In 2009 I discovered a website called “The Guru’s Handbook”. For a good foUr years this site provided a nourishing influence for my teaching life, and I would drop in on the site from time to time to take in some of the insights on the deeper interpersonal (and perhaps transpersonal) dimensions of teaching practices.
After taking a sabbatical in 2012 to pursue creative writing and music projects, I fell out of touch with the website. When I returned to teaching full-time in 2015, I noticed with great disappointment that the original site was gone.
Though I searched for the author, Asher Bey, I could not find anything beyond 2013, even on the site’s Facebook page. I even searched for the URLs on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine but only came up with the defunct URLs for the individual blog posts -which appeared to be no longer available as actual posts.
By chance, I decided to follow a hunch and to comment with a question on the Guru Handbook Facebook page, expecting no answer, as the page had been inactive for a long time.
And I received an answer -presumably from Asher Bey. It turns out that the site had moved to a WordPress.com format, and, after spending some time with it, I can see that all of the original writings from the other site are included.
Over the years, I’ve come to see that it doesn’t matter how many people are reached. It only matters who. With this in mind, I am delighted to share the site with whomever comes across this blog post.
If even one person absorbs even the vague after-scent of the wisdom offered in these writings, so much the better for the students who come into contact with them.
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.
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.
Situational Leadership This philosophy of leadership was developed by Paul Hersey, (who wrote a book called Situational Leader), and Ken Blanchard, the author of The One Minute Manager. Simply stated, situational leadership theory proposes that no one leadership framework can work all the time in all contexts. The idea is very simple. Use whatever strategy is needed in the moment. Use whatever leadership style that is needed in a particular time frame or place.
This makes good sense to me, and it’s almost self-evident. All of the above modes of leadership have their uses, after all, depending on the variables within and surrounding an organization or project.
But, there’s a vital question in all of this. For situational leadership to be truly effective, one has to have arrived at a fulcrum of personal development, in which he or she possesses the awareness, skills and insights that can best facilitate the appropriate use of various leadership strategies.
One can take the position that personal growth, awareness and maturity don’t matter, and that leaders only need to be trained in “leadership strategies” to be successful. But, this position is very hard to defend and begs the following questions:
1. Can an internal rolodex of strategies be built up over time and expertly executed by a leader regardless of the maturity and intentions of the leader?
2. Can effective leadership be ensured by generating a list of strategies that can be studied, internalized, and accessed when the need arises in a given situation?
3. If leadership can be reduced to the acquisition of strategems, are some of the tactics and strategies on the list qualitative, involving the personal development of the leader?
The situational leadership model promotes the value of utilizing all modes, styles and frameworks of leadership, but doesn’t offer a satisfying explanation around the personal qualities that need to be developed and available for a leader to make effective use of them all.
Thus, we return once again to the personal character, worldview and development of the leader himself.