Since 1970, more than a half-million copies of his books and essays have been sold worldwide. Greenleaf ’s servant-leadership writings have left a deep and lasting legacy for leaders, educators, and many others who are concerned with serving and leading. Servant-leadership emphasizes increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision-making. Characteristics of the Servant-Leader In 1992, I conducted a careful analysis of Greenleaf ’s original writings, from which I extracted ten characteristics of the servant- leader that Greenleaf viewed as being of critical importance in the development of servant-leaders.
Servant-leadership has influenced many noted writers, thinkers, and leaders. Max De Pree, former chairperson of the Herman Miller Company and author of Leadership Is an Art and Leadership Jazz has said, “The servanthood of leadership needs to be felt, understood, believed, and practiced.” In addition, Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, has said that he tells people not to bother reading any other book about leadership until they first read Robert Greenleaf ’s book, Servant-Leadership, believing it to be the most singular and useful statement on leadership he’s seen. The Institution as Servant Today, servant-leadership crosses all bound- aries and is utilized by people working with for-profit businesses, nonprofit corporations, churches, universities, healthcare organiza- tions, and foundations. Servant-leadership emphasizes the power of persuasion and seeking consensus over the old top-down form of leadership. Some people have likened this to turning the hierarchical pyramid up- side down. In 1972, Greenleaf published a second es- say titled “The Institution as Servant.” Since then, many individuals within institutions have adopted servant-leadership as a guid- ing philosophy, and an increasing number of companies have adopted servant-leadership as a key part of their corporate philosophy. Among these are The Toro Company, Syno- vus Financial Corporation, ServiceMaster Company, The Men’s Wearhouse, South- west Airlines, Starbucks, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and TDIndustries. TDlndustries (TD), one of the earliest prac- titioners of servant-leadership in the corpo- rate setting, is a Dallas-based heating and plumbing contracting firm that has consis- tently appeared in Fortune magazine’s listing of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. TD’s founder, Jack Lowe, Sr., came upon “The Servant as Leader” in the early 1970s and began to distribute copies of it to his employees. They were invited to read the essay and then to gather in small groups to discuss its meaning. The belief that organi- zational leaders should serve their employees (called TD partners) became an important value for TDlndustries. Forty-five years later, TDIndustries continues to embrace servant- leadership as a guiding belief.
Trustees as Servants Athirdmajorapplicationofservant-leadership is its pivotal role as the philosophical and ethical basis for trustee education. Greenleaf wrote extensively on servant-leadership as it applies to the roles of boards of directors and trustees within nonprofit institutions. In his 1974 essay, “Trustees as Servants,” Greenleaf urged trustees to ask themselves two central questions: Servant-leadership suggests that boards of trustees need to undergo a radical shift in how they approach their roles. Trustees who seek to act as servant-leaders can help to create institutions of great depth and quality. The seeds that Robert Greenleaf planted have begun to sprout inside many institutions and in the hearts of those who long to improve the human condition. His legacy of servant- leadership is profound. Servant-leadership truly offers hope and guidance for a new era in human development, and for the creation of better, more caring, institutions. I leave you with this closing thought from Robert Greenleaf: “The work exists for the person as much as the person exists for the work.” Larry C. Spears is an editor and contributing author to 25 books on servant-leadership including Insights on Leadership , The Spirit of Servant-Leadership , and Conversations on Servant-Leadership . Larry served as President and CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center. Since 2008, he has served as President and CEO of The Spears Center for Servant-Leadership, and as Servant-Leadership Scholar at Gonzaga University (Spokane) where he teaches graduate courses in servant-leadership, and is Senior Advisory Editor of The International Journal of Servant-Leadership . LSpears@spearscenter.org www.spearscenter.org Adapted from Conversations on Servant-Leadership (SUNY Press, 2015). Whom do you serve? For what purpose?
1. Listening 2. Empathy 3. Healing
4. Awareness 5. Persuasion 6. Conceptualization 7. Foresight 8. Stewardship 9. Commitment to the growth of people 10. Building community
While these characteristics of servant- leadership are by no means exhaustive, I believe that they serve to communicate the power and promise that this concept offers to those who are open to its invitation and challenge. In addition, each of these characteristics is one that we can learn to improve within ourselves, through practice and study, in order to improve our effectiveness as servant-leaders. The Servant as Leader Servant-leadership operates at both the per- sonal and institutional level. For individuals, it offers a means to personal growth—spiri- tually, professionally, emotionally, and intel- lectually. It has ties to the ideas of M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled), Parker Palmer (The Active Life), and others who have written on expanding human potential. A particular strength of servant-leadership is that it encourages everyone to seek opportu- nities to both serve and lead others, thereby setting up the potential for raising the quality of life throughout society.