Greenleaf writes: The forces for good and evil in the world are propelled by the thoughts, attitudes and actions of individual beings.  What happens to our values, and therefore to the quality of our civilization, in the future will be shaped by the conception, born of inspiration, of individuals.  …The very essence of leadership, going out ahead to show the way, derives from more than usual openness to inspiration, to insight.  …But the leader needs more than inspiration, more than insight.  He has to take the risk to say, “I will go; come with me!”  He has to…take the risk of failure along with the chance of success. 

Throughout his writings Greenleaf is consistent: The individual can, and does, make a difference.  This was his lived experience.  As an individual he made a difference when he was an undergraduate at Carlton College.  As an individual he made a difference during his 38 years at AT&T.  As an individual he made a difference as a consultant.  The many stories he shares with us throughout his writings are stories about individuals making a difference. 

How many times have you, Gentle Reader, and I have uttered the words “What can I do, I am only one person?”  For me, I know I have uttered them all too frequently.  How many times have we heard from a person: “I am not going to vote because my vote won’t matter”?  

On the other hand, how many times have we learned the impact we had upon another – for good and for ill?  How many times have we learned that others stepped forward because at one time they saw us step forward?  How many times have our children, now adults, told us (in words or by their behavior) that our thoughts, attitudes and actions powerfully impacted their identity and their life choices? 

Thirty-one years ago I was introduced to the General Manager of a large hotel.  He was in his third year as General Manager.  When he became the GM he was presented with a hotel that was rated the worst in the system.  When I met him, three years later, it was rated the best.  His story was simple.  He believed that he could not coerce or manipulate or even persuade the employees to change (other GMs had attempted to do so and they had all failed).  What he did was this: He held a thought that almost all of the employees wanted to excel.  He held a belief that they were capable of excelling.  He held an attitude that each person could make a positive impact.  THEN, he modeled all of this.  He would spend the majority of his time ‘cleaning up’ the spaces that needed to be cleaned.  He worked with the housekeepers, the janitors, the cooks, the front desk folks, the valets, the doormen.  Within a year a critical mass (his words) of folks were excelling and more importantly, were ‘emotionally owning’ their role in a positive manner. 

This GM took a risk.  He went out ahead.  He showed the way.  He, by his behavior and his attitude, invited others to ‘come along.’  He strove to never doubt that they would choose to excel.  When I met some of those folks I heard, over and over, “Look at what WE did!”  I thought of Lao Tzu’s words about the effective leader: The followers will say, ‘we did it ourselves.’  The GM did not know about Greenleaf’s concept.  He did, however, live the servant-first concept: In serving he led.  In serving he experienced that others grew and they chose to serve-first.

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Greenleaf writes: The servant prepares himself to lead by a process of growth through experience guided by a self-image as a builder and within a conceptual framework that suggests strengths that will emerge if allowed

Leaders are not trained, they evolve.  A step-by-step conscious striving will produce something, of course.  But a contrived synthetic person is not likely to reach that level of servant-leader as will one who has evolved with his own natural rhythm.

As Greenleaf continuously reminds us, some are ‘natural-born’ servants.  These folks then develop their servant-first nature in order to move from ‘potentially being a servant’ to ‘actually being a servant.’  There are others – most of us it seems – who via a rigorous disciplined process become ‘second-nature servants.’ 

Once a person has developed his or her servant-nature then one begins to prepare to become a leader.  This development involves a ‘process of growth through experience.’  The implications contained in this statement are crucial: The leader will not develop by sitting in a classroom.  The leader will not develop by intense immersion in ‘case-studies’ – the ‘case-studies that appear in text books or in journals.’  The person will have an opportunity to develop as a leader by immersing him/herself in experiences.  AND, experience is not enough. 

One also needs to take the time to reflect upon the experience.  One also needs to prepare for the experience (without, Greenleaf reminds us, knowing exactly what one is preparing for).  I am thinking of a ‘formula’ that might help us: ‘How does a potential servant-leader learn good judgment?’  Experience!  ‘How does a potential servant-leader gain experience?’  Bad Judgment!  Consider that emerging servant-leaders spend more time ‘stumbling the mumble’ than they do ‘walking the talk’. 

Greenleaf also reminds us that the person who is developing his or her leader capacities needs to be guided by a certain ‘self-image.’  The self-image of being a ‘builder’ is important.  A leader ‘builds’ or helps build many things.  The developmental learning process and the image of self as one who builds are not enough.  One also needs a ‘conceptual framework.’  This framework is rooted in ‘strengths’ not in weaknesses.  As Peter Drucker noted many years ago, the leader develops his or her strengths so that weaknesses become irrelevant. 

One’s strengths will emerge, if allowed.  Many ancient wisdom figures – and some not so ancient – remind us that we humans are more fear-full of our light (think strengths) than we are of our darkness.  Why might this be so?  Consider that if one identifies and embraces his or her strengths then one is also entrusted with developing them and using them to address needs that exist in the world.  One becomes unconditionally response-able and responsible.  This insight tends to raise one’s anxiety.  It is better to ignore or deny one’s strengths for then one can say, guilt-free, ‘I am not responsible!’  Of course, this is an illusion, one might not be accountable but one is always responsible. 

Greenleaf also reminds us that leaders ‘evolve’ – they are not trained (I prefer the concept of ‘development’ more than ‘evolve’ for ‘evolve’ for me implies a ‘natural process).  In our city there is a university that says they ‘train leaders, one credit hour at a time.’  They are not the only university that takes this approach.  The developmental process – the evolutionary process – is a never-ending process.  When it comes to one’s development as a leader, one never ‘arrives’ – like one’s life story; it is never-ending. 

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I concluded my last entry with: ‘Who is the Enemy?’ 

Greenleaf writes: The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people, and their failure to lead, and to follow servants as leaders.  …There is…too little preparation for and willingness to undertake the hard and high risk tasks of building better institutions in an imperfect world, too little disposition to see ‘the problem’ as residing in here and not out there

In short, the enemy is strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead, or who choose to follow a non-servant. [Emphasis is Greenleaf’s]

Fuzzy = blurred, muddleheaded [that is, confused in one’s thinking], and/or incoherent [lacking logical or meaningful connection or lacking unity or harmony].  How many of us would ‘own up to’ being a ‘fuzzy thinker’?  What needs are met when one chooses to be a ‘fuzzy thinker’?  

How many ‘good, intelligent, vital people’ fail to step up and lead or fail to say ‘yes’ to an invitation to step up and lead?  How many folks ‘fail’ to ‘follow servants as leaders’?  How often do organizations who espouse Greenleaf’s concepts spend time engaging these questions?

Greenleaf does not let we who espouse to live into and out of his concept off the hook – he makes sure the hook is deeply set. 

Another way Greenleaf keeps the hook deeply set is by offering us his next statement.  ‘There is too little preparation’ and there is ‘too little willingness.’  There are now a number of centers located throughout the world that espouse being ‘Servant-Leadership Centers’ and many of them tell us that they are rooted in Greenleaf’s concept.  How many of these Centers intentionally and purpose-fully help prepare servants and servant-leaders for the ‘hard and high risk tasks of building better institutions’?  Remember, for Greenleaf a main purpose for an institution is to help co-create a more just and more caring society – talk about ‘high risk’ and ‘hard work.’ 

How many of us are still disposed to see the problem as residing ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’ – in the person, in the relationship, in the institution? 

Greenleaf then shifts his focus: ‘…the enemy is strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead.’  I have known such strong natural servants who have refused to lead; the risk, it seems, is too high and/or the task, it seems, is too daunting. 

How many choose to follow a ‘non-servant’?  Perhaps the flip of this is easier to uncover: How many today choose to follow a servant-first leader?  How many who espouse Greenleaf’s concept continue to hedge their investment with the words: ‘Oh, it is a nice romantic theory but it won’t work in the real world!’  How about you, Gentle Reader – What do you espouse and what do you live?  How great is the gap between the two?

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Greenleaf writes: Who is the enemy?  Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources?  Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions?  Who is standing in the way of a larger consensus on the definition of the better society and paths to reaching it? 

Not evil people.  Not stupid people.  Not apathetic people.  Not the ‘system.’ …The better society will come, if it comes, with plenty of evil, stupid, apathetic people around and with an imperfect, ponderous, inertia-charged ‘system’ as the vehicle for change.  …The healthy society…is the one in which the internal health building forces are in the best shape.

Greenleaf reminds us that his ‘big dream’ also involves our co-creating a ‘better society’ – one that is ‘more just and caring’ and ‘more serving.’  He is not looking for us to co-create the perfect society; he is inviting us and challenging us to co-create a society that is ‘reasonable and possible with available resources.’  He often asks us: Are you using your current resources fully and wisely?  How many individuals, teams, departments, divisions and organizations are using their current resources fully and wisely?  Not many, I think. 

How many institutions settle for being mediocre?  Too many, I think.  How many organizations seek to be high achieving?  A good question, I think.  Well, I do think that many organizations espouse to be high achieving and fall far short of their goal – the gap between what they espouse and what they live is large. 

Greenleaf then asks: ‘Who is standing in the way…?’  When I offer folks in organizations this question they respond that it is the ‘stupid people’ and the ‘evil people’ and the ‘apathetic people’ and the ‘system’ itself that is standing in the way.  Greenleaf simply dismisses these entities as being the ‘culprits.’  There will always be some of these folks around and there will always be ‘systems’ that are dis-eased and dis-functional and mediocre-seeking. 

Prior to directly responding to the question, Greenleaf notes that: ‘The healthy society is the one in which the internal health building forces are in the best shape.’  Who are the ‘health building forces’ in a society?  For Greenleaf these ‘health building forces’ are large institutions (for-profit businesses, large universities, large foundations, and seminaries).  He also believes that the individual can also be such a force – he does believe that ‘one person at a time’ over time can and will make a difference.  In addition, small groups of committed people can make a difference (historically, they have – both for health and for dis-ease). 

So: ‘Who is the Enemy?’ 

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Greenleaf writes: This is written for those who want to serve and are resolved to be led only by servants; and who will respond to the opportunity to lead, if given, to the end that an increment of trust will be put into an imperfect society that is currently very short of it.  It is for those who see integrity not just as affirming right thoughts and avoiding error, but as requiring them to be inventive, venturesome, risking the initiative to find better ways and doing the hard and sometimes dangerous work that brings the impossible to reality. 

Talk about limiting one’s audience!  How many folks affirm all that is contained in Greenleaf’s first sentence?  I know many folks, myself included, who strive to serve.  I do not know many who are also ‘resolved to be led only by servants.’  How many of us would be wandering around looking for a servant-first leader if we actually committed to following ONLY a servant-first? 

Greenleaf continues with the pressure as he notes that the reader of this essay will also ‘respond to the opportunity to lead’ – the opportunity will come via a situation or a role.  As if this weren’t enough Greenleaf says there is an ‘end’ (a goal, an outcome): ‘an increment of trust will be put into an imperfect society.’  ‘Increment’ reinforces Greenleaf’s ‘gradualist’ view/approach.  ‘Trust,’ as students of his writings will quickly learn, is a key ‘end’ or ‘goal’ or ‘outcome’ that the servant-first seeks to engender as he/she serves.  This is one of the intentional and purpose-full commitments the servant-first embraces and strives to live into and out of.

Greenleaf does not let up.  This essay is written for those who hold a particular view of ‘integrity.’  Integrity involves more than merely ‘affirming right thoughts and avoiding error’ – as if these two acts are, themselves, easy to commit to doing (which, of course, anyone who has committed to doing them knows how challenging this commitment is). 

One who is committed to ‘integrity’ will ‘be inventive, venturesome,’ while ‘risking the initiative to find better ways’‘better ways’ to do what?  Better ways to ‘bring the impossible to reality.’  Embracing this commitment involves committing one’s self to do the ‘hard and sometimes dangerous work’ (‘danger’ comes in many guises, physical danger is only one of them and for many leaders physical danger is not the greatest danger). 

This morning I am sitting here asking: ‘Who are these folks?’ Who are the servants who have committed themselves to living into and out of Greenleaf’s quoted ‘challenge’ above?  Well, gentle reader, a few of these folks actually walked this earth.  Here are a few of them: Bill Bottum, Jack Lowe, Sr., Bill Turner, Max Depree, Sr. Joyce DeShano, Ken Melrose, Randy Wingard, Kichiro Hasagawa and Betty Siegel.  I have had the privilege of knowing some of these folks; each of them continues to be a powerful role-model for me.  They are some of the folks for whom Greenleaf wrote this essay.   

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