Leo’s Lesson.
(And Ken Kesey’s.)

“Hermann Hesse’s story, Journey to the East, tells of a band of men, each having his own goal, on a mythical journey to the East. With them is the servant Leo, who does their menial chores, sustains them with his spirit and his song, and, by the quality of his presence, lifts them above what they otherwise would be. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey finally is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo.”

It was this story, and there obviously is a lot more to it, that triggered Robert Greenleaf’s adventure as the prophet of “servant leadership.”

I spent a fruitful weekend, amidst Vermont’s luscious Spring, re-reading The Servant-Leader Within, by Robert Greenleaf (edited by Hamilton Beazley, Julie Beggs, and Larry Spears). I was reminded anew of the power of the idea.

Here are a few of the highlights for me, in no particular order:

*The leader is servant—and is served. That is, the effective leader helps others and learns how to receive help in her or his own journey.

*The servant leader’s Final Exam: “Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

*”True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others.”

*The servant leader’s premier trait is … LISTENING. E.g.: “a deep commitment to listening intently to others,” “seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will,” “listens receptively to what is being said (and not said!).” “Listening is much more than just keeping quiet. Listening begins with attention and the search for understanding. …”

*Ken Kesey knew! Greenleaf delightfully acknowledges that Hesse’s fiction is not the only clue to servant leadership. He also cites Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. “Big Nurse” is “strong, able, dedicated, dominating, authority ridden, manipulative, exploitive.” MacMurphy, on the other hand: “The net effect of his influence is to build people up and make both patients and the doctor in charge of the ward grow bigger, stronger, healthier.” (Greenleaf acknowledges that MacMurphy dies for his troubles—as, of course, did Gandhi and King and others. Serving with heart and soul is no walk in the park!)

Tom Peters posted this on May 17, 2010, in Leadership.
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