Servant Leadership: Principles
“Robert K. Greenleaf: Concepts and Characteristics” (SL#22 )
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1.1 - Exploring the Journey

It was a principle for Greenleaf that the church of all organizations should practice servant leadership for the sake of individuals, congregations, and other institutions of society. This article assumes that his high expectation of the church is on target and worthy to be reviewed for all of us to consider. From Greenleaf’s primary publication, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (RG--Robert Greenleaf), this article reports selected concepts and characteristics of his understanding of “servant as leader.” It is focused on his view of the church and servant leadership. The thoughts are drawn directly, even if abbreviated, from this major work. Hopefully, these selections may not only be a reading experience, but a working application to your service and leadership.

  1. The Servant Thesis--Servant First
    A new moral principle is emerging which holds that 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. . . . They will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants (RG,p.10). The servant leader is servant first . . . the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first (RG,p.13).
    The best test is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit or, at least, not be further deprived? (RG,pp.13-14)

    Glossary: “authority” (Zondervan’s Bible Dictionary)
    The legal and/or moral right to exercise power, or power that is rightly possessed. In the Bible God is presented as the ultimate, personal authority and the source of all authority (Dan 4:34-35; cf. 2:21; 7:13-14; Rom 13:1). God gave authority to Israel’s kings, priests, and prophets, and to the written Word of God (Ps 119). . . Authority (exousia) and power (dynamis) are related but different (see Luke 4:36).

  2. Painting the Dream in the Church
  3. The Power of Communication--Listening
  4. Withdrawal--Finding One’s Optimum
  5. Acceptance and Empathy--Way to Greatness
    Acceptance is receiving what is offered, with approbation, satisfaction . . . and empathy is the imaginative projection of one’s own consciousness into another being. The opposite of both is to reject, to refuse to hear or receive--to throw out . . . great leaders include little people (RG,pp.20-21).

    Glossary: “empathy” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)
    The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

  6. Intuition, Foresight, Faith
  7. Conceptualizing and Creative Response
  8. Who is the enemy of Servant Leadership?
  9. Growing Edge Church (from RG,pp.80-81)
  10. Church, as a Model Institution
    From the chapter on “Servant Leadership in Churches,” Greenleaf gives his use of the word institution: An institution is a gathering of persons who have accepted a common purpose, and a common discipline to guide the pursuit of that purpose, to the end that each involved person reaches higher fulfillment as a person, through serving and being served by the common venture (RG,p.237). His strategy for building a model institution:

Read and re-read this article along with the previous one (SL#21), with a couple of exercises in mind: First, what immediate leadership functions will I shape by these concepts, if any? Second, make an outline of a few selected Greenleaf concepts; print a copy and discuss them with a fellow minister or lay leader.

© 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership

“Servant-Leadership Training and Discipline in Authentic Community”
By M. Scott Peck (author of The Road Less Traveled)
Chapter 7 of Reflections on Leadership, edited by Larry C. Spears
(Abstracted by Lloyd Elder from pp. 87-98)

M. Scott Peck, a creative contributor to the literature of Servant Leadership, and his wife, Lily, have for years worked with the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE). This abstract reporting key findings, concepts, and practices of Peck and this group, applies the powerful impact of servant leadership to authentic group life, which could be a congregation.

Using computer technology as a favorite analogy, Peck asks us to consider six points about installing servant leadership as software for the operation of an authentic community; summarized only from pp. 88-90:

  1. There is a technology for training servant leaders, just as for community building, peace-making, and decision-making.
  2. This technology is analogous to software that teaches computer hardware how to operate.
  3. There is nothing magical about technology. Just so, there are rules in the complicated business of servant leadership.
  4. Technology works--if you can get a group to work the technology.
  5. . . . the technology of servant-leadership training can be learned only by doing, and can be sustained only by practice.
  6. There is currently enormous resistance worldwide to learning and practicing [servant-leadership] technology. The resistance is greatest in the United States.

Abstract Reflection and Application
Peck’s chapter continues with insights and practices worthy of your study from the book being cited. How much do you agree with Peck’s “technology analogy”? How would you revise or enlarge his basic concept? If there is such a technology, what are some things you are doing to “install this software” (servant leadership) on the “hardware” of your life and leadership?

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