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Boards and Servant Leadership

Writing a half-century ago, Robert Greenleaf already saw a new and more active role for board members.* In his groundbreaking book, Servant Leadership, Greenleaf had a chapter on “Trustees as Servants.” He wrote: “This chapter is an argument in support of trustees choosing to be servants.” Greenleaf felt organizations (and their boards) were underperforming: “… the best of our institutions is too far below what is reasonable and possible.… The conventional trustee role may be described as a reacting role. In such a reacting role, trustees usually do not initiate or shape the character of the institution, nor do they

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Why Maximizing Shareholder Value is Wrong

A big debate has been raging about the purpose of business for decades. Two opposing theories dominate the discussion: shareholder primacy theory and stakeholder theory. How does Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership framework fit with these models?   Shareholder Primacy Theory In 1970, Milton Friedman (a noted conservative economist at the University of Chicago) wrote an influential New York Times Magazine essay, “A Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” He argued that a company’s only responsibility is to its shareholders who “own the business.” Friedman wrote: “The stockholders or the customers or the employees could

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Unleashing Leaders in Your Organization

In his classic essay, “The Servant as Leader,” Robert Greenleaf (creator of the servant leadership framework), wrote the following: “Anyone can lead…. There is a problem of getting used to the idea of no single chief, but the passage of time will allay that.” -Robert Greenleaf  This short statement has profound implications.   Empowerment Historically, the person at the top of the organizational hierarchy was the boss whose word was virtually absolute. Over time, as management and leadership practices evolved, “empowerment” of others became a trend. “Collaboration” gained prominence. But a boss who collaborates may still be the boss, kindly

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The Paradoxes of Servant Leadership

Leadership is rife with paradoxes, seemingly self-contradictory statements that may nonetheless be true. We see this in the servant leadership framework as well as other approaches.   The Servant-as-Leader Paradox In his biography of Robert Greenleaf (originator of servant leadership), author Don Frick said: “Servant and leader are two nouns which usually describe two quite different roles. The hyphen holds them together in paradox, creating a Zen-like koan which stops the reader as he or she considers how two such dissimilar words could go together. Greenleaf was fully aware of this effect and wanted the reader to complete the meaning.

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Do I Have to Be a Servant Before I Can Lead? (On Servant Leadership)

Robert Greenleaf was clear when he created the servant leadership framework: “ … the great leader is seen as servant first.… the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader.” Servant first? Bob Vanourek first learned about servant leadership when he was in his early thirties and well after he had started his professional career. He now confesses that his goal when he got out of business school was: “I want to run something.” Let’s

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The Essential Qualities of Servant Leadership

In the years since Robert Greenleaf first published his essay, “The Servant as Leader,” many notable authors and experts have built upon his work. As expected, servant leadership in theory and practice has evolved over time as the context of leading has changed. Here we’ll summarize Greenleaf’s original ideas on servant leadership, recap what some others have added, and then add a few of our own thoughts.   Greenleaf’s Qualities of Servant Leadership In “The Servant as Leader,” Greenleaf wrote (the bold italics are ours): “The servant-leader is servant first… Putting people first… That person is sharply different from the

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Why Servant Leaders Outperform Bosses

One of the most common structures used in organizations over the ages is based on a hierarchical model of bosses and subordinates. It likely has its origin in military command-and-control units. In this model today, every person reports to someone else, except the one at the top of the hierarchy who reports to a board. The organization chart looks something like this:   Hierarchies This structure has lasted so long because it is well-known and efficient. Power and authority are vested in each of the bosses who have “subordinates” reporting to them. (The Latin roots of “subordinate” mean “placed in an

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How Robert Greenleaf Created Servant Leadership

Robert Greenleaf was the founder of the servant-leadership movement. But who was this self-effacing man? Why did Stephen R. Covey say, “… I have found Robert Greenleaf’s teachings on servant leadership to be so enormously inspiring, so uplifting, so ennobling.” With no grand title or celebrity, how did Greenleaf, a self-described introvert, create this world-wide servant-leadership movement? Peter Senge said, “For many years, I simply told people not to waste their time reading all the other managerial and leadership books. If you are really serious about the deeper territory of true leadership, I would say, read Greenleaf.” Greenleaf’s ideas were

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Who Determines If You’re a Leader?

Are you a leader if you’re a boss with people who report to you? If you’re a military officer with personnel subject to your orders? Are you a leader if a nonprofit board hires you as their Executive Director? Who determines if you’re a leader? In the late 1960s and 1970s, Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990), a long-time employee of AT&T as  their Director of Management Research, proposed some startling ideas, including the concept of “servant leadership.” Greenleaf said: “… the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader … .“ -Robert

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How Great Leaders Reward, Recognize, and Celebrate People

“There are two things people want more than sex and money—recognition and praise.” -Mary Kay Ash, founder, Mary Kay Inc. It’s not enough to recruit and develop exceptional people. Triple crown leaders—ones who build excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations—must also recognize, celebrate, and reward them effectively through their culture.   The Right Kind of Rewards Smart leaders design compensation systems to include not just “pay for performance,” but “performance with integrity,” as Ben Heineman from GE used to call it. He noted how GE anonymously surveyed all its people, asking whether the company cut ethical corners to make its numbers.

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