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

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning we will continue our brief exploration of some of the disciplines.  As a reminder here are the disciplines, we explored the first three last time:

  • Listening, first
  • Being Aware
  • Inquiry
  • Imaging to help with preparing
  • Withdrawal
  • Making Whole-Healing
  • Being Responsible
  • Seeking-Searching
  • Understanding

Let us continue.

Imaging to help with preparing.  Research continues to confirm that imaging is not only helpful, it is crucial.  The old adage, ‘If you can see it you can do it’ seems to hold true, over and over again (ask any professional athlete, for example, and the athlete will confirm the power and importance of this discipline).  Greenleaf tells the story of his own imaging – preparing without knowing what he was preparing for.

When Greenleaf worked at AT&T in New York, he lived in New Jersey.  He would take the train (light-rail and sub-way) from New Jersey to New York.  Every day, for years, after he settled in on the train, he would imagine a scenario in which he would have to jump up – and at times jump over people – and pull the emergency cord in order to stop the train.

One morning, after he had settled in on the sub-way, he noticed, as the train began to move, that a man was stuck – he was caught in the door.  People were screaming as they could see that the man would be crushed once the train came to the end of the walk-way and entered the tunnel.

Greenleaf did not ‘think;’ Greenleaf reacted.  He jumped up and over folks and pulled the emergency cord and the train stopped just short of the tunnel.  The imaging that Greenleaf had done for years had served him well.  All first-responders develop the discipline of imaging.  So do professional athletes and many non-professional athletes.  I have been playing golf for more than 62 years and I developed this discipline when I took up the game when I was 12.

This discipline can serve us well – as servants, as servant-leaders and as servant-followers.

Withdrawal.  Greenleaf reminds us, over and over again, that it is crucial for us to develop this discipline.  We can develop the discipline so that we can ‘withdraw’ for a few seconds (think: pause to catch our breath and slow down) or we can ‘withdraw’ for hours – even for days.  In withdrawing we stop, step-back and reflect or ‘clear’ or ‘let go of’ and after some time we re-enter.

For example, prior to guiding a ‘work-treat’ (part workshop and part retreat) I will withdraw for 30-45 minutes.  During this time I will image how I want the experience to go and I will focus my energy on the ‘now.’  I will image myself being fully present to the participants. The discipline of withdrawal enables me to become more response-able and, if necessary more appropriately reactive (think: be responsive to what is emerging during the session).

Next time we will continue our brief exploration of these ‘Disciplines.’

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



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


[The servant makes] sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. Robert K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf is clear.  The servant, first (leader or follower), whether the individual or the organized group of two or more, seeks to serve so that those served grow as persons and that the servant seeks to serve the highest priority needs of the one being served and that the servant serves in order to help co-create a society that is more just, caring and loving and that the servant becomes a regenerative force within the group/organization.

Greenleaf also offers us one of his many paradoxes to embrace: The servant, first (leader or follower) must prepare without knowing what one is preparing for.  What?  How can one do this?  Well, Gentle Reader, consider all first-responders – they must prepare in this way; and they do.  Part of their preparation is rooted in embracing and integrating a number of disciplines.  Greenleaf offers us some when it comes to the servant, first’s preparation.  Consider these:

  • Listening, first
  • Being Aware
  • Inquiry
  • Imaging to help with preparing
  • Withdrawal
  • Making Whole-Healing
  • Being Responsible
  • Seeking-Searching
  • Understanding

These will suffice for now; twenty-four years ago I identified close to a 100 disciplines that Greenleaf offered us in his writings.  Let’s briefly explore each of these.

Greenleaf was clear: The servant, first listens first.  James Autry used to tell his direct reports: When there is a crisis, don’t just do something, sit there!  Listen!  Listen to what is emerging from within you and from within others.  During the Tylenol poisonings James E. Burke listened for hours to his ‘advisors’ before seeking to decide.

In order to listen in this way the servant, first must choose to be aware and this implies being awake, being intentional, being purpose-full and being fully present in the nowAwareness, Greenleaf tells us, does not necessarily bring comfort or solace; more often it brings disturbance.  [An Aside: I invite you, Gentle Reader, to check out Anthony de Mello’s powerful little book, ‘Awareness’.]  How often are we not fully present – we are ruminating about the past or we are anticipating the future?

In order to listen, first we need to develop the discipline of inquiry.  If I am rooted in ‘surety’ I will not be open to developing this discipline.  Paradoxically, it is easier to develop this discipline if I am rooted in doubt and/or if I am, at minimum, choosing to be open to the possibility of being influenced.  There are three types of questions that we might frame: the first is the question that we want to respond to immediately – or that we invite the other(s) to respond to immediately.  The second is the question that we will seek to respond to after a time of ‘reflection’ (this might involve experience, research, or a searching conversation).  The third is the question we will hold – or we will ask others to hold.  The great poet, Rilke, counsels us to live the question.  Consider that the most powerful questions are those rooted in the unknown.  How many times do we frame questions that we already know the answer to or that contain the answer in the question?

We will continue our exploration next time…

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



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


To refuse to examine the assumptions we live by is immoral. –Robert K. Greenleaf

What else have we embraced and integrated into our ‘second nature’ – into our ‘being’ – that directly impacts what we choose to enact?  Consider this short list.

In addition to our ‘core values’ and ‘core guiding principles’ we have integrated (as individuals and as any organized group of two or more folks – if we have been together long enough) ‘core beliefs,’ stereotypes, prejudices, perceptions (think: how we view the world), judgments, personal life-metaphors, and perhaps most importantly ‘core deep tacit assumptions’.  Our ‘deep tacit assumptions’ reside in our sub-conscious and yet we act as if they are ‘real’ or ‘the truth’ or ‘absolute.’

All of these, together with other ingredients, have defined who we are as persons and as organized groups of two or more persons. Our identity is defined by what we have integrated.  They are, therefore difficult to ‘let go of’ and ‘replace’ because they are intimately connected to our identity.

Greenleaf’s ‘refusal statement’ above is powerful because of how challenging it is for us to emerge, embrace and evaluate our ‘deep tacit assumptions.’  Here are two powerful ‘beliefs’ that I have integrated into my second nature: (1) I believe that people have unlimited potential and (2) I believe that people are not trust-worthy.  I have learned to embrace and develop a greater capacity for #1 and I have learned, via rigorous self-discipline, to over-ride #2 and ‘lead with trust’ rather than lead with ‘mistrust.’ I have become aware of the life experiences that have contributed to both and that has helped me develop the one and minimize the other and replace it with a conscious choice.

Each of us has also integrated 1-3 personal ‘life-metaphors’ (one of these tends to be our dominant life-metaphor).  All organized groups of two or more folks who are together long enough will also embrace and integrate a metaphor that defines who they are and that also guides them.  Remember, Gentle Reader, the metaphors we use determine the paths we choose.  [AN ASIDE: Some of the most powerful and impactful conflicts we have are metaphor-conflicts; the other two are value-conflicts and ‘need-conflicts’.]

Here are some common personal life-metaphors: ‘Life is a struggle.’  ‘Life is a journey.’  ‘Life is an adventure.’  ‘Life is a story to be written and lived.’  Here are a few metaphors that organized groups have embraced and integrated: ‘A family metaphor – we are a family.’  ‘A banking metaphor – people are assets, resources and commodities.’ ‘A mechanical metaphor – people are cogs in the machine.’  ‘A community metaphor – people are interdependent human beings in community with one another.’

Greenleaf’s concept embraces organic metaphors – ‘community and garden’ are two of his favorite organizational metaphors.  Greenleaf also loves paradox and so his ‘garden metaphor’ is also a paradox: I/We are the garden and the gardener at the same time.  The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado captures this in his ‘garden metaphor poem’ and concludes his poem with this line: ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’

If a person or an organized group of two or more folks are going to consider embracing Greenleaf’s concept it is crucial for them to engage in a series of searches that help uncover all that I have described thus far.  Why?  Greenleaf’s concept is, by its very nature, ‘transformational’ (transform = a fundamental change in character or structure).

In concluding today, I offer us Max De Pree’s excellent reminder:

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


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


The way to do is to be. –Lao Tzu

Good morning Gentle Reader.  I ended PART I with a question: What does this mean – practically and in-practice? 

Realistic = concerned with the practical.
Practical = engaged in actual practice; inclined toward useful activities.
Practice = systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring knowledge or a skill

Greenleaf’s concepts can be embraced by a person and by any organized group of two or more persons.  If embraced by an organized group of two or more then the change, transformation or evolution must occur at both the individual and communal levels at the same time.  Why?  All organized groups of two or more are simply ‘individuals’ writ large.

Where do we begin?  We begin by focusing on both the person and the collective (a team, a department, a division and an organization).  Each of these seeks to embrace the counsel of the wisdom figures: Know Thyself!  What are we to know?  What are we to become aware of?  Consider the following.

What are my/our ‘core values’?  Each person and each organized group (if the group has been together long enough) has integrated 3-4 ‘core values’.  They are ‘core’ because they help define who I/We are and because to the best of My/Our ability I/We will never compromise them.  The core-value might be a ‘virtue’ or it might be a ‘vice.’  For example: A core-value/virtue might be ‘integrity.’  A core-value/vice might be ‘greed.’

Each person has integrated 3-4 ‘core values’ and so has each organized group of two or more folks.  Thus, a team, a department, a division and an organization will also have integrated 3-4 ‘core-values.’  Some of the most intense conflicts that occur within and between and among folks are ‘core-value’ conflicts.  Once I/We become aware of them and ‘name’ them we are then challenged to decide whether to keep them or give one or more of them up and replace them.  This ‘giving up’ or ‘letting go’ is one of the most challenging things for us to undertake as we are into issues of ‘identity’ and no one wants to give up his/her identity.

The second ‘uncovering’ that we must do, one that complements our core-values, is to uncover and name our ‘core-guiding principles.’  We also have integrated 3-4 of these principles.  For example.  If I have a core-value of ‘integrity’ I might well have a core-guiding principle like this: ‘I will act at all times rooted in integrity.’  Each ‘virtue’ and each ‘vice’ I have is supported by a core-guiding principle.

Here are two questions that will help us: Does the core-value (or core-guiding principle) I hold get me what I want?  What do I want?  We begin by responding to the second question first.  If I know what I want and if my core-value (or core-guiding principle) gets me what I want my motivation to change (much less transform or evolve) will be non-existent.  Why would I want to change?  I am, at least, open to the possibility of changing (or transforming or evolving) if (1) I don’t know what I want or (2) my core-value (or core-guiding principle) does not get me what I want.

What else have I/We integrated that we must name and explore if we are going to embrace Greenleaf’s concepts?  Consider this short list. . .

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


It begins in here. –Greenleaf

In March, 1975 my mentor, Lowell, gave me a copy of Greenleaf’s ‘The Servant as Leader.’  Lowell and I spent a year reading, reflecting upon and exploring via deep searching conversations Greenleaf’s concepts: servant-first, servant-as-leader and servant-leadership.  In June of 1977 I was in a book store and came across a collection of Greenleaf’s essays.

For the next three years I continued to immerse myself in his writings.  I had committed myself to taking Greenleaf’s counsel: It begins in here.  Who I was, at my core, would determine how I would serve.  In 1980 I decided to integrate Greenleaf’s concept into my work.  During these past 39 years I have continued to immerse myself in Greenleaf’s writings in order to continue my own development.

When I began to introduce others to Greenleaf’s concepts I experienced a repetitive set of questions.  They were all essentially the same: Is Greenleaf’s concept ‘realistic’?  Will Greenleaf’s concept ‘work’ in the ‘real world’?  What organizations are using his concepts – and, are they successful? 

I was able to explore the first two questions with folks and it was not until 1990 that I learned about an organization that had embraced and integrated his concepts.  I was also, at that time, helping two organizations explore, embrace and integrate his concepts.  In 1991 I learned of two more organizations.  I was now able to share five organizational stories.

Each subsequent year I learned about more organizations that were exploring, embracing and integrating Greenleaf’s concepts and I was also able to help a number of other organizations explore his concepts; some of those organizations also embraced and integrated his concepts – some explored but chose not to embrace and some explored and embraced but, after some time, chose not to integrate his concepts.

Although Greenleaf does not offer us ‘practical steps’ he is clear as to a ‘path’ that, if followed, will help us explore, experiment and decide whether to embrace and then perhaps choose to integrate his concepts.  The path is ‘simple’ but is not, as anyone who has journeyed along this path knows, ‘simplistic.’  It is often the ‘simple’ that becomes the most challenging.

What helped me, in 1975, and what continues to help me today is to keep in mind the ancient philosophers.  Too often today philosophy and philosophers are viewed as existing outside of the ‘real world.’  They are certainly not ‘practical.’  For the ancient philosophers, philosophy was a way of being; it was not a theory to be studied (although study was involved).  Being a Philosopher was one of the most practical ways of living.  ‘Being a philosopher’ was who one was at one’s core.  It was a way of being in the world. [I refer you, Gentle Reader, to Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ as an example of being a philosopher in the real world.]

Greenleaf invites (challenges?) us when it comes to being a servant at our core.  Some of us, he notes, are natural born servants – our charge is to develop our natural servant-nature.  Most of us, myself included, need to develop so that we become servants at our core via our second-nature.  Consider, for example, riding a bicycle; once integrated this skill becomes ‘second-nature’ to us (actually the number of skills we have integrated into our ‘second-nature’ are legion).

This is why Greenleaf’s counsel is crucial: It begins in here.

What does this mean – practically and in-practice?

My life is my message. –Gandhi


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


In 1973 Greenleaf, in a talk he gave, said the following: I believe that the potential power of the churches remains undiminished, but that it needs to be turned into new channels to be realized as a social force.  The opportunity that is open to be seized is a new mission of healing to the whole institutional structure of society.

 Today, do the ‘Churches’ (think: all faith-traditions) have potential power?  Since 1973, to what extent have the ‘Churches’ turned their potential power into new channels that have become realized as a social force?          

 Certainly many ‘churches’ have crossed the boundary that separates the State from the Church and have used their power to directly impact our politics.  Rather than being shinning beacons that welcome all, too many ‘churches’ have become spotlights that seek out those who agree with their political views.  Their political views have trumped their espoused religious beliefs.  The last time I checked ALL faith-traditions held a common-boundary belief: Each human is an image of God!  Politics has nothing to do with it – in fact, being political negates this concept. 

 Our Founding Fathers were clear: There must be a separation between the State and the ‘Church.’  Today, it seems that a number of ‘Churches’ want to merge and integrate the ‘Church’ and the State and create a theocracy.  History teaches us – at least history tell us for too often we are not good students and don’t learn from our teacher, history – theocracies do not enhance life, they destroy and they are  destroyed (mostly from within, sometimes from without). 

 Greenleaf does not leave us to speculate as to what he means.  Greenleaf defines the opportunity that is open to be seized and that is for the ‘Churches’ to embrace a new mission of healing to the whole institutional structure of society.  Thankfully there have been a few ‘Churches’ that have embraced this new mission of healing.  Greenleaf reminds us in his writings that ‘religion’ is rooted in ‘religio’ which means ‘to re-bind, to make whole, to heal.’ 

 What would happen if a critical mass of ‘Churches’ came together and committed to embrace together a ‘Mission of Healing’?  How many ‘Churches’ need to heal?  How many ‘Churches’ continue to wound rather than heal?  How many ‘Churches’ have sold their soul to mammon?  How many ‘Churches’ have embraced the darkness and called it the light?  How many Churches have taken up Greenleaf’s invitation-challenge and committed themselves to be servant-churches and serve so that people grow and society becomes more just, caring and loving? 

 Gandhi’s observation holds for each person and each ‘Church’: My life is my message! 

 Mother Teresa’s words provide us a little piece of light and a beacon of guidance: I am not called to be effective; I am called to be faithful! 

 What is the ‘message’ that ‘Churches’ are living today?  Are ‘Churches’ being faithful to God’s healing mission or to mammon’s mission of self-centeredness? 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


This short piece by Robert K. Greenleaf was published in the May, 1976 issue of Friends Journal: Quaker Thought and Life Today.  I find his words to be timely, thought-provoking and challenging.  This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer Greenleaf’s words for your consideration.  Greenleaf writes:

  Late in January of 1976 I attended an International Symposium on Leadership Development that was held in Indianapolis under the auspices of The Center for the Exploration of Values and Meaning which is based there.  In the course of the conference I had occasion to say some of the following things.

 …we Americans are arrogant.  It hurts; but I accept the charge.  Our arrogance stems, I believe, from the fact of our great power.  In the years that the British were the great power, they were seen as arrogant.  When the next shift comes, the nation that emerges into the unfortunate spot will quite likely be seen as arrogant.  Civilization, it seems, has not advanced to a point where, as a natural gift of grace, either individuals or institutions, or governments are likely to be both powerful and humble without some basic changes in public thinking that are not yet evident.  Some may make it but the odds are against it.

 In this conference I have learned from Father Benjamin Tonna of Malta that humility in the more powerful is ultimately tested by their ability to learn from, and gratefully to receive the gifts of, the less powerful.  It is in my experience to know this, but sometimes one needs to be taught before one understands one’s own experience.

 When I retired from my active business career twelve years ago I was asked by an American foundation to take an assignment for them in India.  I found the top cut of Indian society with which I dealt, both in and out of government, to be highly sophisticated.  Yet I was treated as if I had a level of expertise far beyond what my old colleagues at home who knew me well would concede. 

 This is heady stuff, a fertile breeding ground for arrogance, and the several thousand who participated in aid programs in India, both private and governmental, in the heyday of technical assistance were all exposed to some measure of it.

 In 1971, when I signed off on this foundation relationship, I had some things to say in my report that have a bearing here in this conference on the question of how those in a position to lead can best lead, and why Americans who try so hard at it are seen as arrogant by so much of the world.  This is what I wrote:

 ‘Anyone who has spent even as little time as I have in India cannot help having views about the whole aid-giving/aid-receiving relationship. . .  It does not seem to me to be a sound basis for a relationship for one nation to be aid giver and another aid receiver for a long period of time.  A one-way flow of aid is all right for an emergency or a short period of readjustment. But not as a long term thing. . .’

 ‘I believe, further, that, on balance, the Indians have as much to give us as we have to give them (different things, perhaps, but just as much).  And it seems presumptuous, over a long period of time, for us to assume that because we happen to have a surplus of money, the giving should be one way.  Therefore, I believe that if we want to continue to be useful to the Indians, we should use our resources as much to learn from them as to facilitate their learning from us.’ 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment