Act on it now, says the creator of “servant leadership”
By Charles Waldo
The title of this article was the title of a talk given by Robert K. Greenleaf in spring, 1967 to a group of soon-to-be sophomores at Ohio University (Athens). Subtitled “On Opportunity in the Next Three Years,” these students had applied to be part of the Ohio Fellows Program, a three year venture aimed at helping the selected students realize their potential for service in the public interest….regardless of their particular vocational track.
Although given over fifty years ago in a relatively obscure setting without fanfare, Greenleaf’s talk has been reprinted thousands of times and is still one of the best-selling publications offered by the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
Leader as Servant
Greenleaf, a native Hoosier, was born in 1904 in Terre Haute. He began college at nearby Rose Polytechnic Institute, now Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. But, wanting a liberal arts rather than a technical education, he transferred to Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduating with a math major in 1926, he immediately joined AT&T in its Minnesota “Baby Bell” division. After three years he transferred to AT&T’s Manhattan corporate headquarters where he carved out a long, distinguished career as a top-level, internal consultant in management and organization education and development. Along the way, both before and after retiring in 1964, Greenleaf was a lecturer and guest speaker at such distinguished schools as MIT, Harvard, Yale, Virginia, and many others. A life-long student of how organizations do (or don’t) get things done, Greenleaf eventually distilled his observations and conclusions into a series of essays with the common thread of the “Leader as Servant.” He formed the Center forApplied Ethics in 1964, with the name later changed to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, which it still is today.
Initially , Greenleaf was talking to 18 and 19 year olds in the tumultuous mid-1960s (Viet Nam, the draft, race riots, the Hippy revolution, the Kennedy assassinations, the Beetles’ “invasion” of the U.S., and so on), before some of the readers of this article were born.
Greenleaf was talking with the early Baby Boomers. Did they have dreams? How did they turn out? Did they defer some never getting the chance to achieve them?