Archive for June, 2012

Before Robert K. Greenleaf wrote his seminal essay, The Servant as Leader, in 1969 which started the ripples, then waves of servant-leadership washing over the world he had co-founded The Center for Applied Ethics in 1964.  He was concerned that large institutions were not behaving as ethically as they could.  It seems to me, then, that he was interested in ‘moral action.’  It also seems to me that a first step, if not ‘the’ first step, toward enacting moral action lies in the ability and commitment we have to think morally.   To me, this entails the work of thinking together and together to speak from the heart of the mind while listening with love and rigor.  I am speaking of the ethics of thinking together, of, if you will, philosophical love [in his initial ‘inspired’ essay, The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf’s last sentence reads: In the end, all that matters is love and friendship.’ ].

Greenleaf wrote a great deal about the search and the seeker; I assume he also thought a great deal about both.  There are many philosophers who have helped me – and us – engage the search.  I keep coming back to Socrates.  He continues to help me search; for him the search entailed thinking together; thinking together was an act of love.  His goal was, and continues to be, to help you, me, us grow [ties directly into Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant ‘Do those served grow as persons. . .?’ – Socrates was, indeed, a servant in this sense].  For Socrates, ‘truth,’ and ‘wisdom’ were not born in the seeking for answers; truth and wisdom were born in the deepening of the questions – in the dialogue, in the search, that occurred between the teacher and the pupil and, perhaps more importantly, within the teacher and the pupil [this is directly connected to one of Greenleaf’s important admonitions – it begins ‘in here,’ inside of the servant and not ‘out there’].  Socrates often claimed to be a man who understood nothing and by his questioning of who we are he also helps us understand that we, too, know nothing.  We know opinion, we know what others offer us; we know the words between the quotation marks.  We do not know our self, we do not know what we deeply think – we are fond of quoting others as if their thought was our own.  Yet, Socrates believed that ‘our truth’ lies within us and that we have an obligation to seek for it, to emerge it, to name it and to bring it to our world.  Paradoxically, it seems, that ‘my truth’ can only be found as a result of deep searching conversations [dialogue], rooted in aching questions [questions that are ‘life-essential’ and questions about which we do not know the answers].  This, for me, is the wonder of thinking together, of searching together, of exploring together, of learning together and of tapping into my ‘wisdom,’ your ‘wisdom,’ and our ‘wisdom.’

[NOTE: If you are interested in Greenleaf please visit my blog: http://servant-as-leader.com ]


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Following is a journal entry I made in 1996:

The world seems full of bribes.  Take for example the company-take-over game which is a bribery competition for stakeholders.  Little thought or attention is paid to the people who work there; they are expendable – many are for sure.  It seems that every company is for sale if the bribe is large enough.

This must be distorting.  Boards of Directors [I do not see them as ‘trustees’ in the sense of holding in trust for the stakeholders, not simply stockholders] spend more time protecting their shares than overseeing the business.  Shareholders become traders not owners.  These folks seem to be pulled by the ‘dollar’ and they also seem to have a great deal of choice as to which ‘dollar’ to embrace.  I believe in choice – choice is crucial.

Yesterday I found myself saying the following to a student in my Business Ethics Class: Choices are easier if you have principles to guide you.  This young man looked at me and asked: ‘What principles – yours?’  I paused, then I replied:  Yours – the only ones that actually hold over time are the ones you integrate; these become your guiding principles.  He took a few deep breaths and said that many students were ‘buying’ papers for certain courses, ‘It seems everyone is doing it – and they are getting good grades.’  He paused again, tears were welling up in his eyes.  ‘Choice is great, and having principles doesn’t make choice easier.’ 

As I sit here this morning writing this entry into my journal I am thinking that ‘Yes it does, having principles does make choice easier.’  However, in order for this to be so I have to affirm my integrity, I have to affirm my principles and I have to question ‘accepted practice’ as the easy way out.  ‘Why lose out when the accepted practice seems to work so well?’  This is the tough question, the aching question that each of us who state that we have principles rooted in integrity have to embrace.

I love it when I hear that a man or woman is a person of principle; I believe that they are not slaves to accepted practice especially the accepted practices that call for them to ignore if not outright compromise their principles – and in the end, their integrity.   

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When do we experience receiving ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation’?  Do we experience it when we are taught how to think or act?  Do we experience it when we receive advice?  Do we experience it when we hear certain words – say words of hope?  Perhaps.

In my experience, when I am immersed in emotional or spiritual pain/suffering and someone simply ‘walks with me’ [or sits with me] then I experience ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation.’  Someone is, to put it simply, being present with me with an attitude of deep caring.  When I am in an emotional or spiritual crisis and the caring one says to me, ‘I don’t know what to say or what to do, but I want you to realize that I am with you; I will not leave you alone.’ 

Today we live in a time that is over-flowing with methods and techniques designed to shift, change or transform people – at minimum to influence them so they think differently which might well lead them to act differently; it appears to me that we have lost the simple and oh so difficult gift of being present to the other.  I know that I am always tempted to find the right words or the right actions with the belief that if I am able to do so that the other will be comforted and consoled.  I forget that my caring presence is far more powerful and is more likely to be experienced as comforting and consoling.  I lead with ‘doing’ rather than with ‘being.’

I know others who ask, ‘Why should I be with so and so?  I can’t do anything and I certainly don’t know what to say – what use can I be?  They, too, have forgotten that their caring presence might well bring ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation.’

Simply being with another during these dark times is extremely difficult for many of us for the empathy we experience moves us into the darkness as we feel the pain, the suffering, the hopelessness, the despair of the other.  We might well want to cry out as they do.  The paradox is that our caring to empathize and our willingness to simply be present to and with the other brings comfort and consolation – in fact, frequently hope is rekindled as little pieces of light break through the darkness that envelops the other.    

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Consider that leaders must be both ‘effective’ and ‘faithful.’  High achievement with distinction is crucial as is being faithful to our core values, to our commitment to the growth of people, to our guiding principles even in the face of great difficulty – perhaps, especially in the face of great difficulty.  What should a leader be faithful to, not matter what?

Consider that leaders need to identify, nurture and develop the next two generations of leaders [this is broader and deeper than succession planning].

Consider that effective and faithful leaders encourage contrary thinking – an important nutrient for growth and vitality.

Consider that what we ‘can do’ is a direct consequence of what we ‘can be.’  Who we are determines what we choose to enact; the consequences of what we enact reinforce and affirm who we are.  Alignment nurtures ‘harmony’ and non-alignment nurtures ‘dissonance.’  Conflict is a signal of health and/or of dis-ease; the challenge is to discern which is being lived out when conflict occurs.

Consider that leaders owe the led a certain maturity; this maturity is expressed in:

*  a sense of positive self-worth – ‘you and I are inherently valuable’

*  a sense of belonging – ‘you are welcomed here’

*  a sense of response-ability – ‘no matter what occurs we each are response-able’

*  a sense of accountability – ‘no matter what occurs we each are accountable’

*  a sense of equality – ‘each of us is a living paradox’ 

 Questions for all to consider: What is it, without which this institution would not be what it is?  If we did not exist, as an organization, would we invent ourselves?  What is our purpose. . .why do we exist?

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Consider that the final responsibility of a leader is to say ‘thank you.’

Consider that a leader’s response-ability is not to inflict pain but to endure pain; and to do so gracefully.  The concept ‘vulnerable’ is rooted in the Latin ‘vulnus’ – to carry the wound gracefully.  Leaders, by their very role, will be wounded – the most painful will be those that are unintentional.  Leaders are watched carefully by the led; the leader’s response to pain inflicted will be noted by the led.  What will the leader demonstrate – anger, rage, resentment, pay-back, etc?

Consider some signs of outstanding leadership – which appear, by the by, mainly among the led: Are we all reaching our potential?  Are we all learning?  Are we all serving others with distinction?  Are we all high achievers?  Do we all ‘change with grace’?  Do we all minimize/head-off conflict – especially conflict of values and styles?

Consider that leaders are charged with being concerned with the organization’s value system – this is the major tap root that nurtures and helps define the structure, the policies, the procedures, and the principles which motivate – or de-motivate – the each person.  These values should be broadly understood yet deeply integrated at the personal, relational and organizational levels.  Some guiding questions: What is the value system rooted in/based on?  How are values expressed?  What is the gap between the values we espouse and the values we live?  How do we ‘audit’ our value system?  How were the ‘corporate’ values determined in the first place?

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