LISTEN AND LISTEN FIRST, PART I. . .

Why is there so little listening? –R.K. Greenleaf
Listen, first, in order to understand. –R.K. Greenleaf

Greenleaf was clear.  The Servant chooses to listen and to listen, first.  He begins his reflection on listening with a question: Why is there so little listening?  And he concludes it with another question: When you speak, how will that improve on the silence?

For more than 45 years now I have been helping individuals develop their leader-capacities.  Consider, Gentle Reader, that there are two types of leaders: Role-defined and Situational (for example, the CEO is a leader ‘by role’ and the person who steps in and takes the lead is often a leader ‘by situation’).

Both types need to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen and, more importantly, to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen, first, especially to develop or develop more fully their capacity to listen first in order to understand.

This morning, Gentle Reader, I am going to reflect a bit on Greenleaf’s first question: Why is there so little listening?  My focus will be on ‘leaders’ (role-defined and situational); what I offer, however, can be considered by any of us, no matter our role or situation.

First, I am not talking about the skill-ability to listen.  We have all developed this skill-ability to listen by the time we are five years old.  I am talking about our capacity to listen.  Each of us can develop or develop more fully our capacity to listen.  We already have the skill-ability.

Consider: There is little listening because we have not developed or developed more fully our capacity to listen, to listen first and to listen first in order to understand.

Why do leaders neglect their capacity development when it comes to listening, to listening first and to listening first in order to understand?

Consider: ‘Habit.’  Aristotle noted a few thousand years ago that we become our habits.  Our listening ‘habits’ are reinforced every time we experience high anxiety, high stress, and when we become fear-full.  When these occur we fall back on our default habits of listening – or not listening.  This ‘fall-back’ reinforces our ‘habits’ and, as we know, ‘habits’ are not easy to change.

Consider: As a society (think: United States) we are addicted to speed; we are suffering from what Kundera calls the ‘hurry sickness.’  ‘Speed’ and ‘hurrying’ are anti-listening.

Consider: We are a society that is ‘action-oriented’.  Listening in these three ways requires us to develop and integrate the discipline of reflection.  This discipline requires that we stop, step-back and invest the time in developing the discipline.

Consider: We have not developed, or developed more fully, our capacity to listen with undefended receptivity.  Too often we believe that if I ‘receive’ then I must ‘agree.’  By the by, Gentle Reader, the same holds true for ‘understanding;’ too often we resist ‘seeking to understand’ because we equate ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’  This is a carry-over from when we were children and we would say to our parents, ‘You really don’t understand!’  Meaning, as we know, that if you did truly understand then you would agree with me.

Consider: We do not listen first in order to understand.  There are many reasons why we do not develop this capacity – here are a two of them: Seeking to understand takes time and we are suffering from a ‘hurry sickness.’  Seeking to understand means that I must develop, or develop more fully, my capacity for inquiry for we are not very adept at asking questions.  Leaders are not adept at asking questions from a place of not knowing, for example.

There are other ‘Considerations’ but these will have to suffice for now.

Reflection plus Experience is the learning. –Charles Handy
When you speak, how will that improve on the silence? –R.K. Greenleaf

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART VIII. . .

The servant-leader may not be so much the prophetic visionary (that is a rare gift) as the convener, sustainer, discerning guide for seekers who wish to remain open to prophetic voices. –Robert K. Greenleaf

This morning, Gentle Reader, we will briefly explore the last two sentences of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant.  As a reminder, here are the last two sentences:

And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

It is crucial for us to remember that Greenleaf’s big dream embraced ‘society’ – I imagine that if he were writing today he would use a ‘global’ metaphor.

The servant – individual, team, board, organization, etc. – is called to seek to impact, via serving, not only those residing in their immediate sphere of influence but those residing within ‘society.’  Talk about a ‘Big Dream.’

Greenleaf is clear.  What is the effect on the least privileged in society?  ‘Effect’ is clear: ‘Will he or she benefit, or, at least not be further deprived?’

A question: ‘Benefit’ in what ways?  Greenleaf does not define this concept ‘Benefit.’  It is up to us to do so.  Given our society today what will benefit the least privileged in our society?  Who are the least privileged?  Are those, for example, who were denied their right to vote in our recent mid-term elections, part of the least privileged?  I think so.

Are those who are deprived access to a good education because the government (Federal and State) will not compensate teachers with a living wage part of the ‘least privileged’?  Again, I think so.

Are those who do not have complete and easy access to health care in our society among the least privileged?  I think so.

What do you believe, Gentle Reader?  For you, who are the ‘least privilege’ in our society?  As one who espouses Greenleaf’s concept (as a person or as an institution) how are you serving so that the least privileged are benefited, or at least, not more deprived?

Greenleaf added the last sentence in his final iteration of his ‘Best Test’ in 1980:   No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

Talk about upping the ante!  I have always been challenged by this statement.  There are times, for example, when one is faced with what I call a ‘harm-harm dilemma.’  Some dilemmas can be dissolved – that is, a ‘third-way’ can be found so that ‘harm’ will not occur.  Too often, however, a harm-harm dilemma cannot be dissolved and so harm will occur.

For example.  An organization has lost 30% of its work.  This means that a harm-harm dilemma might well occur.  If the organization does not lay some folks off then the organization will be harmed (perhaps even have to shut its doors).  If the organization decides to lay some folks off in order to keep the doors open then those who are laid-off (and their families) will be harmed.  People, in other words, will knowingly be harmed.

Greenleaf did not, as far as I know, ever clarify this final sentence.  Most people who embrace the ‘Best Test’ do not include this sentence (I am not sure how many folks even know it exists).  I do.  I do so in order to honor Greenleaf and as a reminder to myself that Greenleaf invited me into a search.

Know thyself: Man must interrogate his own nature; through self-knowledge men meet with countless blessings, and through ignorance of themselves with many evils. –Xenophon

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART VII. . .

[An Outcome is] to bring people who are earnestly searching closer together and by their collective insights increase everyone’s understanding. –Robert K. Greenleaf

As a reminder, here is Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant’: Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

This morning, Gentle Reader, we will continue our re-visit by focusing on this question: …do they, while being served, become. . .wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

As noted in one of my previous posts, the statement ‘while being served’ is crucial.  The very process-experience of being served is so impact-full that the one being served will, during the process-experience itself become ‘healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and those being served are more likely to become servants [NOTE: We explored ‘healthier’ in a previous post].

Greenleaf, as is his wont, does not define ‘wiser, freer, more autonomous’ and so it is up to us to do so.  As we know, definitions are crucial and too often we get ourselves in a bit of bother because we assume that we have a shared definition of terms.  So, for our purposes, I invite us to turn to an unabridged dictionary and see how these terms are defined.

Before we do that, it is also important to remember that ‘context’ is ‘crucial.’  Greenleaf emerged his initial ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant’ in 1969.  In our country this was a time of student unrest; the ‘new age’ was also emerging; and young adults were seeking more and more ‘freedom’.  It is also important to remember that Greenleaf’s initial ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant’ was offered as a guideline to college-university student leaders; he re-wrote the essay in 1971 for the general public.  So, given this, let us return to defining these terms.

Wiser-Wise: having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right; possessing discernment, judgment, or discretion; characterized by showing such power.

Free-Freer: exempt from external authority, interference, restriction, etc., as a person or one’s will, thought, choice, action, etc.; independent; unrestricted.

Autonomous: self-governing.

The ‘Servant’ and the ‘Servant-first Leader’ are committed to the development of the person.  ‘Who’ one is precedes, informs, and forms ‘What’ one chooses to do.  Thus if one is going to be able to choose to do the ethical-moral thing then one must become wise-wiser, free-freer and more autonomous.

Again, as is his wont, Greenleaf ups the ante and says that in addition to becoming free-freer, wise-wiser and more autonomous, the one being served will also choose to become a servant (or will choose to develop his/her capacity if one is already a servant).  The ‘up the ante’ comes with Greenleaf’s idea that one becomes ‘servant’ either by first or second nature.

There are people who, by their very nature, are servants-first.  They are born this way; servant IS their nature.  For most of us, servant is our second-nature.  We develop our servant-nature via rigorous discipline.  There are many things we develop during our life-time that become ‘second-nature’ to us (I am using a keyboard as I type and this skill-ability has become second nature to me).  I acquired this second-nature via discipline and practice (not just any practice, but practice specific to this skill-ability).

As Greenleaf notes.  Because one becomes wise-wiser, free-freer and more autonomous one then must freely choose to become a servant.  ‘Choice’ for Greenleaf is crucial.

There are two more parts to Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant’ and we will explore these next time.

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. –R. Buckminster Fuller

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART VI. . .

The way to do is to be. –Lao Tzu

Good morning Gentle Reader, we have one more question respond to before we continue with our exploration of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant.’  As a reminder, here is the question: Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?

And, as another reminder, here is Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his ‘Best Test’: Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?  More than twenty years ago my friend and colleague, Tamyra, and I were engaged in one of our long conversations; our conversations would last two or three hours.  They were in-depth, searching conversations.  One topic that emerged was captured in this question: Is Greenleaf’s concept of ‘servant-first’ a self-sacrificing concept?  The sibling question is: Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?

A literal reading of his ‘Best Test’ and his ‘Credo’ [His ‘I believe’ statement] can lead us to the following responses: Greenleaf’s concept is one-directional and hence, over time, is self-sacrificing.  At its worst, it will morph into what is commonly referred to as the martyr’s syndrome.

As I recall, there are only two references by Greenleaf in his writings that provide us an alternative.  Greenleaf tells us that in serving one is also served.  He tells us that in serving the other so he or she becomes ‘whole’ (think: is ‘healed’) that the one serving also becomes ‘whole’.  The question: ‘Is this a given?’

Does it logically follow that if I serve your highest priority needs that I, too, am served?  If my serving you facilitates your becoming ‘whole’ does it follow that I, too, will become ‘whole’ (think, again, ‘healed’)?

As far as I know, Greenleaf never directly addresses these questions.  He does, however, provide us a guideline via another question that he does offer us to consider: ‘When is serving potentially immoral?’

For me, serving become immoral when my serving becomes self-sacrificial.  It also becomes immoral when my serving promotes a relationship rooted in dependence (I need the other to become dependent upon me; my ‘value’ is directly connected to your need for me).

Greenleaf also reinforces this when he addresses the issues of ‘power.’  We are, as servant-first leaders, challenged to use our power ethically (you might remember that his first Center was ‘The Center for Applied Ethics’).  As servant-first leaders we can avoid creating a dependent relationship by embracing the concept that ‘leadership is a by-product’ of the relationship between the leader and the one who ‘freely’ chooses to follow.  This helps transform the leader-led relationship into an interdependent relationship; a relationship rooted in trust, care and serving the priority needs of both.    

I leave us with this question: ‘When is serving immoral?’

Next time we will continue with our exploration of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test.’ 

People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are. –Meister Eckhart

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART V. . .

The only journey is the one within. –Rainer Maria Rilke

Good morning Gentle Reader.  We have two more questions to respond to:

What does it mean for one to ‘become healthier’?
Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?

As a reminder, here is Greenleaf’s 1980 iteration of his ‘Best Test’ for the ‘Servant’: Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

What does it mean for one to ‘become healthier’?  For Greenleaf there are a number of ‘Servants.’  The first is the individual.  The second is a collective of individuals; for Greenleaf two metaphors are crucial: a garden and a community.  The collective can be a Board of Trustees, or an organized group of two or more folks (a department, for example).  The third is the organization.  For Greenleaf an organization is a living organism.  Thus, all three can ‘become healthier.’  All three can also become ‘dis-eased.’

Gentle Reader, I invite you to keep in mind all three as I respond to the question, ‘What does it mean for one to ‘become healthier’?

Simply stated: ‘Healthier’ means that we nurture more than deplete the one being served (again, the ‘one’ can be an individual, an organized group of two or more and/or an organization).  Well, then, what is it, exactly, that we seek to nurture more than deplete?

Consider, Gentle Reader, that there are five dimensions that define the one being served.   I call these P.I.E.S.S.  There is a Physical Dimension, an Intellectual Dimension, an Emotional Dimension, a Spirit(ual) Dimension, and a Social (think: Relationship) Dimension.  For some, ‘Spirit’ resonates and for some ‘Spiritual’ resonates.  For me, I seek to honor both Dimensions.

‘Do those served become healthier?’  Consider these questions: How is each Dimension ‘served’ so that each is nurtured more than depleted?  What are some ways that each Dimension could be served (or is served) so that more nurturance rather than depletion occurs?  Does the one serving have ‘favorite’ ways of nurturing and favorite ways of depleting the one(s) being served?  What are these ‘favorite ways’?  In serving, is the one serving paying attention to and serving the other(s) ‘highest priority needs’[NOTE: For Greenleaf, serving the other(s) ‘highest priority needs’ is a major indicator that one is serving more than that one is ‘self-serving’.]

In serving, the one doing the serving cannot guarantee that more nurturance and less depletion will occur.  One can only be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full in providing the opportunity for more nurturance and less depletion to occur.  The one being served must help identify the ‘highest priority needs’ and then choose to accept and embrace more nurturance and shun efforts at depletion.

Simply stated: ‘Serving’ involves a relationship between the one serving and the one being served.  Serving becomes, or borders on being, immoral when this relationship is not interdependent but dependent (how many times have folks said, ‘I was only trying to help’ when it was clear that the ‘help’ served the helper more than the one that was to be helped).

This opens the pathway to our next question: Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?  We will explore this next time and we will continue our exploration of Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’: ‘…wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants.’ 

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

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART IV. . .

You can quit your job but you can’t quit your calling. –Lissa Rankin

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  I concluded PART III with this: …it appears as if we have three more questions to respond to, for this first statement.  So let us continue. . .  As a reminder, here is Greenleaf’s final iteration (1980) of his ‘Best Test’ for the Servant:

Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

Here are the three questions I left us with last time; this morning we will focus on the first of these:

What are the implications of the phrase ‘while being served’?
What does it mean for one to ‘become healthier’?
Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?

What ae the implications of the phrase ‘while being served’?  For more than forty-five years now I have returned to this phrase, ‘while being served.’  ‘Growth’ is not just an immediate effect of ‘being served;’ the one being served ‘grows’ during the process of ‘being served.’  The implications of this are numerous; here are a few of them.

  • When I serve I hold an intention that the one served will have an opportunity to ‘grow.’ I cannot guarantee that the other will grow; I can provide him/her an opportunity to do so.
  • I consciously hold five dimensions when I serve; my intention is to seek to nurture one or more of these as I serve the highest priority needs of the other(s) [Greenleaf counsels the servant to serve the highest priority needs of the other].
  • I call the five dimensions: P.I.E.S.S. I seek to intentionally provide the one being served an opportunity to nurture (more than deplete) one or more of these dimensions and I invite the one being served to discern and embrace how he/she might nurture more than deplete each dimension.  The five dimensions: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spirit(ual), and Social (think: Relationships – first the relationship one has with one’s self and then the relationship one has with the ‘other’).
  • The experience can be brief – a smile, a recognition of the person as a fully human being (an aboriginal tribe in Australia greets one another with ‘I see you.’ A wonder-full, humanizing way of acknowledging the presence of the other).  The experience can occur over time as it does when I am serving those who participate in my ‘work-treats’ (part workshop and part retreat).

My commitment – to myself and to those I serve – involves my being awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full as I strive to serve the highest priority needs of the other(s).   

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SERVANT-‘BEST TEST’ REVISITED, PART III. . .

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

Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.

Do those being served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier?  Every time I read and hold this first question I quickly become whelmed over by the multitude of implications contained within it.  Who are the ‘those’?  What does it mean to ‘grow as persons’?  What are the implications of the phrase ‘while being served’?  What does it mean for one to ‘become healthier’?  Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?  There are others, but these will suffice for today.  Let us briefly explore a few of these today.

Who are the ‘those’?   In order to serve as Greenleaf defines ‘serve’ must I be awake and aware and intentional, purpose-full and focused.  For example, must I form an intention to ‘serve’ or might I develop an ‘attitude’ of always striving to serve? [NOTE: As imperfect human beings we are ‘always striving’ – becoming more consistent is the goal, not becoming perfect which is a trap.]  I embrace a ‘both-and’ approach.  I strive to hold an ‘attitude of serving’ AND I strive to become intentional with my serving.  Thus, my capacity to serve a wider group of ‘those’ dramatically increases.

What does it mean to ‘grow as persons’?  It seems that in order to respond to this question we need to define ‘grow’ and ‘persons.’  Let us begin with ‘person’.  A person is a human being.  This helps but it is still, I believe, too general a concept – even too abstract.  What do all human beings have in common?  Consider, Gentle Reader, that we all have the following five dimensions in common: A Physical Dimension, an Intellectual Dimension, an Emotional Dimension, a Spirit(ual) Dimension and a Social Dimension (think: Relationship with self and with another).  [NOTE: For some ‘spirit’ resonates and for others ‘spiritual’ resonates.]

We know that as human beings we do – and need to – grow in each of these AND that our growth is a life-long process.  We also know that we can – and do – deplete each of these dimensions (we are, as noted earlier, imperfect human beings).  Consider that the greatest violence done to us is ‘self-violence.’  Consider, also, that each of us has developed our favorite ways of depleting each of these five dimensions in ourselves.  Add to the ‘self-violence/self-depletion, we also deplete these dimensions in others (we do violence to them via the depletion done).

Given our two definitions we can begin to see how we might respond to the question: What does it mean to ‘grow as persons’?  Simply stated, it means that we strive to serve so that more nurturance than depletion occurs in one or more, if not in each, of the five dimensions.  We serve ourselves, we serve others, we help others serve themselves and we are served by others so that I-You-We-They grow (are nurtured more than depleted) in each of these five dimensions.

Greenleaf focuses on individuals AND on two organized groups, Boards of Trustees and Institutions (a variety of them).  As organic entities each embodies all five of these dimensions and hence each can be ‘served’.  This is one of the ideas that still makes Greenleaf ‘counter-cultural’ today.

Well, Gentle Reader, it appears as if we have three more questions to respond to, for this first statement.  So let us continue. . .

What are the implications of the phrase ‘while being served’?

What does it mean for one to ‘become healthier’?

Is ‘Serving’ one-directional or multi-directional?  

 Responsibility requires that a person think, speak and act as if personally accountable to all who may be affected by his or her words, thoughts and deeds…Awareness is important. –Robert K. Greenleaf

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment