In 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote an essay titled THE SERVANT AS LEADER. (A copy of the essay can be found here.) After spending a good portion of his life working for AT&T studying and implementing leadership into that organization, he began a career in the 1960’s as a leadership consultant. It was during those turbulent years that he came to really understand that the problems the world was facing were the result of leadership failures. Greenleaf’s essay was the culmination of his lifetime of lessons in leadership failures and successes.
I bring the essay up here because I find the servant-leader as the method of leadership that we need today as much as if not more than we did in the 1970’s when Greenleaf synthesized his ideas on leadership. And I am finding that the struggles I face in my life are the result of poor leadership. It is easy for me to blame my bosses or coworkers, the politicians, or anyone else I can slap the blame on. But ultimately, as Greenleaf reminds me in his essay, the problems I face need to be dealt with by me. And becoming a servant-leader myself is where solutions will be found.
And with that I would like to share some excerpts from the last three sections of Greenleaf’s essay titled: “In Here, Not out There”, “Who is the Enemy”, and “Implications” that are helping me to remember that I am responsible for who I follow and that I need to step up and lead.
And if a flaw in the world is to be remedied, to the servant the process of change starts in here, in the servant, not out there.
Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources?
Not evil people. Not stupid people. Not apathetic people. Not the “system.” Not the protesters, the disrupters, the revolutionaries, the reactionaries.
The better society will come, if it comes with plenty of evil, stupid, apathetic people around and with an imperfect, ponderous, inertia-charged “system” as the vehicle for change. 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. Too many settle for being critics and experts. There is too much intellectual wheel spinning, too much retreating into “research”, too little preparation for and willingness to undertake the hard and high risk tasks of building better institutions in a n imperfect world, too little disposition to see “the problem” as residing in here and not out there.
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.
[…] 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, an immoral and senseless war, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation, are here because of human failures; individual failures; one man at a time, one action at a time failures.
“How do we get the right things done?” will be the watchword of the day, every day. And the context of those who bring it off will be: men (all men and women who are touched by the effort) grow taller, and become healthier, stronger, more autonomous, and more disposed to serve.
Greenleaf concludes the essay with a reminder from the writer Albert Camus to go out and “create dangerously!”