The Understanding and Practice of ServantLeadership
Servant Leadership Research Roundtable – August 2005
Larry C. Spears President & CEO The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership
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 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? —Robert K. Greenleaf The mightiest of rivers are first fed by many small trickles of water, and an apt way of conveying my belief that the growing number of individuals ...view middle of the document...
This emerging approach to leadership and service is called servant-leadership. The words servant and leader are usually thought of as being opposites. When two opposites are brought together in a creative and meaningful way, a paradox emerges. And so the words servant and leader have been brought together to create the paradoxical idea of servant-leadership. The basic idea of servantleadership is both logical and intuitive. Since the time of the industrial revolution, managers have tended to view people as objects; institutions have considered workers as cogs within a machine. In the past few decades we have witnessed a shift in that long-held view. Standard practices are rapidly shifting toward the ideas put forward by Robert Greenleaf, Stephen Covey, Peter Senge, Max DePree, Margaret Wheatley, Ken Blanchard, and many others who suggest that there is a better way to lead and manage our organizations.
The Understanding and Practice of Servant-Leadership - Spears
Robert Greenleaf’s writings on the subject of servant-leadership helped to get this movement started, and his views have had a profound and growing effect on many. Robert K. Greenleaf Despite all the buzz about modern leadership techniques, no one knows better than Greenleaf what really matters. —Working Woman magazine The term servant-leadership was first coined in a 1970 essay by Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990), entitled The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf, born in Terre Haute, Indiana, spent most of his organizational life in the field of management research, development, and education at AT&T. Following a 40-year career at AT&T, Greenleaf enjoyed a second career that lasted 25 years, during which time he served as an influential consultant to a number of major institutions, including Ohio University, MIT, Ford Foundation, B.. K. Mellon Foundation, the Mead Corporation, the American Foundation for Management Research, and Lilly Endowment Inc. In 1964 Greenleaf also founded the Center for Applied Ethics, which was renamed the Robert K. Greenleaf Center in 1985 and is now headquartered in Indianapolis. As a lifelong student of how things get done in organizations, Greenleaf distilled his observations in a series of essays and books on the theme of “The Servant as Leader”—the objective of which was to stimulate thought and action for building a better, more caring society. The Servant as Leader Idea The idea of the servant as leader came partly out of Greenleaf’s half century of experience in working to shape large institutions. However, the event that crystallized Greenleaf’s thinking came in the 1960s, when he read Hermann Hesse’s short novel Journey to the East—an account of a mythical journey by a group of people on a spiritual quest. After reading this story, Greenleaf concluded that the central meaning of it was that the great leader is first...