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”.