from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A different approach to leadership 

crossposted from dailykos

The Servant-Leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. 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 is: 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?

The words above were written by the late Robert Greenleaf, in a short work entitled The servant as leader. In this diary I will attempt to introduce you to his work and explain why I think it is especially relevant on a political blog.

Back in my doctoral studies in education (never completed) I took a course in leadership. I had never heard of Greenleaf, but was required to read his Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. (in which the short work above appears as the first chapter). As I read other writers whose work was required in this course, people like Max DePree (Leadership is an Art, Leadership Jazz) I found additional illustrations of ways of leading that did not match the hierarchical model so often found in institutions, whether they were political, military, religious, commercial or even non-profit.

Both writers are firm on their belief that leadership is not something done by metrics, by scientific approaches, because that means imposing from above standards that might not be applicable to the situations and the people at hand. As I read these authors, I found myself being very much challenged in my thinking, and as I examine my copies I see extensive underlining and marginalia, as I discuss and even argue with the ideas with which they confront me.

Greenleaf rose to high positions at AT&T. His written work on leadership did not begin to get published until he was in his mid 60s. He lectured on leadership at a number of major universities, including MIT, Dartmouth and Harvard Business School. He was inspired to model of servant leadership by reading Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East, in which the ‘servant’ Leo - who while he is present all goes smoothly but when he leaves the journey falls apart - a man who did the menial tasks for others so that they could more fully function, turned out to be the titular head of a religious order that had sponsored the journey.

I remember that when I had first read the Hesse, many years ago, I had been reminded of one of the most important appellations applied to the Pope, once very much exemplified by John XXIII - “the servant of the servants of Christ.” There is in that title a sense of the humility of leadership.

In the chapter on The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf offered three examples, John Woolman, Thomas Jefferson, and Nikolai Grundtvig. Most readers will only know our third President, upon whom Greenleaf focuses for his ability to do one thing at a time, as he puts it. He notes Jefferson’s good fortune in having come under the mentorship of George Wythe, and having developed a fascination in how law worked. He also notes that Jefferson turned down the opportunity to take a leadership role in the Revolutionary War, but instead returned to Virginia, where he
got himself elected to the Virginia legislature, and proceeded to write new statutes embodying the new principles of law for the new nation. He set out, against the determined opposition of his conservative colleagues, to get these enacted into law. It was an uphill fight. . . . He wrote 150 statutes in that period and got 50 of them enacted into law, the most notable being the separation of church and state. For many years Virginia legislators were digging into the remaining one hundred as new urgent problems made their consideration advisable. (p. 31)

When I saw Greenleaf’s references to Woolman, I immediately wondered if he himself had been Quaker (he was), because few outside the Society of Friends know the influence this single Quaker had. As a young man he decided that for Quakers to own slaves was morally wrong. He decided to convince the Society that ownership of other human beings was contrary to its principles. He spent 30 years of his relatively short life (dying in England at age 52) traveling around and quietly challenging Friends along the Eastern seaboard. Because of Quaker activity in abolition movements and the Underground Railroad during the 19th century, many Americans do not realize how many Quakers had owned slaves, even been instrumental in the slave trade. And yet by 1770, almost 100 years before the outbreak of the Civil War, no American Quakers owned slaves, such ownership having officially been denounced by the Religious Society of Friends and forbidding its members such ownership. Greenleaf offers a follow-on thought:
One wonders what would have been the result if there had been fifty John Woolmans, or even five, traveling the length and breadth of the Colonies in the eighteenth century persuading people one on one with gentle non-judgmental argument that a wrong should be righted by individual voluntary action. Perhaps we would not have had the war with six hundred thousand casualties and the impoverishment of the South, and with the resultant vexing social problem that is at fever heat one hundred years later and with no end in sight. (p. 30)

Grundtvig is known as the Father of the Danish Folk High Schools. Himself a theologian, poet, and student of history and not an educator, Grundtvig embarked on this path to help transition Denmark, a nation at the beginning of the 19th century that was transitioning from a feudal and absolute monarchy, with the peasants almost wholly dependent upon the landowners, was undergoing agricultural reform lead by elites, for the sake of the peasants but in a sense not including them. Grundtvig encouraged institutions to offer intensive but short residence schools so that young adults could learn the history, mythology and poetry of the Danish people. Denmark lost both a chunk of its territory to Prussia in 1864 and its export market for corn as a result of the agricultural abundance of the Western hemisphere. Let me offer two paragraphs (from pp 33-34) which concludes Greenleaf’s examination of Grundtvig:
Peasant initiative, growing out the spiritual dynamic generated by the Folk High Schools, recovered the nation from both of these shocks by transforming its exportable surplus from corn to “butter and bacon,” by rebuilding the national spirit and by nourishing the Danish tradition in the territory lost to Germany during the long years until it was returned after World War I.
All of this, a truly remarkable social, political, and economic transformation, stemmed from one man;s conceptual leadership. Grundtvig himself did not found or operate a Folk High School, although he lectured widely in them. What he gave was his love for the peasants, his long, articulate dedication - some if through very barren years - and his passionately communicated faith in the worth of these people and their strength to raise themselves - if only their spirit could be aroused. It is a great story of the supremacy of the spirit.

One can see some of the influence of Greenleaf in the introduction to the chapter “What IS Leadership” in DePree’s Leadership is an Art
The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leaders. (p. 11)

In the introduction, DePree acknowledges the dependence of his thinking upon other people, especially those employees who worked for him at Herman Miller, Inc. He tells us that some lessons of leadership are transferrable from one kind of organization to another, and then reminds us on p. 2
Leadership is an art, something to be learned over time, not simply by reading books. Leadership is more tribal than scientific, more a weaving of relationships than an amassing of information, and, in that sense, I don’t know how to pin it down in every detail.

DePree acknowledges that he is writing in a corporate context, where participative democracy means one gets to express but not to vote on the decisions. Yet still several of his insights are transferrable to other contexts. Consider, for example, this from page 15:
Leaders owe a covenant for the corporation or institution, which is, after all, a group of people. Leaders owe the organization a new reference point for what caring, purposeful, committed people can be in the institutional setting. Notice I did not say what people can do - what we can do is merely a consequence of what we can be.

Or consider this, from page 120:
Finally, I think there is value in considering thoughts from other leaders, leaders not necessarily in the same area as one’s own. Mahatma Gandhi one wrote that there were seven sins in the world: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; politics without principle. Performance considered in light of those seven sins would be a well-reviewed performance indeed.

For many reading this, this evening is a holy and important time, one perhaps of worship, of gathering in family. For others they may have just completed a cycle of renewal in a festival of lights. Some, perhaps like me, are grateful for a period of days which offer a break in a too intensive pattern of work. Thus offering philosophical ideas about different approaches to leadership may seem off-putting. If so, perhaps you can return to these ideas at a time more appropriate for you. I believe that for the sake of the future of our nation we do need to rethink our ideas on leadership, and the two authors to which I refer are but some of the alternative models of leadership we might want to consider.

Dailykos is dedicated to the election of Democrats. We have had some success almost 7 weeks ago. Our next cycle is still almost 11 months off for those of us with significant state contests. Some will already begin to be consumed with the primary processes for national leadership. Still, I think it somewhat beneficial to think about leadership. What models of leadership will the Democrats now in Congress provide to one another, and to the nation? What can we expect of newly elected governors? And what expectations should we apply as we evaluate those that seek positions of leadership in the future? Certainly those who aspire to and achieve leadership positions will have ambition, for without that motivator it is hard to imagine undertaking the grueling course of campaigning. And we can expect that most will have some vision of what they hope to accomplish, otherwise why bother? After all, most are gifted enough to make far more money with much less effort in other endeavors. I would hope that at least one part of the mindset is a desire to truly serve, to find ways of empowering the people they represent. That is why I have taken the time to offer this reflection.

Enjoy the season.
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