Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lunar Eclipse

Last weeks lunar eclipse reminded me of the movie Moon and how our corporations of today try to hide the impacts of their profit motives.  In the movie, it is the near future and astronaut Sam Bell works a solitary job on the far side of the moon.  His cooperate employer Lunar Industries is mining the answer to earths energy problems – Helium-3.  As he nears the end of his three-year contract to keep the operations running, he experiences an accident while trying to conduct repairs to the mining equipment.  

Waking up in the sickbay of the moon station, he is confronted by a clone of himself.  Sam and his clone discover that the corporation has stockpiled a multitude of incubating clones each one waiting to be woken in turn to replace the acting clone when their bodies are worn out by the end of their three-year contract.  By simply replacing the workers with clones, the corporation can avoid the high costs of sending new recruits to the moon and the extensive training that would be required to replace them every three years.

The corporations of today may not have reached the levels of unethical behavior portrayed by Lunar Industries, but they are driven by the same motive that fueled it – profit.  Robert Greenleaf understood well the consequences of corporations driven by profit, or money above and beyond that needed to meet their needs.  

In his essay “Spirituality As Leadership” from the book SEEKER AND SERVANT, he wrote, “Another aspect of money that concerns the quest for spirituality as leadership is the problem of those who have more money then their legitimate needs require, thus giving them power over those who have less money than they think they need, including those at or below the poverty level.  The power exists whether they loan the money at interest, invest it for the return of rent or dividends, speculate in some venture, hide it in a mattress, or give it away.

For Greenleaf, the only bottom line that mattered in an organization that practiced servant leadership was his best test of the servant-leader from the essay “The Servant As Leader” in the book SERVANT LEADERSHIP – “Do those 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 they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
Where this best test becomes a true test and where our current corporations fail is when you expand the concept of who is served by the organization.  Who is served is not just the shareholders, it is not just the CEO’s, it is not just the management, it is not just the workers, nor is it just the customers of the corporation.  Those that are served needs to include all those who are touched by the consequences of the corporation’s actions and operating principles.        

The key question “what is the effect on the least privileged?” really gets at the need to be aware of who is served and who and what are the impacts. These consequences need to include those from the supply chain, the environmental impacts on the ecosystem and our planet, and the social and cultural impacts on the community. 

It is the complex global nature of today's corporations that makes determining who is served and what the impacts are nearly impossible, which is not an accident.  Avoiding consequences and maximizing profits are the main reasons our corporations of today move operations to areas with low labor costs and lack of environmental regulations.

As we become more aware of the consequences of these motives on our people and our planet, moving corporate operations off earth and to the moon does not seem so far fetched. To avoid an even worse future, it is time to stop cloning the profit driven motive of our corporate world and it is time to stop trying to eclipse their effects with terms like “corporate social responsibility” or “the triple bottom line of profit – people – and planet”.   

Instead, we need to create new models of operation where we can truly be aware of our actions and truly test the resulting servant-leader institutions.  And local production to meet local needs is a key to unmasking the consequences of our production and consumptive driven lives.             

Friday, December 24, 2010

Loving The World

As we come to the end of another year, we naturally tend to reflect on the past, and look for hope for the future.  Looking back at the past year, it reveals much opportunity for growth in our world – we have to find better ways to get along with the people we share our planet with then going to war with them, we have to find better ways to share our material wealth, we have find ways to help the ecosystems that sustain us to thrive, we need to find ways to scale back our obsession with possession and live more simply, more sustainably. 

In his 1970 essay “The Servant As Leader” Robert Greenleaf pointed out 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 – a senseless war, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation – are here because of human failure, individual failures, one person, one action at a time failures.  (…).  We will recover from this by growing people, one person at a time, people who have the goals, competence, values, and spirit to turn us about.  (…).  But at the base it will be one person and one action at a time because there isn’t anything else to work with.” (Page 72, THE SERVANT LEADER WITHIN ). 

Things haven’t changed much in the forty years since Greenleaf first wrote that essay, and his suggested solution to the problems of his day is also the solution to the problems that remain with us today – we as individuals need to take our individual actions to get the ball rolling.  In his parable “Teacher As Servant”, Greenleaf pointed out what I believe is a key factor for individuals to grasp if they have any hope of being successful in taking the actions that are needed to turn our society towards a better path:  “I can only urge that you ponder those wonderful lines from Hermann Hess (but I cannot tell you where they are in his writing): ‘It is only important to love the world,’ he said, ‘… to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect.’”  (Page 138, THE SERVANT LEADER WITHIN )

And so as our world make begins another circuit around our Sun,  I would encourage you to reflect on the question and some other thoughts posed by Margaret Wheatley in her book TURNING TO ONE ANOTHER, that can lead us towards becoming more loving toward our world, so that we can take actions to make our society more loving. 

What is the relationship I want with the earth?  Other species don’t have the same challenge as we humans.  They participate with their environment, they watch, they react.  We humans, in contrast, dream, plan, figure things out.  Because we have consciousness, we create our own set of rules rather then submitting to the laws of nature that govern all life.  We use consciousness to try and bend the world to our own purposes.”

“There’s a principle in ecology that nature always has the last word.  And that’s what’s happening now.  We believe waste could just accumulate, but polluted air and poisoned water are teaching us this is not true.  We believed we could grow as large as we dreamed, but the ungovernable nature of huge organizations and the devastated lives of those in mega-cities are teaching us this is not true.  We’ve invested in science to manufacture life to suit ourselves, hoping we might even overcome death, but frightening pandemics and new diseases are teaching us that we live in a web of interconnectedness, and that death is a part of life.”  

“We need to learn how to be good neighbors.  I believe the easiest way to become partners with life is to get outside, to be in nature and let her teach us.  About half of us no longer have this option.  Half the world’s population live in large cities, breathing polluted air, unable to see the stars, never knowing peace or quiet.  I grieve for those of us who cannot know the feel of wild places, the sound of the small stream, the shade of a grove of trees.  But for those of us who still have nature available to us, it is even more important that we get outside.  We need to experience the power and beauty of life on behalf of all humans who no longer can do this themselves.”  

“If we can do these things, we will fall in love with life again.  We will become serious about sustaining life rather than destroying it.”

“We have to take care of everything, because it’s all part of the same thing.”    

A peaceful holiday to all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


In his essay titled “The Servant As Leader”, Robert Greenleaf spelled out his ideas on a type of leadership that he believed was needed to address the urgent problems of his day – “the disposition to venture into immoral and senseless wars, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, [and] overpopulation (…).”  Greenleaf’s essay put out a call for servant-leaders to step forward and take on these issues.  He defined the servant-leader as follows.

The servant-leader is servant first (…).  It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.  That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possession.  For such, it will be a later choice to serve – after leadership is established.  The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.  Between them are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.  

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure other peoples highest priority needs are being served.  The best test, and difficult to administer, is this:  Do those 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 they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

Forty years have passed since Greenleaf first put out his call, and unfortunately not many servant-leaders have stepped up to face the challenges.  Our world continues to be ravaged by senseless wars, the wealthy get wealthier and the poor poorer, and our world continues to be destroyed at own our hands.  These problems continue to occur just as they did in 1970, “because of human failures, individual failures, one person at a time, one action at a time failures”.  So now, more then ever servant-leaders need to step up and take action, one servant-leader at a time and begin to “Create dangerously”.