Servant Leadership: A
Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness
by Robert K. Greenleaf
We (locally, nationally and globally) have a
leadership crisis, which profoundly affects peace (in fact, it is the single
most important factor - see http://www.peace.ca/leadersandviolence.htm
). The following is what I highlighted during my read
of this excellent book -- I recommend it as one of the top resources
for anyone interested in Leadership (not to mention peace). My purpose
in providing them is to interest you, the reader, and hope that you will
obtain and read the complete work. To properly understand the
highlights, you need to read the book to put them in the proper context.
The 330 page book can be ordered for approx. US$23.90 from The Robert K.
Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership, 921 E. 86th St., Suite 200,
Indianapolis, IN 46240 (tel. 317-259-1241) or the publisher Paulist Press, 997
Macarthur Blvd., Mahwah, NJ, USA 07430; ISBN 0-8091-2527-7 (or check http://www.amazon.com or
http://www.chapters.ca ). This book
puts Leadership into perspective, as to what we should expect and do. It
epitomizes the quote: "He profits most who serves best."
Robert Greenleaf (1904 - 1990) spent most of his life in the field of
management, research, development and education. He distilled his
observations in a series of essays, books and videotapes on the theme of The
Servant as Leader -- the objective of which is to stimulate thought and action
for building a better, more caring society. The Robert K. Greenleaf
Center for Servant-Leadership continues Robert's good work. Robert makes a
compelling argument that the leaders we choose, and that we choose to be,
should be servant leaders.
[Note - the book was written in 1977. The
book is even more important and relevant today, as when it was written.
The book is written in the male gender as was common in Mr. Greenleaf's time.
The reader should make allowances accordingly.]
The wise are not necessarily scholars, and
scholars are not necessarily wise.
"There is a new problem in our country.
We are becoming a nation that is dominated by large institutions -- churches,
businesses, governments, labor unions, universities -- and these big
institutions are not serving us well. I hope that all of you will be
concerned about this. Now you can do as I do, stand outside and
criticize, bring pressure if you can, write and argue about it. All of
this may do some good. But nothing of substance will happen unless there
are people inside these institutions who are able to (and want to) lead them
into better performance for the public good. Some of you ought to make
careers inside these big institutions and become a force for good -- from the
... concern for pervasive student attitudes ...
devoid of hope...
... followers will be responsive only to able
servants who would lead them...
... we live in the age of the anti-leader, and our
vast educational structure devotes very little care to nurturing leaders or to
...we are in a crisis of leadership in which vast
numbers of "educated" people make such gross errors in choosing
whose leadership to follow ...
... the servant leader potential which ... is
latent to some degree in almost every young person.
Legitimize power has become an ethical
My first concern is for the individual in society
and his seeming bent to deal with the massive problems of our times wholly in
terms of systems, ideologies and movements.
... failing to lead when there is the opportunity.
Overarching these is a concern for the total
process of education ...
Part of the problem is that serve and lead
are overused words with negative connotations. But they are also good
words and I can find no others that carry as well the meaning I would like to
convey. Not everything that is old and worn, or even corrupt, can be
thrown away. Some of it has to be rebuild and used again. So it
is, it seems to me, with the words serve and lead.
I. THE SERVANT AS LEADER
The idea of The Servant as Leader came
out of reading Hermann Hesse's Journey to the East.
... the great leader is seen as servant first ...
... prophecy ...
... I should do what I could about it.
... prophetic voices of great clarity, and with a
quality of insight equal to that of any age, are speaking cogently all of the
Prophets grow in stature as people respond to
It is seekers, then, who make prophets
But since we are the product of our own history,
we see current prophecy within the context of past wisdom.
... how can one be a seeker? How
can one hear the contemporary voice when one has decided not to live in the
present and has turned that voice off?
I am hopeful ...
A fresh critical look ... people are beginning to
learn ... to relate ...
... respond only to individuals who are chosen as
leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants.
... find it hard to convert themselves to affirmative
builders of a better society.
... the "system" ...
"What can I do about it?"
... Albert Camus' Create Dangerously ...
"One may long, as I do, for a gentler flame, a respite, a pause for
musing. But perhaps there is no other peace for the artist than
what he finds in the heat of combat. 'Every wall is a door,'
Emerson correctly said. Let us not look for the door, and the way out,
anywhere but in the wall against which we are living. Instead, let us
seek the respite where it is -- in the very thick of the battle. For in
my opinion, and this is where I shall close, it is there. Great
ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves.
Perhaps, then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of
empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and
hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation, others, in a man.
I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions
of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and
the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines
forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth that each and every man, on the
foundations of his own sufferings and joys, builds for them all."
... build wholeness through adventurous creative
Serving and leading are still mostly
intuition-based concepts ...
... my perceptual world is full of contradictions.
Who Is the Servant-Leader?
The servant-leader is servant first ...
The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do
those served grow as persons? ... And, what is the effect on the
lease privileged in society ...?
Everything Begins with the Initiative of
Why would anybody accept the leadership of another
except that the other sees more clearly where it is best to go?
"If there is no community for you ... make it
What Are You Trying to Do?
... goal ... purpose ... dream ... visionary
... a sustaining spirit (entheos) that will
support the tenacious pursuit of a goal.
... for something great to happen, there must be a
Listening and Understanding
... listening first.
Language and Imagination
The limitation on language, to the communicator,
is that the hearer must make that leap of imagination.
Withdrawal - Finding One's Optimum
The servant-leader must constantly ask: How can I
use myself to serve best?
Acceptance and Empathy
... never ... reject a single student.
The interest in and affection for one's followers
which a leader has ... is clearly something the followers "haven't to
... requires a tolerance of imperfection.
Know the Unknowable - Beyond Conscious
... a sense for the unknowable ... foresee the
... intuitive insight ...
If, on a practical decision in the world of
affairs, you are waiting for all of the information for a good
decision, it never comes.
This is a terrible dilemma of the hesitant
The art of leadership rests, in part, on the
ability to bridge that gap by intuition, that is, a judgment from the
... must be more creative than most;and creativity
is largely discovery ...
Intuition is a feel for patterns, the
ability to generalize based on what has happened previously.
... timing ... anxiety ...
Overarching conceptual insight that gives a
sounder framework for decisions (so important, for instance, in foreign
policy) is the greater gift.
Foresight - the Central Ethic of
Prescience, or foresight ...
Machiavelli ... "Thus it happens in matters
of state; for knowing afar off (which is only given a prudent man to do) the
evils that are brewing, they are easily cured."
The prudent man is one who constantly thinks of
"now" as the moving concept in which past, present moment, and
future are one organic unity. And this requires living by a sort of
rhythm that encourages a high level of intuitive insight about the whole gamut
of events from the indefinite past, through the present moment, to the
indefinite future. One is at once, in every moment of time, historian,
contemporary analyst, and prophet -- not three separate roles. This is
what the practicing leader is, every day of his life.
Living this way is partly a matter of faith.
Foresight is the "lead" that the leader
Required is that one live a sort of schizoid life.
One is always at two levels of consciousness. One is in the real world
-- concerned, responsible, effective, value oriented. One is also
detached, riding above it, seeing today's events, and seeing oneself deeply
involved in today's events, in the perspective of a long sweep of history and
projected into the indefinite future.
Awareness and Perception
"If the doors of perception were cleansed,
everything will appear to man as it is, infinite."
Most of us move about with very narrow perception
Awareness is not a giver of solace -- it
is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able
leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not
seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.
Persuasion - Sometimes One Man at a Time
... John Woolman ... His method was unique.
He didn't raise a big storm about it or start a protest movement. His
method was one of gentle but clear and persistent persuasion.
Leadership by persuasion has the virtue of change
by convincement rather than coercion. Its advantages are obvious.
One Action at a Time - The Way Some Great
Things Get Done
Conceptualizing - The Prime Leadership
"The spirit (not knowledge) is power."
... transforming its exportable surplus ...
rebuilding the national spirit ... nourishing tradition ...
... so "situational" that it rarely
draws on known models ... a fresh creative response to here-and-now
... Paulo Freire ...
Healing and Serving
... the servant-leader might also acknowledge that
his own healing is his motivation.
... the search for wholeness is something they
"What you in AA want to do cannot be done
with money. You must be poor. You must not use money to do your
Community - The Lost Knowledge of These
Where there is not community, trust, respect, and
ethical behavior are difficult for the young to learn and for the old to
... moves from people-using to people-building.
Power and Authority - The Strength and the
... servant's power of persuasion and example.
Some coercive power is overt and brutal.
Some is covert and subtly manipulative.
Part of our dilemma is that all leadership is, to
some extent, manipulative. Those who follow must be strong!
It is not organic. Only persuasion and the
consequent voluntary acceptance are organic.
Servant-leaders are functionally superior ...
How Does One Know the Servant?
In Here, Not Out There
Who Is the Enemy?
Granting that fewer evil, stupid, or apathetic
people or a better "system" might make the job easier, their removal
would not change matters, not for long.
Liquidate the offending people, radically alter or
destroy the system, and in less than a generation they will all be back.
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.
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. They suffer. Society suffers.
... able servants with potential to lead will
lead, and, where appropriate, they will follow only servant-leaders.
Not much else counts if this does not happen.
... critical aspect of realism that confronts the
servant-leader, that of order.
This is the great challenge to the emerging
generation of leaders: Can they build better order?
Preparation to lead ... must be the first
All of this rests on the assumption that the only
way to change a society (or just make it go) is to produce people, enough
people, who will change it (or make it go). The urgent problems of our
day -- the disposition to venture into immoral and senseless wars, destruction
of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation -- are
here because of human failures, individual failures, one person at a time, one
action at a time failures.
II. THE INSTITUTION AS SERVANT
This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more
able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good
society is built.
If a better society is to be built ... then the
most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very
performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative
forces operating within them.
... institutional reconstruction.
... we have a crisis of institutional quality, not
so much from depredations of "evil" people as from sheer neglect by
the "good people".
Crisis of Institutional Quality
If we are to have a more moral society,
then moral man must also care for institutions.
Governments rely too much on coercion ...
Rarely does conceptual and inspired leadership
come from government.
Business ... huckster-traders ...
Trustees: Prime Movers in institutional
If more serving institutions are to be built,
individuals who want to serve must, on their own, become institution builders where
The most important qualifications for trustees
should be that they care for the institutions, which means that they
care for all of the people the institution touches, and that they are
determined to make their caring count.
For the trustees to fail to build their own
dependable information source and to act on what they have learned is a breach
Organization: The Neglected Element
Organization Structure: Formal and
Organizations: Two Traditions
... first ... the hierarchical principle ...
... second ... comes down from Roman times ... primus
inter pares -- first among equals.
What is proposed here for the top leadership team
of large institutions is a shift from the hierarchical principle, with one
chief, to a team of equals with a primus, preceded by the change in trustee
attitude and the role necessary to assure its success.
Organization: Some Flaws in the Concept of
the Single Chief
To be a lone chief atop a pyramid is abnormal
... a very real loneliness.
... too few leaders.
... destroy these persons' creativity ...
... prevents leadership by persuasion because the
single chief holds too much power.
... it gives control priority over leadership.
Leadership: Conceptual and Operational
Conceptualizers at their best are intensely
practical. They are also effective persuaders and relations builders.
Whoever in the council has the greatest
team-building ability should be primus ...
The Trustee as Leader
Legitimacy begins with trust.
... blind trust (including respect for authority)
and trust generated by leadership charisma.
The only sound basis for trust is for people to
have the solid experience of being served by their institutions in a
way that builds a society that is more just and more loving, and with greater
creative opportunities for all of its people.
The model of the single chief sitting atop the
hierarchy is obsolete, and consequently we are at a point of crisis for want
of trust in our major institutions.
... two strong teams, each led by a primus
The cardinal principle is that no single person
has unchecked power, but that all of them may be both restrained and
encouraged by their peers.
The Large Business as Servant
... we should expect businesses to become
conspicuously more serving faster than the others.
... the revolution of expectation among young
... a new business ethic.
... emerging awareness of the limitations inherent
in the traditional school ...
... businesses to build new relationships with
... owners of large businesses must make their
peace with the idea that these institutions exist by the consent of clients,
employees, and society at large -- all of whom must be well served, and whose
judgement on whether they are being well served is becoming more and more
The University as an Institution
... declare a crisis of confidence within the
This is an age of great candor, and honesty has
risen (commendably) as a student priority.
What the typical university so desperately needs
is leadership that will, in every nook and cranny, seek all genuine
initiatives that will make the university better serving, and penalize, to the
point of drying up or radically reorganizing, those departments and schools
that fail to maintain themselves by rigorous self-criticism.
... few prophetic voices ... within the university
The Growing Edge Church
The central issue which young people are pressing
on "established" people is that we are not doing well enough as a
The word "religion", at its root, means
to rebind, to rebind man to the cosmos.
... become the chief nurturing force,
conceptualizer of the opportunity, value shaper, and morale sustainer of
leadership everywhere: in business, school, government, health and social
service, philanthropy -- everywhere.
... become the architect of the more just, more
loving, more serving society.
Authority and Strength: The Problem of
"... If you do this ... then you will be able
to endure and all of this people also will go their way in peace."
... people have wanted order and they have been
willing to pay the price of concentrating power in one person's hands as the
only way they knew to get it. Now the costs of this choice are looming
too large ...
The abuse of power is curbed if the holder of
power is surrounded by equals who are strong, and if there is close oversight
by a monitoring group ...
There are several kinds of power. One is
coercive power, used principally to destroy. Not much that endures can
be built with it.
Leadership by persuasion and example is the way to
build -- everywhere.
The Issue of Countervailing Power
No one should be powerless!
... proceed first to establish a new basis for
Goals and Purposes
Trust and Growth: The Value of
Someone ... must paint the dream. For
anything to happen there must be a dream.
Trust is first. Nothing will move until
trust is firm.
... skills are secondary.
... who is capable of, and prepared for, trust.
The challenge of the revolution of expectations
can only be met if we can have more people who will serve as leaders --
everywhere. A top leadership team of equals with a primus in our
major institutions will grow more leaders faster than any other course
available to us. Leaders are not trained. They are competent
people to begin with, and they can be given a vision and a context of values.
Beyond that they need only opportunity and encouragement to grow. Our
major institutions must give more room for able people to grow.
... -- just one.
III. TRUSTEES AS SERVANTS
... the best of our ... institutions ... is too far below what is
reasonable and possible...
A basic conceptual flaw in the conventional wisdom of institutional structures
is the inadequacy -- or even absence -- of provision for trustees to be a
functioning part of the institution's leadership.
All too often we seem to disregard this important influence that institutions
can have on people.
But government has accepted competition, in the for-profit realm, as
the prime regulator and builder when, in fact, it may also be the great
destroyer of people and the creator of abuses.
... manage ... from the Latin manus, hand, meaning the hand on the
reins that guides the horse.
Trusteeship is the holding of a charter of public trust for
Leadership -- going out ahead to show the
way -- is available to everyone in the institution who has the competence,
values, and temperament for it, from the chairman to the least skilled
individual. ... However, if their leadership should not be adequate, and if
the institution is faltering for want of leadership, then it is important that
whoever is able to assert leadership should do so.
Anyone can lead, and there is no single chief
I. THE TRUSTEE ROLE -- WHY IT IS NOT ADEQUATE NOW
AND WHAT IT NEEDS TO BE
Trustee Initiative - A Historical
"Chartered" accountants ...
... needs for information and advice.
The C.P.A. audit was but one of the evidences of a
new standard of quality, an effort to close the gap that separated mediocrity
from excellence, that marked the emergence of these new companies at that
Limitations of the Conventional Trustee
When there are adverse conditions, sometimes
trustees are the last to know -- and they should be among the first.
... a new trustee role is clearly delineated ...
Trustees Commonly Do Not Function in a Way
That Builds Trust
... provide the cover of legitimacy.
... token ...
... neglect ...
... a growing disquiet about the arrangement ...
... largely fictitious ...
II. THE ISSUES OF POWER AND AMBIGUITY IN
Power and Authority - The Central Issue of
"Power" and "authority" have
many meanings. In this discussion power will mean both persuasion,
where the response is truly voluntary, and coercion, either overt
compulsion or covert manipulation. Authority will be taken to
mean the sanctions which legitimize the use of power.
"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power
... role of trustees ...people in, and affected
by, the institution will grow healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and
more likely to become servants of society. The only real justification
for institutions, beyond a certain efficiency (which, of course, does serve),
is that people in them grow to greater stature than if they stood alone.
In essence, this view of the use of power holds
that no one, absolutely no one, is to be entrusted with the operational use of
power without the close oversight of fully functioning trustees.
Ambiguity in the institution - A Challenge
to Trustee Understanding
First, there is the operational necessity to be
both dogmatic and open to change.
A second ambiguity is the disability that goes
A third ambiguity is the need for a healthy
tension between belief and criticism as part of the dynamism that makes a
high-performing institution. ... Trustees need to be mostly critical.
III. BIGNESS - A NOTE ON THE IMPLICATIONS OF SIZE
... a single institution that is big and bad is
more of a social problem than if it were small and bad.
The coercive power of government is mostly useful
to restrain. The building of voluntary institutions as instruments of
quality comes more from the incremental actions of individuals as they serve
IV. A NEW TRUSTEE ROLE - HOW TO DO IT BETTER
The Problem of Getting It Done
... most of the efforts to meet the rising social
expectations are largely coercive ...
... one man leadership ...
... trustees ... subservient ...
The Trustee Role - Initiating Rather Than
No person is complete, no one is to be entrusted
with all. Completeness is to be found only in the complemental talents
of several who relate as equals.
We must reverse the assumption ...
... transformation ...
The Trustee Chairman
... need a rather unusual person as their
... there needs to be a Chairman's Institute.
The New Trustee Is Not a
... no one, absolutely no one, is to be entrusted
with the operational use of power without the close oversight of fully
V. INFORMATION: THE KEY TO RESTRUCTURING THE
... objectivity and non-involvement are parts of
the strength of the trustee role.
... deliberative body ...
VI. TRUSTEE JUDGEMENT
... one service that would have assured a great
and long durable future for our particular civilization, i.e. preparing
those of the young who are capable of it for responsible roles as servants.
It is not being done!
... good idea ... good people ... resources ...
VII. A PEDAGOGY OF TRUSTEESHIP
Trust begins with good motives. But
competence, and a way of sustaining competence, needs to be added to good
... search for a coach ...
Trustees will accept strategic and tactical
leadership from their chairman. They will accept conceptual leadership
from their coach.
The primary aim of the coach is to facilitate
consensus -- achieving one mind.
And this is how they will learn.
VIII. THE TRUSTEED SOCIETY - A POSSIBILITY
... become a conspicuous leaven in a society that
is much too disposed to violence ...
As a nation (perhaps as a world society) we stand
in dire need of some new visions of our future course.
... perhaps the greatest threat is that we lack
the mechanism of consensus.
... become a trusteed society ... as contrasted to
a manipulated one ...
... caring ...
IX. HAVING POWER; HAVING AN IDEA; HAVING THE
PEOPLE - AND CARING
... a few words of advice from an old professor of
sociology to the effect that there is a growing "people" problem in
all American institutions and some of us should get inside and work on it.
"If you can't do it, I will find somebody who
"If you cared enough, you would find the
idea and the people."
X. INTRINSIC MOTIVATION OF TRUSTEES
We may be witnessing the end of individualism as
the predominant mores ...
Trustees as servants face one of the most
exciting challenges of our times: to lead our moribund institutions, and some
of the seemingly moribund people in them, into a future of greatness.
"The greatest sin of man is to forget that he
is a prince -- that he has royal power."
IV. SERVANT LEADERSHIP IN BUSINESS
... a new business ethic -- a striving for
excellence. Businesses are asked not only to produce better goods and
services, but to become greater social assets as institutions.
... the principle of competition ... The practical
consequence of this decision has been to impose ... the law of the jungle.
... business schools teach more about how to
survive ... than ... to help build a better society.
When an action is regulated by law, the incentive
for individual conscience to govern is diminished -- unless the law coincides
with almost universally held moral standards.
It comes out better if one persuades rather than
... must be loved if they are to serve us better.
Ethics and Manipulation
... leaders ... who better see the path ahead
taking the risks to lead and show the way.
... intuitive insight ...
The role of top leadership ... is shifting away
from that of the dominant decision-maker to that of manager of the information
The value of coercive power is inverse to its use.
... the new ethic ... will be: the work exists for
the person as much as the person exists for the work. Put another way,
the business exists as much to provide meaningful work to the person as it
exists to provide a product or service to the customer.
The business then becomes a serving institution --
serving those who produce and those who use.
A new consumer ethic will need to evolve alongside
the new business ethic.
"Don't practice what you preach; just
... the first step -- to accommodate the wide
differences and needs of the very able.
... the second step ... to exert a strong pull for
growth on all in the enterprise who have unrealized potential and who
want to grow.
... the new ethic requires that growth of
those who do the work is the primary aim ...
"I am in the business of growing people
... coming to grips with the moral issues of
power, authority, and manipulation ...
..."the greatest meliorator of the world is
selfish, huckstering trade."
Mediocrity (including self-serving) in positions
of influence is primary ...
Memo on Growing From Small To Large
I believe that you need to assume that work, all
work, exists as much for the enrichment of the life of the worker as it does
for the service of the one who pays for it.
Business Directors Initiate Social Policy
... become affirmative (as opposed to passive or
reactive) servants of society.
... social audit ...
... establishing reasonable social performance
Social Policy for the Company
As a general policy, the company is to be
economically successful (both long term and short term) and it is to be
regarded as socially responsible by all interested parties: employees
(including administrators), vendors, owners, customers, suppliers, church,
university, and appropriate agencies of government. Social performance
is to be separately judged in each country where the company operates.
... refer to 6 listed elements of social policy
for the company.
If directors want a more socially responsible
company ... they should start the process by becoming more responsible
V. SERVANT LEADERSHIP IN EDUCATION
Ivan Illich's book, Deschooling Society ... a comprehensive
revolutionary approach ...
I fault the whole educational enterprise on three major points:
First, I fault it for the refusal (and I believe it is that) to offer explicit
preparation for leadership ...
Second ... attitude of educators toward social mobility.
Third ... confusion ... regarding the teaching of values.
... value clarification ...
Friends Schools and The Issue of "Power and Authority"
... Coleman report ... questions about what investment in education, per se,
will accomplish ... if education were the panacea ... the social fabric should
appear stronger rather than weaker.
... consequences of building a social structure based on a labyrinth of
limited-liability institutions rather than on community.
... leaderless ...
... "for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under
Power and Authority
... the hope that might and power might someday be
superseded by spirit.
Issue #1: The assumption that some individuals know what another ought to
learn, and are justified in imposing their judgement -- backed up by
"... giving was ethically dangerous. ... where the helper presumes
to know more of what is in the best interest of the recipients than the
recipients know for themselves. .... role of almoner is a corrupting one --
for the almoner as well as for the recipient.." Merrimon Cuninggim
in Private Money and Public Service (what Dr. Cuninggim says about giving is
also applicable to teaching or to any helping role for that matter: doctor,
nurse, social worker, etc.)
"All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts
... first, they acknowledge the potentiality for evil in the act of doing
whatever they do.
... make sure that the balance of power in the institution is optimal.
... the institution is strongest when all the parties have adequate power for
their role; it is weakest where one or more of the elements has too little
power, because then somebody has too much and the corrupting influence of
power is moving toward the absolute.
Issue #2: The fact that our whole system of education rests on coercion: first
the legal requirement for attending school until age 16 - 18; then the
built-in compulsion to continue academic education by the credentialing that
begins with the secondary school diploma and continues through the Ph.D.
degree -- and beyond.
Our problem is that we have to teach algebra to people who don't want to learn
Hope for the Future?
... the remedy ... raise the spirit of young people, help them build their
confidence that they can successfully contend with the condition, work with
them to find the direction they need to go and the competencies they need to
acquire, and send them on their way.
... I Ching, the Book of Changes. ... primarily concerned with the
philosophy of change, with living with change as an organic part of one's
nature rather than thinking of the good as static and change as threatening,
as so many of my contemporaries seem to view it.
... constant change ... interrupted ... its perversion ... Change is natural
... our place today, to see ourselves as responsible people at the center of
an organic process of change which, at this time, may be strenuous and
No matter how difficult the challenge or how impossible or hopeless the task
may seem, if you are reasonably sure of your course, just keep on going!
Case Problem for Trustees
... how best to prepare young people to serve and be served by the present
society and to grow with their opportunities ...
... the best of universities are not adequately preparing young people to
serve and be served by the present society and to grow with their
... do not trust the governance structure ... in which trustees are in a
nominal and reactive role.
... trustees shift their role toward more affirmative educational leadership.
Only the emergence of strong leadership in the governing board, the trustees,
will set the university on a sounder course ...
... the primary loyalty of too many faculty members as individuals is not to
their university or even to their students, but to their discipline, their
professional expertise and reputation, and their colleagues ...
Liberal Arts Education and the World of Work
... in a good society, every person who is capable of being educated at all
should be liberally educated first ...
... a quest after knowledge for its own sake, but also as leading to social
involvement in practical affairs for the sake of social good and individual
The grand design of education is to excite, rather than pretend to satisfy, an
ardent thirst for information; and to enlarge the capacity of the mind, rather
than to store it with knowledge, however useful.
... to prepare students to serve, and be served by, the present society.
... a more constructive building force in society, and do this in a way that
helps them find their own legitimate needs, psychic and material, better
... [life] is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an
illogicality, yet it is a trap for logicians. ... wildness lies in wait.
"This job of mine is tolerable only because I am capable of living with
the illusion that things are a lot better than they really are."
A liberal education provides the best context I know of for preparing
inexperienced people to venture into the unknown, to face the inexactitude and
the wildness, with assurance.
As a consultant, I am a gradualist because I am disposed to work with the
ambiguities and not try to impose idealistic solutions.
... goal ... to prepare ... to serve and be served by the present society.
... two basic needs: learning to cope with the inevitable ambiguity, and faith
in the dependability of one's creative resources to produce, in the situation,
answers to one's going-in questions as one ventures into new experience.
... a place where you prepare for the real world.
Campus Use of Resource People
These students are already committed to a servant ethic, they are willing to
work hard (without the incentive of grades, credits, and degrees) to build the
competence that is required to act responsibly, and they have the potential to
develop that quality of intuitive judgment, the gift of knowing, that sets
successful bearers of responsibility apart from others.
... coaching them, much as the athletic department finds and coaches athletes.
VI. SERVANT LEADERSHIP IN FOUNDATIONS
... every truly serving institution thinks of its existence as being a
... "giving is a potentially immoral act".
Government is not the best examiner of assumptions for society.
Prudence and Creativity: A Trustee Responsibility
VII. SERVANT LEADERSHIP IN CHURCHES
Religion is seen in the root meaning of that term -- religio, to
rebind. The thing to be done with religious concern is to rebind humankind to
the cosmos, to heal the pervasive alienation.
On Being A Seeker In the Late Twentieth Century
But if one really believes that the "word" has been given for all
time, how can one be a seeker?
Albert Camus' Create Dangerously ... "Great ideas, it has been
said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps, then, if we
listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a
faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope."
... if one really believes that the "word" has been given for
all time, how can one be a seeker?
... By their intense and sustained listening they will make the new prophet
who will help them find that wholeness that is only achieved by serving.
"Do not seek to follow the footsteps of men of old. Seek what they
"Take from the altar of the past the fire, not the ashes."
The Art of Knowing
... intuit ...
... the urgent need, around the world, for leadership by strong ethical
persons -- those who by nature are disposed to be servants (in the sense of
helping others to become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more
likely themselves to be servants) and who therefore can help others to
move in constructive directions.
Servant-leaders are healers in the sense of making whole by helping
others to a larger and nobler vision and purpose than they would be likely to
attain for themselves.
... live in the age of the anti-leader.
... far too much of the inevitable leadership is in the hands of the gross,
the self-seeking, and the corrupt.
... most of this is wasted breath if there are not, somewhere within the
structures of these discrete institutions, persons with the will and the
competence and the vision to lead them to better performance as servants of
Who is preparing the next generation of leaders -- institution builders -- to
The obvious first answer to such questions is that if we lack competence, we
had better get some.
"Read it and read it and read it and it means what it says to you."
Something will come that is unique and personal to each seeker.
... the false prophets and the true prophets ... how could one tell the
difference? ... "There -- is -- no -- way! ... Yet it is terribly
important that we know the difference!"
Organizing to Serve
I am not suggesting that mine is the best, or the only, view of the problem.
But watching and working with a wide range of institutions is the source of
such competence as I have.
The constraints of institutions and the aims of education are incompatible.
... take some action, covert or overt, to this end. It is a new attitude
toward restraints that pervades everything.
The confusion that we all feel may be that the institutions in which most of
us are deeply involved have not caught up with the new vision that so many of
us have of our unrealized potentials as persons.
The issue ... is affirmative, such as peace, justice, and charity, are broad
idealistic generalities and the actions are sporadic and imprecise.
...unfortunately, all that one can do with opposition is to stop or prevent
something. One must oppose those things that one believes to be wrong,
but one cannot lead from a predominantly negative posture. One
can lead an institution or a total society only by strong, specific, sharply
aimed affirmative actions.
... too much defense of something, too little building of a better order of
... it is so much easier ... to be negative than to be affirmative. [the
... it creates a leaderless society.
... "institution" ... tucked away among the many historical meanings
is: "something that enlarges and liberates"
An institution is a gathering of persons who have accepted a common purpose,
and a common discipline to guide the pursuit of that purpose, to the end that
each involved person reaches higher fulfillment as a person, through serving
and being served by the common venture, than would be achieved alone or in a
less committed relationship.
... totally new.
... refuting, by a practical demonstration, the contention of the old
schoolmaster who said that the constraints of institutions and the aims of
education are incompatible.
... all of the people participating ... can find in their participation
conditions that favor fulfillment of their potentialities as persons.
... more to do with their influence on society than what they teach or
... general strategy for building such a model institution:
1. First, there must be a goal, a concept of a distinguished serving
institution in which all who accept its discipline are lifted up to nobler
stature and greater effectiveness than they are likely to achieve on their own
or with a less demanding discipline.
2. The second part of a general strategy of institution building is an
understanding of leadership and followership that is essential for movement
toward a goal such as this.
3. The third major element is organization-structure-modus operandi. ... a
balanced team of equals ... primus inter pares ...
4. ... the need for trustees.
The disease is more fundamental; the whole institutional arrangement of our
society is flawed ...
Caring is the essential motive.
Leadership means that one individual has a better than average sense
of what should be done now, and is willing to take the risk to say: Let us
do this now. ... Inspiration is usually received by the best prepared
individual who, for this immediate act, is the leader.
Followership is an equally responsible role because it means that the
individual must take the risk to empower the leader and to say that, in the
matter at hand, I will trust your insight. Followership implies another
preparation in order that trusting, empowering the leader, will be a
strength-giving element in the institution.
... require of all a common purpose and a clear definition of obligations.
The path to a better society is never laid out before us as a safe journey.
We move from one insight to another -- every step being a risk. It
requires little faith to take a step that involves little risk.
... the overarching issue is: Will you accept the challenge to build of your
... order an entity of such commanding distinction as servant -- in the late
twentieth century -- that the force of the model you present will move your
[institution] -- and the world? You will lead with your example.
"Cultivate your own garden and its fragrance will be wafted across the
ocean to us."
"We stand in a crisis and we can be bearers of the torch or we can
carefully husband a little flame and keep it from going out a little
longer." In the few minutes that I have had to talk with you I have
tried to hand you a torch. Will you accept it?
The Growing Edge Church
The imminence ... that some of those who have not been hearing will begin to
Will not whatever institution shelters the new teachers and husbands the new
teaching become the growing edge church in these times?
"Mediocrity is the truly diabolical force in the world."
... "thou shalt not's" ...
... placing the greater obligations on the more able ...
Those outside can criticize, flagellate, and disrupt, but only those who
are inside can build.
VIII. SERVANT LEADERS
... two inestimable qualities: great integrity, and a profound sense of the
mystical -- each was guided by the heart.
Abraham Joshua Heschel: Build a Life Like a Work of Art
"Let them remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Let
them be sure that every little deed counts, that every work has power, and
that we can -- every one -- do our share to redeem the world in spite of all
absurdities and all frustrations and all disappointments. And above all,
remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of
... the prophets really were the most disturbing people who ever lived ...
... facing the challenge is the issue.
... social concern ... political activism ... reconstruct within the system
... separate paths that could not be merged.
... the highest level of religious experience is awareness of oneness with the
Donald John Cowling: Life Style of Greatness
"Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood and
probably themselves will not be realized."
... an unequivocal belief in freedom for the human spirit to flower.
Paradoxically, one must be both good and bad to enjoy this life to the full or
to comprehend its meaning.
... adult performance in all fields is pretty mediocre when judged by what is
reasonably possible ...
"Orthodoxy is a dam that is built by persons who think they have reached
the ultimate in human thought, and that there will never be anything as good.
They are finding that it is easier to become interested in the dam than in the
great current that it is holding back."
This plan is two-sided: 1. The President is responsible for the administration
of the College subject only to the authority of the Board of Trustees but in
frequent conference with individual members of the faculty best informed
regarding particular questions and with the cooperation of the faculty as a
whole, which he should be wise and tactful enough to secure. 2. All
teachers teach in their own right and are responsible only to professional
standards, to their own conception of the truth and to the purposes and ideals
of the institution, subject of course to such suggestions and council (not
supervision) as the President may be able to give, especially to the younger
... aim at such educational efficiency as will enable her to give to those she
undertakes to train a preparation for life that is excelled by no other
Abundant physical and psychological health may have had its roots in this
... any important influence on this complex organized society must be wielded
through persuasion. It must be persuasion that has the effect of shaping
the institutions that are the real forces in the modern world.
... the League to Enforce Peace ...
... a declaration urging the "outlawing of war", membership ... in
the permanent court of international justice, opposition to military education
in colleges, and cooperation with the League of Nations.
... persuasion and leadership rather than force.
... intense passion for freedom of the individual. ... Only individual
persons in all of their uniqueness and individuality were real.
... a "situationist" ... utterly human, practical, realistic, and
... a "traditionalist" ... lived by principles ...
... responsibilities of achievers in a free society ...
... the rewards of a man's efforts should be in proportion to the social value
of what he does.
... a social trust...
"There is only one way to raise money: find the people who have it and
ask for some."
The capacity for appreciation is a gift of maturity and young people often do
not have it ...
Achievement is essential, but it is not enough. It is the quality of
people, seen over a life span within the context of their particular
achievements, that must be weighed.
IX. SERVANT RESPONSIBILITY IN A BUREAUCRATIC SOCIETY
Responsibility is a difficult thing to talk about. It is often seen as
that which others should have more of. Few of us think of ourselves as
irresponsible; the admission would be too devastating. We all do pretty
well at rationalizing our own acts of commission and omission that bear on
Most definitions of responsibility imply conforming with conventional
expectations, conventional morality, or being deterred by consideration of
known sanctions or consequences.
Rather, I think of responsibility as beginning with a concern for self, to
receive that inward growth that gives serenity of spirit without which someone
cannot truly say, "I am free."
... the way they choose to respond.
"Happy the youth who believes that his duty is to remake the world and
bring it more in accord with virtue and justice, more in accord with his own
Bureaucracy is defined as a system that has become narrow, rigid, and formal,
depends on precedent, and lacks initiative and resourcefulness -- a pretty bad
state of affairs. ... As I see it, this is the way all institutions tend to
become as they grow old, large, or respectable.
Because we need the good they do, we tend to overlook the harm done because
they are bureaucracies.
There comes a time when one no longer cares a damn about a lot of things ...
they withdraw from the struggle. Then, in old age, they can do what
striving people cannot do.
These attributes were the fulfillment of a life style that was set in his
They don't affirmatively cultivate a life ...
I am inclined to agree with the judgments of the severest of the young
critics: the world of adult practice in all fields is pretty mediocre when
judged by what is reasonably possible.
... my chief disappointment with my generation is that so few seem capable or
disposed to exert a leavening influence on bureaucracy. For the most
part they tend, as you well know, to reinforce it.
But this question I would raise with the present generation -- especially the
outspoken critics: What will the state of affairs be twenty to thirty years
from now when this generation will be in control and mine will be gone? ... I
fear the judgement will be the same. ... are you any better prepared to deal
with the causes than we were?
If you believe with Kazantzakis that your duty is to remake the world and
bring it more in accord with virtue and justice, more in accord with your own
heart, then you have the obligation to prepare yourself now by cultivating the
life style that will make it a reasonable expectation that you will do your
... "spirit" ...
You get a life style, one which augers for optimum response, while you are
What are the dimensions of an optimum life style?
They are beauty, momentaneity, openness, humor, and tolerance.
Beauty ... it penetrates the unknown, opens up new insights, advances
"... now I am speaking to the future."
Openness ... From listening comes wisdom. ... Listening is an attitude, an
attitude toward other people and what they are trying to express.
Humor ... Scripture says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
How, then, can you love your neighbor unless you love yourself? And how
can you love yourself without humor?
I assume that you are resolved to use your lives well and to contribute more
than you take out of life because you are among the more favored, and any
civilized society requires that the more favored carry more than their share
of the burdens; and because life is more worth living this way. ... I
assume that you are not seeking some isolated ivory tower existence ...
Thus responsible persons are the ones who, while recognizing the pervasive
bureaucratic nature of the world in which they will live and do their work,
cultivate, as a conscious discipline, a life style that favors their optimal
performance as an anti-bureaucratic influence, over a life span of mature
"... we do well at growing critics and experts, but we do not produce
enough people for the responsible roles."
At the heart of every constructive action are responsible persons, those who
reach out to engage with real life issues where the going may be rough, lay
out alternatives (invent some if necessary), assess their relative merits,
choose one that accords with virtue and justice -- with their own hearts --
make the choice knowing they may be wrong and suffer for it, and bear the risk
bravely. But at every level from the family to world society we are
tragically short of such people. We have plenty of able people who are
only critics, plenty who are only experts, and too few responsible people.
And we are in this dilemma because not enough of my generation, when they were
your age, thought it their duty to remake the world and bring it more in
accord with virtue and justice, more in accord with their own hearts, and too
few consciously sought a life style that would prepare them for responsible
roles that would make a difference. If they were able, too many settled
for being experts and critics. They had the chance to be exceptional, by
adding responsibility to good motives and ability, but they settled for the
... it is not important that you make a lot of money, achieve high status,
write books, or receive medals or honors. But it is important that the
quality of your life be extraordinary and that you carry this quality into the
work of the world ...
... the prompting of the human spirit -- from the heart.
X. AMERICA AND WORLD LEADERSHIP
Civilization, it seems, has not advanced to a point where, as a natural gift
of grace, either individuals, institutions, or governments are likely to be
both powerful and humble without some basic changes in public thinking that
are not yet evident.
... Gandhi's dream of a village-based nation ...
A one-way flow of aid is all right for an emergency or a short period of
readjustment, but not as a term thing ...
..."corrupting work" ... supplicants ...
In his book 'Private Money and Public Service', Dr. Merrimon Cuninggim, former
president of the Danforth Foundation, takes a more theological view when he
suggests that "giving is a potentially immoral act." He
continues: "Its danger lies in its assumption of virtue by the agent, of
the virtue of agentry, with an accompanying train of unvirtuous assumptions.
The relatively innocent desire to help is so thinly distinguished from wanting
to be the helper. But the latter is capable of all sorts of distortions:
wanting to be well known as the helper, wanting to dictate, to paternalize, to
manipulate. It is not likely that a foundation, any more than a person,
will escape these faults by thoughtlessness or accident. Only by being
conscious of the danger is there a chance to escape. In other words, a
foundation must believe in the potential immorality of giving."
... opens the way to a new basis of relationship between aid giver and aid
One may not safely give unless one is open and ready to receive the gifts of
others, whatever they may be.
An important dimension of leadership within a nation that has substantial
power of affluence ... will be the ability to persuade those who are in a
position to give, whether an individual, an institution, or the nation, that
they should reach out for, gratefully receive, and help pay the cost of the
giving to themselves by the less favored.
XI. AN INWARD JOURNEY
Our problem is circular: we must understand in order to be able to understand.
It has something to do with awareness and symbols.
... meaning is a stern taskmaster: one must aspire, one must
persevere, one must accept the discipline of dealing
thoughtfully with symbols.
... bound to the cosmos.
Is not every servant a leader because of influence by example?
"We convince by our presence."
The transforming movement, should there be one, may come from anywhere and may
spread in unaccountable ways.
... leadership by example sustains trust.
"They also serve who only stand and wait." John Milton
A Paradox Illuminated - Part 1 of a
three-part series in CA Magazine (the magazine of Canadian Chartered
Accountants) on the redeeming characteristics of the servant leadership
approach. "I slept and dreamt that
life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service
was joy" — Rabindranath Tagore. As Indian poet and Nobel
laureate Tagore reminds us, we find the meaning of our lives in serving —
family, community and those in our professional lives. ... In
summary, servant-leadership recognizes the best way to encourage people to give
their utmost in organizations is to appear to care for them, and the best way to
do that is to actually care. Through such demonstrations, servant-leadership is
inspired, evoked and enacted across our organization and to the community
More Light on the Paradox - Part
2 of a three-part series in CA Magazine (the magazine of Canadian Chartered
Accountants) on the redeeming characteristics of the servant leadership
approach. In April 2002 ("A paradox illuminated"), we looked at
the listening, empathy and healing characteristics of servant-leadership. Here
we will examine three other characteristics: persuasion, awareness and
foresight. ... If actions flow from self-appropriated motives, they are more
likely to persist even when no one is looking. Behaviours that arise
authentically and spontaneously from internally sponsored reasons, desires and
commitments are more likely to be sustained than those exhibited in compliance
to external expectations, whatever their source. And that's why
Part 3 of the three-part series is still pending.
Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership, Indianapolis, Indiana http://greenleaf.org
Greenleaf Canada Institute, Toronto, Ontario http://www.greenleafcanada.org