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”.  


  1. Service, one of the three legacies. The other two are recovery and unity. By the first, recovery, we recover from our addiction for more. More stuff, more money, more power, more wait there is never enough of that, well more of everything.Our quest for more that what we actually need is what has brought us to this point of self destruction.

    Second, is unity. Without unity we as a species can't survive. We need each other to help fill the parts we as individuals can do on our own. We realize that if we are not unified, not held together, and left to our individual desires we will perish. We will be crushed by a pending ecological and financial catastrophe.

    And finally there is service.....service to others. Not grudgingly serving, but gratefully serving. Grateful we have the opportunity to serve. Grateful we have recovered from our selfish ways. So grateful that we share how we over came our selfish addictions so others who want to freed from the bondage of stuff can do the same.

    And our leaders then come from our trusted servants.Not to meet their own needs, but to meet the needs of those who sent them. And these leaders are not self appointed, but come to be leaders through discernment of people who send them.

    This is servant leadership, and it doesn't begin with begins with recovery.

  2. Anonymous,

    Great connection of AA's three legacies to servant-leadership and pointing out the need for recovery first. What interest's me about Greenleaf's idea of servant leadership is his connections to Bill Wilson of AA, who he knew personally. Greenleaf also wrote some interesting articles that appeared in the AA Grapevine. I think the connection points out the universal ideas behind servant leadership. Thanks for the comments.