If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself – your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation and conduct. –Dee Hock

Consider Conduct.  Our conduct, especially our conduct under ‘stress,’ reveals our Character.  It is during these ‘stress-full’ times that we can choose to become more Conscious – become more awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full not only about who we are and who we are choosing to become but about what we choose to do and why.

Greenleaf offers us a number of guidelines that will help us understand our Conduct and our Consciousness & Character.  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to consider the following.

Consider, Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant.  The essence is contained in the first question: Do those served grow as persons?  Greenleaf ups the ante when he asks: ‘When is serving potentially immoral?’  And as is his wont, Greenleaf ups the ante again for us when he tells us that another – ‘today’, perhaps ‘the’ – challenge for both the individual servant and for the institutions that espouse to be servants is to develop a society that is more just, caring, and loving.

Given these challenges to our Conduct I hold a number of questions:

  • How am I, how are you, and how are we doing?
  • How intentional and purpose-full am I, are you, and are we when it comes to acting in ways that help us respond to and engage in these challenges/charges?
  • Am I, are you, are we continuing to develop our capacity to serve in these ways? How do we know?

As Leaders, we Servants are also called — and challenged – by Greenleaf to use our power ethically.  Because we are imperfect beings we will coerce and we will manipulate.  Are we willing to become consciously aware of our motivation to choose to coerce and manipulate.  Are we willing to openly choose to coerce and/or manipulate? (Talk about upping the ante)

Are we willing to consciously develop – or develop more fully – our capacity to persuade (use logic and reason in order to convince) and to influence (using inquiry in order to allow the other(s) to emerge a response that they will emotionally own)? – Think: John Woolman.

Leadership is a by-product of the relationship between the leader and the led.  Do we consciously seek to develop – or develop more fully – a relationship with the other that is rooted in trust, safety, respect, compassion, empathy, and love?

To what extent am I, are you, are we developing – or developing more fully – our Being so that we might, more often than not, choose Right Conduct.  There are a number of Beings that we are called to develop – or develop more fully.  Consider the following short list: Being – Accepting, Present, Authentic, Vulnerable, Useful, Mindful & Faithful [Consider this question: What must I or We be faithful to even if we might not be effective and efficient?]

Our Conduct also involves the ways that we choose to Nurture and Deplete the five dimensions that together define who we are as human beings.  Our five Dimensions include our Physical Dimension, our Intellectual Dimension, our Emotional Dimension, our Spirit(ual) Dimension, and our Social Dimension (think: the relationship we have with our self and the relationship we have with the other).  What do we choose to do that nurtures each of these and what do we do that depletes each of these?  We each have our ‘favorite ways’ of both nurturing and depleting these five – What are they? 

I am my message. –Gandhi

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Good character is not formed in a week or a month.  It is created little by little, day by day.  Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character. –Heraclitus

Character Counts.  The great wisdom figures remind us, again and again and again.  They also remind us that adversity reveals character; adversity does not build character.  The English Oxford Dictionary defines Character as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

Consider this question: What are the tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain our Character?  Our thoughts.  We become our thoughts.  Our emotions.  We are emotional beings.  Our Core values and Core guiding principles.  These are ‘Core’ because to the best of our ability we will not compromise them.  Our core deep tacit assumptions.  In addition to being ‘core’ they are also ‘deep’ in that many of them are not conscious; it takes some effort to emerge, discern and name them.  They are ‘tacit’ for they function automatically; we experience them, not as ‘assumptions’ but as ‘reality.’  We add to these our prejudices and stereotypes.  We integrate these during our ‘formation years’ and they become ‘real’ and ‘true.’

During our formative years we develop our character in response to our culture (think: family, peers, faith-tradition, communal experiences, etc.).  Our charge as we develop into mature human beings is to discern and name the character traits that we have integrated and evaluate them and then decide which to keep and which to let go of and which to take on and integrate.  This, as we know, is no easy charge/challenge.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the first one: What are the character traits that I need to pay attention to?  What are my ‘Core Values’?  A value does not have to be a ‘virtue;’ a value can be a ‘vice.’  I am thinking of the person who has integrated a core value of ‘greed.’  At times we need the ‘other’ to act as a mirror and reflect to us a value that is ‘core’ to our being (at times the most power ‘other’ is the stranger; too often those who are in my ‘community’ do not act as effective mirrors).

What are my ‘Core Guiding Life Principles?’  For one person it might be ‘to act at all times rooted in moral integrity.’  For another it might be ‘to do whatever it takes to win.’

The most challenging to emerge into my consciousness are my core deep tacit assumptions.  For example, do I assume that people are inherently evil?  Do I assume that people are inherently good?  Do I assume that people are driven mainly by self-interest?  Do I assume that people are inherently trust-worthy?

I have found that striving to emerge, name and ‘own’ my core values, core guiding life principles and core deep tacit assumptions is an important – if not ‘the’ important – challenge when it comes to understanding my ‘Character.’

So, Gentle Reader, I invite you to emerge, name and ‘own’ the core values, core guiding life principles and core deep tacit assumptions that compose the major tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain your ‘Character.’  Then I invite you to decide which to ‘let go of,’ ‘which to hang onto,’ and ‘which to embrace and integrate.’

Only a person’s character is the real criterion of worth. –Eleanor Roosevelt

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Nosce te Ipsum: Know Thyself. –The Oracle

Greenleaf’s Legacy: Consciousness, Character, Conduct.

Unlike most theories of leadership, Greenleaf does not begin with Conduct.  He begins with two major tap roots that feed, nurture and support Conduct; he begins with Consciousness & Character.

Consciousness & Character form, inform and guide – and at times directly determine – one’s Conduct.  These tap roots determine what I will choose to do, or not do.  They will determine to what extent I choose to be responsive or reactive and whether I will do so appropriately or inappropriately.  They will also determine whether I will choose to be unconditionally response-able and responsible.

Greenleaf’s good friend, the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that ‘Few are guilty but all are responsible.’  A ‘wake-up’ statement if there ever was one.  [AN ASIDE: Gentle Reader, if you have never read Heschel’s writings I invite you to check them out.  If you read Heschel you might discern how he influenced Greenleaf’s thinking.]

The servant-person (think: individual, leader, trustee, teacher, ‘minister’) and the servant-institution (think: any organized group…including boards of directors) are entrusted with the care and development of individuals and of all organized groups – including society (today Greenleaf might well add the ‘Global Community’).

Put simply: The servant-person and the servant-institution are charged with serving others’ highest priority needs.  They are charged with living into and out of the servant’s Best Test.  They are charged with serving the society in ways that enable the society to become more just, caring and loving.

In order to ‘conduct’ themselves in these ways, the servant-person and the servant-institution must choose to be awake and aware (Consciousness) now.  For Greenleaf ‘now’ has two meanings.  One involves a period of time, say from today to six months ago and from today to six months out.  The other involves a period of time that involves a few minutes of ‘now’ – at this time.

Being Conscious means being fully present ‘now’ – one brings all of one’s self to the ‘now.’  Being Conscious also means being awake and aware to what is emerging from within oneself and to being aware of what is emerging from within the other(s) and to being aware of what is emerging or of what already exists within the environment (the near environment but also the wider, even global, environment).

Greenleaf is clear: This type of awareness does not bring comfort or solace.  This type of awareness brings disturbance.  [AN ASIDE: Gentle Reader is you are not familiar with Anthony de Mello’s powerful book, Awareness, I invite you to check it out.]  For example, one will become aware of the injustice that exists within an organized group (because all groups are composed of imperfect human beings injustice will exist; being aware helps reveal the extent of the injustice and this awareness will be disturbing to the servant).

In addition to being conscious of who one is, the servant is also charged with being conscious of what he or she chooses – and why.  For example, here are a few guiding questions: Who am I? Who am I choosing to become?  Why am I choosing this becoming?  When is my serving potentially immoral? 

Greenleaf emphasizes Being & Doing.  I also invite you, Gentle Reader, to explore the concepts of Being & Having (this is crucial for our Culture of Having and Consuming).  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to spend time with Erich Fromm’s powerful book: To Have or To Be?

There are three things extremely hard…steel, a diamond and to know one’s self. –Benjamin Franklin


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Oh, would that my mind could let fall its dead ideas, as the tree does it withered leaves! –Andrè Gide

In early 2012 when I decided to write and post I took some time to emerge a guiding statement.  The statement that emerged into my consciousness is the one that appears at the top of this blog: A tribute to Robert K. Greenleaf’s Legacy: Consciousness, Character, Conduct.  For me, these three concepts capture Greenleaf’s Legacy.

In his writings, Greenleaf is clear.  His primary focus was on the servant theme.  The servant, for Greenleaf, was not a role; the ‘leader’ is a role that can and will go away.  For Greenleaf, the servant is who one is at one’s core.  The leader, whether by situation or role, is rooted in ‘doing.’  The servant is rooted in ‘being’ – who one is at one’s core.  This ‘being’ cannot be taken away; it can, however, be ‘given up’ or ‘transformed’ by the person.

As is his wont, Greenleaf ups the challenge.  Greenleaf views any organized group as an organic, not inorganic (think: mechanical), living organism.  Hence, as a living organism it is capable of developing (becoming more complex and of a higher order – we call this evolution or at the extreme, transformation).  Thus, the ‘Institution’ can also become a ‘servant’ – at the ‘core of its being’ the institution can also become a servant, first.

Greenleaf was, and continues to be, counter-cultural.  We in the West are rooted in the mechanical metaphor (thanks to the Industrial Revolution).   We had expanded this metaphor and in the 1920s we added – and eventually embedded into our consciousness – another metaphor: The Banking Metaphor.

So, today, if one were to pay attention to our word choice we hear people referred to as ‘cogs’ (a term still popular) but more likely they will be referred to as: resources, assets, or commodities.  When they lose their value they are cashed in or traded.  As a Culture of consumers our institutions, more so today than ever before, consume their resources, assets, and commodities.

Greenleaf offers us, in addition to servant, two other metaphors: Community and Garden (again, living, developing, organic systems).

By the by, in our Culture, we have also added – actually combined – two additional metaphors: sports & war.  We freely interchange these two metaphors – which is scary in itself.  During the First Gulf War, the General who spoke to us every day, via television and radio, employed a ‘sports metaphor’ to describe the war.  We, for the most part, did not question his choice for we knew what he was talking about (war was a sport).  As a contrast, in Indiana at the same time we had a famous basketball coach who was called ‘The General’ and when he talked about a game he used ‘war words’ and, again, we all knew what he was talking about: ‘Sports is War!’  The implications seem to elude us, even today.

Because Greenleaf’s concept is organic, developmental, evolutionary, and transformative it is crucial for us who want to understand and embrace his concept to understand his ‘Legacy’: Consciousness, Character, Conduct.

Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

Here is one of my favorite photos of Greenleaf.

Robert K. Greenleaf


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Greenleaf writes:

If seminaries would first create Centers for the Study of a Theology of Institutions, and then establish an Institute of Chairing, they could begin by convening seminar groups of existing chairpersons in order that the ‘state of the art’ of contemporary chairing could be assessed. 

 With this perspective (and a little inventiveness) courses for current chairpersons or newly appointed ones could be established, in seminaries.  With this resource of experience, gradually to expand the content of these courses until enough is learned about what contemporary chairing might be to begin to formulate a theology of chairing. 

 From this knowledge base, it may then be possible to move to seminars for undergraduates and graduate students on the leadership opportunities in chairing so that a vision of a better society might begin to be shared with young people in their formative years. 

 With this involvement, seminaries might begin to attract the quality of students who, as later pastor-leaders, will help bring churches into a more vital culture-shaping role.

 What is envisioned here is not just a stirring of the waters, a new fad that will soon be replaced by a newer fad, but the start of movement toward a profound change for the better in the structure of society in which trustees and directors emerge as people of great strength and influence as originators and purveyors of visions that give direction and purpose to our legions of institutions.

 …the chair of these processes will be seen as one of the leaders in shaping the future course of our economy and our culture.  The consummation of these achievements will be slow and deliberate.  Only the start is suggested here.

 The spirit nurturing of trustees and chairpersons may come to be a major mission for churches, supported by seminaries that may become important conceptual resources for the advancement of our civilization. . . .

 An overriding vision for seminaries may be reaching for the opportunity to become what the root meaning of their name implies: seminal, the place of all places from which seminal ideas emerge.  When seminaries become oriented to seminal ideas, a core concern may come to be grappling with the means for building greatness in both people and institutions as the focus of a long sustained effort that would establish seminaries as the prime generators of visions in a vision-starved society.  Gradualism at its best.



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Greenleaf writes:

In concluding… I want to suggest a difficult but feasible first step that could provide a solid basis for hope.  If a first step is taken prudently it may open the way for next steps in the long slow movement toward a society that is more caring and less power-ridden.

The first step suggested is toward a strong visionary leadership in those who chair the trustees of our legions of institutions.  It is to establish institutions of Chairing in seminaries.  Why seminaries?  …if seminaries were strong institutions today and carrying effectively the vital culture-shaping role they are best positioned to carry, the proposal being made here would not be needed.  The proposal made here is for seminaries to make the effort to become strong as a first step.

 AN ASIDE: Being ‘effective’ is crucial; as is being ‘efficient.’  However, there is a third ‘Being’ that is just as crucial: ‘Being Faithful.’  So here’s a guiding question: ‘What must I-You-We be faithful to even if we might not be effective?’  Think, for example: To be rooted in Integrity at all times.  Remember Mother Teresa’s words: ‘I am not called to be effective, I am called to be faithful.’ Back to Greenleaf…

Seminaries need to be made strong because churches, also feeble, need to be made strong so that, as community based institutions, they can carry the vast amount of work necessary to move toward a more caring and less power-ridden society.  Churches are weak for want of vision and purpose that they are likely to get only from seminaries.

 The premise here is that seminaries move toward strength by connecting themselves with the kind of knowledge base that generators of visions must have.  Visions are not generated out of thin air.  They arise out of wisdom.  And the wisdom to produce visions that will move contemporary society is not in libraries because our institution-bound society is too recent.  Seminaries will need to tap directly a knowledge base in contemporary institutions (the suggestion here is that they relate directly to their chairpersons). 

[To be continued…]

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Greenleaf writes:

My personal goal as a gradualist reformer is progress, however small, toward a more caring and less power-ridden society.  The two goals are linked.  Our society is not likely to become more caring until it becomes less power ridden. 

 These goals are proposed in the belief that a national society that is more caring and less power-ridden will be stronger in all assessable dimensions of strength, because the flowering of the human spirit will be favored.  And therefore that society will better hold its own in our contentious world.

 Greenleaf wrote these words in 1987.  They continue to challenge us today – perhaps they are more challenging than at any time in our 200+ year history as a Nation.  Are we a Nation addicted to power?  Are we becoming less caring? We are certainly becoming less civil.  For those of us who espouse to embrace Greenleaf’s concept of servant-first what is our challenge…what is our obligation?

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