Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Different View of Leadership

            On a ride from the old AT&T headquarters in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, to the Governor Morris Inn, in Morristown about 10 miles away, I sat in the back seat next to Robert Greenleaf, retired Director of Management Research at AT&T.  Bob had retired in 1964, seventeen years before the event that brought us together in Basking Ridge, namely the 25th anniversary of the AT&T Management Progress Study.  Since I had been part of the research team since its inception, I was invited to participate in the anniversary festivities along with 14 others and was especially pleased to learn that Bob Greenleaf was joining us.  

            I remember two things about the short ride that evening:  First, I was wishing I had my copy of Bob's 1977 book, Servant Leadership, with me, so I could have asked him to autograph it. Secondly I recall a brief conversation about his notion of servant leadership as it applied to the university (Out of the group of 15 only two of us were on a university faculty at that time). 

            The best way to explain the concept is to quote from his book, Servant Leadership  (Paulist Press, 1977):

                        "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 possessions....
                        "The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served.  The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?"  (p. 13-14)

            This from an executive at the largest corporation in the world at the time he retired!  How I wish we could continue that conversation today (Bob died in 1990).  I wonder if he would agree with me that we need servant leaders today more than ever.   

            To learn more about servant leadership, visit the website of The Greenleaf Center for Servant  Leadership: 

            Are there servant leaders around today?  I would nominate several of the teachers I have already mentioned in this blog as well as some athletic coaches whose credits, when listed, are primarily the successes of their players.  

            Politics aside, can you think of others who demonstrate servant leadership - in education, business, public affairs, the church, medicine, social services, or any other field, past or present?  Please comment below and also take the survey at the top of the panel at the right.  Thanks for visiting.

                    Management Progress Study 25th Reunion Participants
                                     with Robert Greenleaf (lower left)


  1. Thank you for your kind compliment on Facebook saying that you see me as a servant leader. :-)

  2. Hi, John,
    I think "servant leadership should be a key characteric of the priest, perhaps more than anyone else. Many positions could and should illustrate this combination of qualities. But the terms "servant" is so much a gospel characteristic Jesus speaks of and most perfectly shows in his own life. It's what he basically commanded his disciples in leadership to exhibit...leaders who are servants. Such a person is not made in any way weak as some might think because of he word "servant." Jesus, the most perfect servant leader was never weak...he was strong and forthright at times as the occasion required it. Yet above all, he was the ultimate servant offering his life for others he came to serve/save. Right now our society seems so much built on a personal strength criterion for many positions. In fact, many of those who relish personal power are often weak. The fall of dictators in the Middle East seem to illustrate how so many leaders build their kingdom on a house of cards.
    Servant-leadership: beautiful sounding but not easy to live out unless one's values are truly heart-deep.
    Jim V V

  3. Kerrie, You're welcome. The proof is in the impact that you have on those you serve as Director of Northern Colorado Writers. Our success is in direct proportion to your service. Father Jim, thanks for your cogent biblical observations and for seeing the relevance of servant leadership to the priesthood. While Greenleaf's book deals more with business, government, and education, he does devote one long chapter to "Servant Leadership in Churches." He, himself, I might add, was a Quaker. Thank you both for visiting.

  4. Wow I had never heard this before. However that was always my stand point in management. I never ask my employees to do anything I wouldn't or had not done myself. Also why my people liked me and I got awards. Not bragging just saying this technique truly works and should be employed in every industry. Happy and loyal, employees makes a business thrive.