Tag Archives: compassion

Ten Principles of Servant Leadership

*This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

The following list of principles was s developed by Robert Greenleaf.  The categories are drawn from the literature, but the descriptions are in my own words.  For a more in-depth look at the Ten Principles, please visit this website, which provides a description written by Larry Spears.

Listening – A servant leader truly listens to people, not just to understand but to address needs as they arise and are communicated.  Surprisingly, humility is not listed as one of the top characteristics of Servant Leadership, but can be included here as the close cousin to listening.  Without humility, the servant leader can never learn and certainly has no reason to listen.

Empathy – Compassionate leaders care about people they are working with, the people served by the enterprise they are leading, and the community in which their organization operates, including the larger world community.

Healing – A leader who cares about people is committed to wholeness and healing.  If she recognizes a deficiency or need in a person, she works to find ways for that person to heal and to become more complete.  This is not an annoying distraction from the organizational mission or business bottom line, but an important part of building and sustaining a team of mutually trusting partners.

Awareness – A person who has formal authority in any situation, including a workplace, group project or national organization has enormous power to make a difference.  This is why it’s key to elevate people to leadership positions who have a sophisticated awareness about many things.  Awareness of the impact of their work, the patterns of behavior on their team, and the importance of gathering information from multiple sources to ensure the best way forward.

Persuasion – Leaders who care about people do not cause harm.  They recognize that forcing others to act or to take a position is a harmful action, and thus, seek to persuade people with reasoned argument and an appeal to the mission.  They are not coercive.

Conceptualization – Like Transformational Leaders, Servant Leaders provide a compelling framework for the work they are doing in concert with others.  They take care to build concepts that appeal to the hearts and minds of people and that promote values that directly relate to the mission.

Foresight – Socially responsible leaders look ahead to potential fallout and beneficial outcomes of their actions and the actions of the enterprises they lead.  They contemplate not only the ways in which their organization might benefit from specific actions but how decisions and actions impact their people and the community around them.  In other words, they take the long view.

Stewardship – The word stewardship has become a popular piece of jargon, but the principle is profound and important.  Too many stories are coming out that tell the tale of a CEO who comes on board at the eleventh hour of a business and runs it into the ground before walking away with millions of dollars and a large workforce unemployed and destitute.  A Servant Leader comes on board to rescue the business or to work with people to find ways to close the business that can benefit the largest amount of people as possible.  She takes seriously her responsibility to steward the enterprise in a way that helps the micro-community of the business or organization and the macro-community in which the enterprise operates.

Commitment to the Growth of People –  This is a big one.  Regardless of the original mission or reason that people come together, a leader who wishes to serve the common good is first and foremost committed to growing as a person, allowing others to help her grow as a person, and helping other people to grow.  Whether coming together to record a music album, making a full-length feature film, running a public school, or building a legal case, the people with formal authority to set the tone for the community of people always have their eye on the common good as the greater, over-arching purpose.  In this category, stewardship takes on a broader meaning.  What is ultimately and always stewarded is the building of a better world because people have the chance to grow.

Building Community – All of the above principles act in concert to build a positive community.  Because of the principles of listening, awareness, persuasion, stewardship, healing, awareness and empathy, there is little room for a “cult of personality.”  Furthermore, if the conceptualization of the community’s mission is clear and includes foresight, there will be a built-in understanding of the ways in which authoritarianism and “cultishness” can be avoided.  This is partly related to a commitment to the growth of people.  People can only grow if a community isn’t all about the “leader” and if there’s room for feedback and development of the leader himself.  Ultimately, this kind of community is made up of Servant Leaders, all of whom take turns to step into the role of stewarding the community’s process at one time or another.

Taking care of one another is a principle of stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.
The overarching principle that guides a leader who serves is the commitment to use one’s influence and resources to take care of others, at whatever scale.

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need (Part II)

* This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

The world has always been in extraordinary need, and that’s not going to change.  We live on a planet with natural laws, including weather patterns, ecosystems, and the presence of a large variety of organisms all competing with one another for survival.  The common reality faced by all organisms is the inevitability of death and the desire to continue on with living until that inevitable event happens.

For individual human beings, survival includes the need to be safe, accepted, nourished and happy as defined by each individual.  A significant portion of our survival is addressed by the development of society, which includes the development of local, national and international laws and armed services which protect us, physical infrastructures that transport and house us, agricultural systems that feed us, medical services that heal us, and institutions that organize, educate and serve us.

So, we can’t get away from the fact that human beings need organizations, both small and large to take care of our world.   We are continually organizing resources, building/managing institutions which curate and distribute those resources, and placing people in leadership positions to provide direction in the management of those resources. Leadership is also needed to facilitate the ongoing development and management of abstract resources like scientific knowledge, political and economic theory, moral frameworks and religious/spiritual systems.

Like it or not, we will always need organizations, which means that we will always need leaders.

Put in the plainest possible terms, human beings are called upon to be stewards of our world, and this means we are sometimes called upon to take initiative and to step out in front of others to influence the direction of that stewardship.  In the best possible scenario, those of us who choose to step out possess the fundamental asset that best qualifies us to ask others to place their trust in us: empathy.

In optimal circumstances, people in leadership positions care about people and act in good faith to actively serve them.   But, even a cursory glance at the leadership landscape reveals to us that many leaders operate out of narcissism, ego-centric agendas, and short-term gains at the expense of others, and frequently act with a destructive, even sadistic need to triumph over people.

The world is burning, because we fail to recognize the traits of narcissistic leadership and continue to promote narcissistic leaders into positions of power throughout the entire maze of society’s institutions.  We need to learn how to spot these people before elevating them.  But, more importantly, we need to learn how to spot those we can trust to take responsible stewardship of our resources.

It’s time for us to identify the traits we should expect from  genuinely caring leaders and to promote the understanding of those traits far and wide, if we hope to adequately attend to the extraordinary needs of the world we share.

We can start by examining the characteristics and behaviors of Servant Leaders.

Leaders who are servants first, will work with others to provide stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need, (Part I)

*This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision


In early October, I was walking with a friend.  We were discussing the topic of compassion, and he said something striking.

“Compassion is not boundless.  To be effective, it needs to be channelled into a specific locality or sphere in which you have the influence to make at least a part of the world a better place.”

This quote is a good starting place for introducing the concept of Servant Leadership, because the sphere of influence and the compassionate vision of a Servant Leader is broad indeed.

The term Servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, who founded the “Center for Applied Ethics” in 1964.  After he died in 1990, the name of his organization was changed to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.  At the present time, the Servant Leadership movement representing the ideas of Robert Greenleaf is under the stewardship of Larry Spears.


What is Servant Leadership?


Greenleaf spent more than 40 years after early retirement researching management, leadership, education, and organizational culture.  Over time, he came to the conclusion that the institutions in this country -both public and private- are suffering from a “crisis in leadership.”

In the Essay that started it all, Servant as Leader, Greenleaf introduces a vision of leadership in which leaders see themselves as servants first and leaders second.  Leadership is viewed as an instrument of serving the greater good, not as an end itself, and the search for and acquisition of power or influence is always subsumed into the overarching desire to be of service.

Servant Leaders are fundamentally about people and define the stakeholders in their sphere of influence quite broadly, including colleagues, subordinates, boards of directors/trustees, clients and even the world at large.  They place the needs of their people as primary and will not sacrifice the needs of the organization they lead in the service of furthering their own careers.

Before I elaborate on the conceptual framework around Servant Leadership, I want to say a few words about the title I chose for this section.  The wording of the title was borrowed from an article by legal scholar David Yamada, the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill.  His title is “The social responsibilities of intellectuals at a time of extraordinary need.”  The article is worth a read, as are most of the articles David has written.  I do not know David personally, but at the present time, he is one of my favorite authors in the area of workplace ethics and social responsibility.


Death brings “closer to home”

This morning, I awoke with a vivid recollection of numerous moments throughout my life.  It didn’t feel like what the Buddhists call “monkey mind,” the onslaught of chaotic, rapid disconnected thoughts that cause agitation or coagulate into a rigid storyline.

It felt more like the simultaneous visitation of life moments beyond time and space.  Hard to explain.  It was more than just the visual representation of long-ago moments.  It was the presence of positive feelings associated with all of them.

I remember I used to say to myself “which one was my home?” when reflecting on all the changing relationships and situations throughout my adult life.  As I have experienced three sudden deaths in my family this year, this question often comes to the fore with a gentle intensity.  Gentle in the sense that there is no urgency to answer the question.  Intense in that this question is the primary, all-encompassing one at this time in my life.

steve:running on beach:81
Steven at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, spring of 1982

Tibetan Buddhist teacher/scholar Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche often wrote about “the genuine heart of sadness.”  He defines this sadness as an all-encompassing vulnerability, the ability to hold in one’s heart the whole spectrum of the human condition all at the same time without filters, without anger or regret, without fear, and most importantly, without romanticism.  Put another way, all of these feelings both positive and negative can be present simultaneously, and can be accepted, too, as part of that spectrum.  The idea is that when we really look at life in a truly real way, the painful, the beautiful, and the terrifying … if we can really be with that, a feeling of kinship for all things sometimes percolates and we feel a sweet kind of sadness.

That is the feeling I woke with this morning, and I would like to honor those life moments that cascaded through me as I slowly opened my eyes. I’ll just list a few of those moments without much elaboration.

The deep regret and anguish on my frail father’s eyes last October, as I spread my sister’s ashes at sea. He died unexpectedly six months later.

The feeling of “home” whenever I hear country music, which I was introduced to in the early 1980s when my mother, sisters and I sang at country & western jamborees.

The bag of rotting lobster shells filled with maggots, underneath the Route 295 bridge in the summer of 1980 in my hometown Portland, Maine.  I was 10 years old at the time and vividly and immediately recognized that death was a part of all this, and sometimes disgusting and undignified.

The taste of Dr. Pepper and Alexander the Grape candies, mixed with the smell of the Nissen Bread factory, located at the bottom of Munjoy Hill where I once lived with my sister and father.  My life in Portland, Maine was not a happy one, by any means, but there was the feeling of “home” that has never left me.

Now, that my sister and father have both died without saying “goodbye”, that feeling of “home” is a deeply private place now that nobody alive can ever really share with me.

There are many homes I’ve experienced over the years -jobs, friendships, projects and social scenes I identified with.  Now, they are all gone and their memory feels like a series of foreclosures.  There has always been an ending beyond my control, even if the ending was a positive transition to something else.

I recall that the original Guautma Buddha of 2,500 years ago equated the liberated heart with “homelessness”.  Letting go of vanishing realities and impermanent phenomena is akin to dying into all things.  Maybe this is what the genuine heart of sadness is all about.

It just might be that the recognition of my powerlessness over death is bringing me closer to home than I ever was.


The elegance and power of nonviolent talk

Good evening.

I discovered an article written by William Powell, the author of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.”

The title is “I wrote the Anarchist Cookbook in 1969.  Now I see its premise as flawed”.

Powell argues for his book to taken out of publication and urges us to understand that “violence can’t be used to prevent violence.”

But, the same principle can be applied to the words we say, too.

Equally violent -and often a direct cause of physical violence- is the growing culture of mockery and deception, and the intentional distortion of the character and positions of those we consider adversaries.

This culture seems to be everywhere: the political arena, the playground, the workplace, the local pub, the media, the internet…. everywhere.

For now, cruel talk is king, and our celebration of it continues to poison the well.

Hopefully, there will come a day when the elegance and power of nonviolence will open up to include the way we communicate with our tongues and fingertips.

The impact on progress in politics, the office, and in all communities would be nothing less than remarkable.


Personal development as primary value

An important idea suddenly struck me.

It happened just last night after a conflict-resolution process, in which I served as mediator… and only weeks after the sudden death of a person very dear to me.

Last night, at the end of one of these meetings, I came to the conclusion that the essence of a healthy community is the open commitment of its members to personal development.

Through the years, I’ve participated in a variety of communities, projects, and organizations, including public schools, rock bands, theatre productions, nonprofits, support groups, various workplace environments, and even local restaurants pubs.   From my experiences in these and many other social contexts, I have been able to observe a wide variety of outcomes.

What I can say with great certainty is this:

If personal development is not a primary value in a community, things always go badly.


A simple axiom for personal development is the willingness to think of ourselves as a work in progress.  To allow ourselves to experience the discomfort of being around someone we don’t like or don’t know.  To allow for ambiguity and the possibility that our position may not be entirely objective or even accurate.

The courage to be with discomfort and ambiguity gives us an opportunity to become more flexible, less rigid, and, thus more emotionally responsive.  This, in turn, increases our value to the community, because our flexibility makes it easier for us to respond more intuitively and more appropriately to situations that come about.

How does this work?

By keeping ourselves and those around us as an open question, we have a much better chance for accuracy in our understanding of what’s going on with us, with others, and with the situation.  And, for a community that has a specific mission, that accuracy matters.

But, it takes a certain amount of courage, because embracing discomfort and ambiguity can be painful and sometimes even scary or embarrassing.  It’s worth the effort, though, because when conflicts arise (and they always will), there is an opportunity for a community to resolve those conflicts, learn important lessons, and evolve.

Without a commitment to personal development, a community’s norms, policies, and legacy will fail.  Systems are a support, but maturity and awareness are the essential fuel. So, this is how I define personal development.

It is late at night, and I am about to get on a bus from New York City to Boston.

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