The “Structure” of “The Servant as Leader”

Note:  This is the lead post in a series on Robert Greenleaf’s The Servant as Leader.  A seminal piece in leadership theory, this small book—a long essay, actually—started the whole field of Servant Leadership studies.  See end for a list of articles in this series.

Greenleaf-CenterWhen I speak of the “structure” of Robert Greenleaf’s The Servant as Leader, I’m speaking of the structure I see in it, the structure I use when I’m leading a discussion of it. Structure, not to mention logical structure, didn’t seem so important to Greenleaf.  ”I didn’t get the notion of the servant as leader from conscious logic,” he says early in his essay.  ”Rather it came to me as an intuitive insight.  And I do not see what is relevant from my own searching and experience in terms of a logical progression from premise to conclusion.”  Furthermore, he admits that there “may be real contradiction in the servant as leader,” and that his own “perceptual world is full of contradictions.”  The essay, therefore, proceeds in short, reflective, questioning sections, usually just two to five paragraphs long, none fully or formally developed. As a kind of outline for discussion, however, I see the essay falling very roughly into three parts.

PART ONE  focuses on the Individual.  ”Who is the Servant-Leader?” asks one of the main section headings.  Greenleaf expresses extraordinary faith in the power of the individual, so much so that as he speaks of the importance of listening for prophetic voices in the world, he says, “It is seekers…who make the prophet.”   “The faith [my italics] that sustains the choice to be a servant leader, Greenleaf says, is “psychological self-insight.”

Greenleaf-ServantLeadBookPART TWO  explores eight Qualities or Actions that both define and develop the servant leader.  These are:  1) Withdrawing, 2) Accepting, 3) Knowing (the unknowable), 4) Foreseeing (what he calls the servant leader’s “central ethic”), 5) Perceiving, 6) Persuading, 7) Acting, and 8) Conceptualizing (the servant leader’s prime talent).

PART THREE  focuses on Community, which he calls “The lost knowledge of these times.”  It is here he speaks of those who take up social change as doing so to “heal themselves” from some grief, some wound, some pain.  ”There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led, is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.”  That sharing creates community.  Writing in 1970, he says, “The signs of the times suggest that…the next 30 years will be marked as the period when the dark skinned and the deprived and the alienated of the world effectively asserted their claims to stature…” and “were not led by a privileged elite…It may be that the best that some of today’s privileged can do is to stand aside and serve by helping when asked and as instructed.”  Nearly 50 years later, we begin to see the prescience of this comment.

This series seeks to reflect on some of the most important insights of this seminal essay, beginning below with the connection between grief and social change.  This article, in part, introduces a video of a news report on one of my graduate student’s projects in the course Leadership for Social Change.


Articles in the “The Servant as Leader” series:
Grief and Social Change
Homelessness and Me
 Art, Rhythm, Intuition and Social Change
Three Central Servant Leadership Questions
The Paradox of “Leadership Lists”
Prophecy, Rhetoric, and Servant Leadership
Servant Leadership in the “Real World”?

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Homelessness and Me

I have never been close to being homeless.  I’ve worked in homeless shelters for over 30 years, though, first at Hesed House in Aurora, and now for over 15 ears coordinating my church’s homeless program at the Daybreak Shelter in Joliet, Illinois.  Why?

Daybreak Homeless Shelter in Joliet, IllinoisThere are easy answers to this question, and harder ones.  On the easy side, it’s one of the ways I’ve found to carry out Jesus’ command to serve, especially the poor, and I’ve made many friends—some of them my closest—with those who have served at Daybreak with me.  Some have served there longer than I have.  I’ve made friends with the Daybreak staff, too, and also with some of the guests, though that’s always an ironic thing. You make friends with some you see over and over, yet the fact that you see them over and over often means they’re chronically homeless.  You wish they could move on.

In his seminal pamphlet The Servant as Leader—the essay that started the whole field of Servant Leadership studies—Robert Greenleaf remarks that those who undertake social change do so to heal themselves.  I’ve written about this before in “Grief and Social Change,” an article that includes a Video about one of my graduate students, who did her project in my Leadership for Social Change class motivated by her daughter’s tragic death.  When Rick and Desiree Guzman founded Emmanuel House, our family undertook its own journey to heal itself from the loss of its youngest member, Bryan Emmanuel Guzman.  Prompted by Greenleaf and many life experiences, I think about this connection between social change, social service, and grief and pain a lot.

Greenleaf-ServantLeadBookIn his book Change the World, one of the best extensions of Greenleaf’s work, Robert Quinn asks us to consider what inner pain drives us towards or keeps us away from effective leadership and social change.  Strangely—because I’ve taught social change for 20 years—it’s been only three or four months since I realized what pain has driven me to homeless shelters for so long.  It’s been this life long pain of hardly ever feeling at home, anywhere.  It’s manifested itself in many ways, one of which has to do with my being Filipino, and I don’t mean being a minority in American culture, though that’s part of it.  I mean not feeling truly at home among my Filipino friends.  Though they respect me and welcome me, I’m in a profession very different from them, and—most of all—I no longer speak my own dialect, Ilocano, and never did speak Tagalog, what most of them speak. For many reasons, this has been a deep, isolating pain for me, a pain doubled by not feeling at all attached to my homeland.  Though I was born in the Philippines, I left when I was 11 months old and have never returned.  From the time we could understand anything, my parents always told us the Philippines was never a place you wanted to be.  When my Father’s mother died—I have no conscious memory of her, my grandmother—my Mother and Father fought over whether he would go back for his own mother’s funeral.  My Mother won. My Father didn’t go.

That’s just one aspect of my hardly ever feeling at home, and I suppose it’s prompted at this moment because I’ve just moved into a new house where I’m not feeling at home yet.  I miss the old one, and the old neighborhood, so much I feel like I’ll never feel at home here.

I’m acutely aware, however, that I’m in a home, not at all homeless, so I don’t mean to suggest that the inner pain of hardly ever feeling at home is the same thing as actually being homeless.  I just know now that I’ve always felt very deeply a small part of what the homeless must feel.  I have felt “at home” with them, have felt a kind of healing that has kept me coming to shelters over and over to make whatever difference I can.

  The distinguished homeless advocate Diane Nilan started Daybreak Shelter.  Follow the link to see the considerable amount of material on her on this site.

 This article is part of a series on Greenleaf’s The Servant as Leader.  Go to the series’ Lead Post.

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Climbing Up That Mountain

Below, a simple Video rendering of my song “Climbing Up That Mountain.”  In church they’d call it a “choral anthem.”

RedeemedI worked on my doctorate at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from 1973 to 1977, attending the adjacent University Baptist Church while I did.  There I was fortunate to come into a wonderful music program directed by Carl Beard, a program that grew even more in prominence when, in conjunction with the university, he started a student choral group, naming it Jubilate, for decades now one of the finest choirs on the East Coast.

In April 2018 Jubilate celebrates its 40th anniversary, and I’ve been told “Climbing Up That Mountain” will be on the program.  How fortunate I was to have an instrument like Jubilate—and indeed the church’s own Chancel Choir—to write for.  They were so good I could write practically anything I wanted, though that probably resulted in music a bit too “fancy.”  ”Think of a normal church choir doing these,” advised Harold Best, then chair of music at Wheaton College when we discussed revising some of my pieces.  ”They’re so good, but you could think more in terms of a choir that’s lucky if they can scrape together two tenors.”  Gary Walton, a Jubilate member and also studying English at UVa said,  ”Lucky your music’s so good…because it’s hard.”  Revisions coming soon, I’ve told others and myself for a few years now!  A recent email from Gary reads:

“What a treat it was that Robby Gough has kept up with you all these years and knew your web address.  So for the last hour I have been touring the site and learning a bit of your life since you left C-ville in the 70’s.  My father’s favorite choral anthem of all time was “Love of thy Children” [live link coming soon]. My sister had four of us—Tom and Diane Mundell, my wife Sally and I— sing “Emmaus” at her wedding. Sally transcribed the first version of “Psalm 103” while she was still in high school in C-ville and taking voice lessons with Carl.  So I have been singing along with the music on the web site tonight.”

Gary Walton is now Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Professor of English at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.   In the song/video below, Jubilate, directed by Carl Beard (with Gary Walton probably in it), features soloist Evan Young.  Robby Gough, whose dedication to Jubilate has been of inestimable value from the very beginning, served as recording engineer.

 Go to GuzMusic on this site for music, mainly by Dan Guzman—and others, like me.

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