CODA: Introducing The International Journal of Servant-Leadership

Russ Volckmann

In his introduction to the first issue of The International Journal of Servant-Leadership, editor Larry Spears of Gonzaga University clearly lays out the essence of Servant Leadership and the work of those who have built upon Robert Greenleaf’s 1970 essay :The Servant as Leader.” He notes that there have been hundreds of books and artic les, over one hundred doctoral dissertations, translations of Greenleaf’’s work into a dozen languages, the formation of Greenleaf Center locations in eleven countries, numerous courses and training programs and practitioners of its principles.

Shann Ferch’s introductory essay, Servant-Leadership, A Way of Life, sets the tone of this issue that includes articles and poetry, as well as an article by Greenleaf entitled “Who is the Servant-Leader.” Featured prominently at the front of the journal is Greenleaf’s definition:

The true test of a servant-leader is this: do those around the servant-leader become wiser, freer, more autonomous, healthier, and better able themselves to become servants? And will the least privileged of society be benefited or at least not further deprived?

Ferch builds on this definition to make the case that the study and practice of leadership has an overriding purpose and hope that should inspire us all.

Greenleaf establishes a quality of hope in this work. He notes: “A fresh, critical look is being taken at the issues of power and authority, and people are beginning to learn, however, haltingly, to relate to one another is less coercive and more creatively supporting ways. 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.” And he challenges us to engage in a developmental process of serving and leading creatively and positively.

Popularity is not one of the words Greenleaf would ascribe to his approach to leadership. He is asking us to listen to a moral and ethical voice that expresses the interests and the benefits of all, minimizing the expense to those most deprived in the process. He encourages us to look to the profits—those past and those present—for guidance about what I might call in the Buddhist tradition, Right Action.

Spears’ summary of ten “characteristics” of the Servant-Leader are not surprising”

  • Listening,
  • Empathy,
  • Healing,
  • Awareness,
  • Persuasion,
  • Conceptualization,
  • Foresight,
  • Stewardship (with a bow to Peter Block),
  • Commitment to the growth of people, and
  • Building community.

While I might think of these as practices and commitments, I would not consider these to be characteristics, which implies traits.

Margaret Wheatley,in an interview in the Journal, notes “[W]hat I find in servant-leadership that I still find missing in the world is this fundamental respect for what it means to be human.” And this is what I find attractive about the servant-leadership perspective. It is a values-based approach to leadership. When I think of values-based leadership—aside from the wonderful integral challenge this phrase suggests—it is difficult not to think about spiral dynamics and its variations. Through such a lens we begin to see that values challenge values in the different aspects of the spiral. We see self-oriented values dancing with community-oriented values. Servant-leadership clearly comes down on the side of community-oriented values.

There are more than ten additional contributions to this first issue of The International Journal of Servant-Leadership by authors from several different countries in Europe, South American and the Philippines. I searched through their references for a clue to their intellectual sources beyond Greenleaf and found references to the “traditional” leadership literature plus Gardner and Goleman in the area of multiple/emotional intelligences. The only developmental psychologist referenced was William Perry. There were no references to integral authors.

This latter observation suggests that there is a wonderful potential here to show the relationship between integral and developmental approaches to understanding and developing leaders and leadership and Greenleaf’s servant-leadership. Perhaps it is the appeal to blue/green, but I found reading the material in this journal to be calling forth my longing for a better world, a place of peace and plenty for all. The idea of servant leadership is being applied. There are examples in this issue. And here is a place to come for hope.