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Doctoral Project Abstract

The Writings of Robert K. Greenleaf: An Interpretive
Analysis and the Future of Servant Leadership

Joe Anderson
Regent University

This paper provides an interpretive analysis of over a dozen writings of Robert K. Greenleaf, the originator of the term "servant-leader," that spans a period of 25 years from 1962 to 1987. It first examines the more familiar aspects of Greenleaf's work on servant leadership and provides:

  • An overview of the highly counter-cultural philosophy of the servant-leader;
  • A brief review of the more dominate actions and activities taken by practicing servant-leaders (e.g., they: care, know their followers well, focus on followers and their needs, grow and develop followers, listen, provide vision, persuade, build strong and loving relationships with followers, empower others, build a sense of community, display humility), and
  • The identification of several critical skills needed to support servant-leaders.

Second, it reviews a number of less familiar aspects of Greenleaf's writings that help to put the servant–leader philosophy in proper context and to provide understanding of the overall context in which Greenleaf intended for it to operate. In so doing, it also examines some of the ideas that Robert Greenleaf had that extended his interests beyond just the servant-leader and into both large institutions and society.

Next it critically examines a number of areas that could be expanded or developed to improve servant-leader performance beyond what Greenleaf offered. These include the origins of the servant-leader philosophy and why this philosophy works, the destructive role of sin and self as well as the healing power of serving others. It also introduces the concepts of "upsight" as a critical futuring tool for the servant-leader and the "paradox of purpose and performance." It also provides an improved method for promulgating the servant-leader philosophy and for improving and measuring performance. 

The paper then provides the author's view of the future of the servant-leader for the 21st century and introduces a more advantageous God-centered servant leadership construct. The key advantages of this construct vis-à-vis traditional constructs are presented and discussed as follows:

  • factual and substantiated rather than speculative and theoretical
  • "why" focus of leadership rather than the prevailing "what" and "how" focus
  • ubiquitous vs. selective application
  • wisdom oriented vs. knowledge oriented
  • more stable environment vs. constantly volatile environment
  • focused on the unchangeable rather than change
  • reliance on "upsight" rather than hindsight, insight and foresight
  • guaranteed rather than questionable performance and success.

Lastly this paper calls Christian servant-leaders to abandon the politically correct and fear-based "plain glass" approach to leadership and boldly honor God by adopting a genuine "stained glass" approach to their leadership in accordance with scripture ("But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." - Hebrews 11:6). It also proclaims that the true leadership crisis today is in the family and that there is little chance to fix the leadership deficiencies in community and business institutions unless, and until, servant leadership is first exercised in the family -- the first organization that God created. In summary, it calls for those that claim to be Christian leaders to step up and be the God-centered servant-leaders that He has always intended them to be.

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