency cord.  He repeated his ‘preparation’ each morning and evening for years.

One morning, after he had settled in his seat on the subway, he noticed a man trying to get into the subway car by blocking the door with an arm and leg.  The door did not open.  The subway started to move.  Greenleaf immediately knew that the man would be crushed if the subway was not stopped.  There were others on the subway who also saw the man’s dilemma.  In fact, a number of them were standing right below the emergency cord.  No one pulled the cord.

Greenleaf, in the ‘moment’ jumped up, reached over people, pulled the emergency cord.  The subway stopped just short of where the man would be crushed between the subway and the concrete wall.

This was a ‘leadership moment.’  Greenleaf had prepared himself without knowing what he was preparing himself for.  When the moment presented itself Greenleaf was, indeed, prepared AND he was able to appropriately react; he did not have time to ‘respond,’ he needed to react.  Although there were others standing within reach of the emergency cord none of them thought of pulling the cord.  A number of folks missed the moment.  They had not prepared themselves for the moment.

Gentle reader, in what ways are you preparing yourself for ‘the moment?’  In what ways have you already prepared yourself for ‘the moment?’  Are there ‘leadership moments’ you have missed?  Are there ‘leadership moments’ that you have prepared yourself for and appropriately reacted to when they presented themselves?

I refer you, gentle reader, to Jan Carlzon’s little book: ‘Moments of Truth.’  It is still a classic today.

Next time we will begin to explore some ‘Helpful Disciplines.’  These are some of the disciplines that will help you prepare without knowing what you are preparing for.

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A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. –Lao Tzu

The servant-leader – especially by situation – at times chooses to exceed his or her authority as he or she embraces the challenge; this is often disturbing to others (a mild under-statement I know).  When folks are disturbed they push back; they resist in all manner of creative and unexpected ways.  The servant-leader is at risk of being marginalized or of being ‘removed’ from the process or of being undermined, shunned or betrayed.

No wonder folks choose not to serve/lead; even servant-leaders by role hesitate.  On one hand it is wise to hesitate; only ‘fools rush in’ – Aristotle reminds us that ‘rashness’ is not the same as ‘courage.’ On the other hand, no matter how careful you are, how gentle you are, how invitational you are, how collaborative you are choosing to serve/lead is risky at best and at times it is truly dangerous.

Given all of this, why would anyone choose to step out ahead and serve/lead?  What’s in it for them?  What’s in it for the other(s)?  Well consider this: Because each of us is unique and because each of us have certain skills, talents, abilities and capacities and because we, for the most part anyway, espouse that we care for the other(s) – all of those stakeholders we serve; we are called to serve/lead and we respond to the call by choosing to do so.  We have knowledge and experience that others need and in choosing to offer these up we choose to serve/lead.

To be a servant-leader requires the courage (i.e. heart) to choose, to act, to experience, to reflect and to learn.  It requires embracing doubt more than surety.  As Lincoln reminded us: It involves trusting the ‘better angels of our nature’ and the ‘better angels’ of the other(s).  To be a servant-leader requires that one believes that ‘we really are in this together’ – interdependence rooted in trust is required.

Being a servant-leader is risky if not dangerous. Yet, there is hope. There is hope for the person who chooses to serve/lead because for the most part those who freely choose to follow are capable of embracing both the ‘good’ news and the ‘disturbing’ news; they are capable of engaging the burning questions and they are capable of thinking together in ways that tap the wisdom of the collective (which, for the most part, is more impactful than the wisdom of the individual).

Gentle reader, it is crucial to remember that being a servant-leader is rooted in a desire to serve first and to serve the highest priority needs of the other(s) so that the other(s) grow as persons. As I conclude this morning I am recalling the words of John Quincy Adams:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.



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Servant-Leadership is a serious meddling in other peoples’ lives. –Max De Pree

For those of us who espouse Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-as-leader, almost every day each of us encounters an opportunity to serve and to lead.  For example, at work one might sit in a meeting and watch folks avoid the undiscussables (the ‘elephant’ in the room) and then this person might embrace the opportunity to serve and to lead and name the undiscussables and invite the others to engage them; more often, however, the person chooses not to embrace the opportunity and remains silent (people have a variety of justifications for choosing ‘silence’ so the ‘why’ – as in ‘why’ does one choose to remain silent – is crucial).

Each day presents us with opportunities to frame one or more ‘burning questions,’ or to invite folks to live into and out of ‘higher’ values or virtues, or to challenge folks to surface and engage unresolved conflicts.  Each day we have an opportunity to make a difference by choosing to serve and to lead.

Each day we must decide whether or not to serve and to lead – to put our contribution ‘out there’ or keep it to one’s self.  Why does one choose to ‘hold back’?  Perhaps one holds back because one does not want to offend the other(s) or upset the other(s) or ‘make waves.’

On one hand, folks are right in choosing to be cautious.  Prudence is, after all, a virtue.  If we have paid any attention at all we know that folks are disturbed when one offers unpopular initiatives or suggests provocative new ideas or names the ‘elephant in the room.’  People can become quite irate when one questions the gap between their values and their actions (‘irate’ might be too soft – ‘rage-full’ might fit as well).  Folks don’t like it when another invites them to name and face tough realities; such awareness, Greenleaf reminds us, does not bring folks comfort or solace; this type of awareness, more often than not, brings disturbance..

When one chooses to serve and to lead one chooses to risk the ire of the other(s); one chooses to become vulnerable.  Being vulnerable means that one is willing to take the risk to serve and to lead; it means that one is willing to be transparent – i.e. to be an imperfect human being who will more often stumble the mumble rather than walk the talk.

Being vulnerable also means that as a servant-leader you will be wounded (on purpose or by accident) and thus you will be challenged to ‘carry the wound with grace’ (vulnerable is rooted in the Latin word ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound with grace’); you will not seek revenge, you will not return ‘wound for wound.’  It is helpful to remember that one of the most difficult things for a servant-leader to do is to return love for wounds delivered.  For certain faith, humanistic and philosophic traditions this is the ‘turn the other cheek’ plus the ‘golden rule’ in action.

Simply put: One can get into a great deal of bother when one chooses to serve and to lead.

A quotation from Ron Heifetz sums it up quite well: “the word “lead” has an Indo-European root that means “to go forth, die.”

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