The Servant-Leader as Inclusive Human-Centered Leader

I read an article today and it spoke about the seven components of human-centered leadership which align quite nicely with the concept of the Serving Leader. I was excited to see what key components might be included in the list so I read on (while sipping my morning coffee).

Adam Pacifico, Cheryl Stokes argue that a human-centered culture values individuality, creates a sense of belonging, and builds deep purpose and engagement. More than this, the human-centered leader embodies the following seven key characteristics; (as taken directly from the article).

  • Inclusivity. Overcoming the need for interpersonal comfort to drive organizational change and strive instead to capture diversity of thought. More and more executives now are courageously and proactively seeking opinions that are diametrically opposed to their own so that they may unlearn and learn simultaneously. 
  • Personal purpose. Having a strong, values-driven “north star” in an ever- and increasingly changing landscape. 
  • Vigilance. The ability to remain abundantly alert and deeply curious to detect, sense, make and act on the earliest signs of both threat and opportunity. For many the term ‘ambidextrous leadership,” may be common as leaders strive to both exploit and explore on a daily basis.
  • Curiosity. The desire to challenge the status quo, explore, discover, and learn on at least three levels; self, others, and the world, in line with the work of Stefaan Van Hooydonk.
  • Humility. Self-awareness and the ability to appreciate the strengths and contribution of others whilst being open to ideas and feedback on own performance.
  • Empathy Vicarious introspection to put yourself in the shoes of another whilst being aware of ethical fading when empathy is taken to extremes.
  • Presence. The manifestation and combination of charisma, confidence, decisiveness, gravitas and congruence. At times silence is enough.

I love the list and what seems to resonate with me most today is Presence. Today, I practice presence through quiet contemplation of this list and my own human-centered approach as a Serving-Leader. I invite you to do the same. If you want to read the article in its entirety, you can find it here. Happy Wednesday, friends.

To the Human-Centered Leadership,

Dr. Crystal

A Fixed Point In A Spinning World: Transforming Injustice Through Humility

I have been working with ULEAD, Inc. for several years now. My service began over several conversations with Ritch Hochstetler, Chief Ideation Trailblazer of ULEAD, Inc., who has 30 years of innovating and delivering training experiences to youth and youth workers. During our initial virtual coffee meetings, we discussed servant leadership, the importance of bringing team-based experiences to youth and youth workers, race and race relations, and other important philosophical conversations around the human condition. We traded life stories and lived experiences. I liked him right off the bat.

After several conversations, (one of which happened at The Greenleaf Servant Leadership Conference 2017 with one of the ULEAD, Inc. staff persons, Ben Rheinheimer), I was invited to the ULEAD Board of Directors, and I happily accepted. My service has been one of the most enlightening around servant leadership to date.

Ritch posted a blog post, and I asked permission to post it. This was my response to him in an email;

“Good Morning Ritch;

I hope that this email finds you well. First, I want to say again how much I appreciate having known you and to serve with ULEAD, Inc. Our deep and rich conversations have always left me wanting more, and our sharing of experiences and life stories has genuinely been a blessing in my life.

I have a profound respect for you and this blog post. Your authenticity and transparency show up, and I believe this should be shared on every available platform available to us. This piece will bless the world and touch the hearts of people who are open to the idea of humility. I find that you exemplify humility and the openness to keep learning, and to act on what we see can be changed in the world. I love the humility book. This is how I know great minds think alike; I wrote a chapter on it in my book, Bloom Where You Are Planted.

Thank you, Ritch, for this beautiful piece of awareness and a call to action. I feel so blessed to serve ULEAD and to be called your friend. Many Blessings, Crystal”

So that you don’t have to leave this post, I have posted the blog in full length. To learn more about ULEAD, Inc., please click here.

A Fixed Point In A Spinning World: Transforming Injustice Through Humility

Recent events have ripped off the scab of decades of injustice to reveal the gaping wound still festering and bleeding from individual and systemic racism in America.  No matter who’s side you’re on, or your political leaning, to deny the reality of the impact of oppressive and dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors has become in itself an act of violence.

How do we, as people and as a society, respond?  When inaction and denial become untenable, people rise up.  We’ve seen; demonstrations, looting, finger-pointing, cries for reform, violence begetting violence, and calls for peace-making.  In approaching all issues, context matters.  My context is that of an older white male who has made the commitment to live and lead from the framework of servant leadership. First, let me be clear: Being white, male, and someone who has had the privilege of serving in a leadership role for years has put me squarely in a place of privilege.  Second, my servant leadership beliefs and values cannot be used to justify a belief that I have arrived at an evolved attitude or a practice of equity in relationships.

The reality is, I am a part of the problem.  In this admission, I am saying that talking about valuing all people, without a plan of action that impacts my behavior, leaves me in the position of silently condoning the problem rather than being a generative participant in the revolution needed to effect real change. Racism has been and continues to be, a deadly mindset that leads to the breaking of people, families, institutions, and our very nation. 

So, what am I going to do?  Options include; feeling guilty, getting angry, becoming overwhelmed, striking out in overzealous ways to fix things, or (you name it!)  What if there is a starting point…a place to orient myself toward others who are also seeking a new path of redemption, equity, and inclusion?

Today I am suggesting that there is a “fixed point in a spinning world.”  Every human being approaching this issue needs to come to terms with their context and what it is calling them to do. For me, that fixed point in my context as a white male leader is humility.   

The word humility has been around for a very long time, and yet it’s meaning is often misunderstood.    It is derived from the Latin word humilis, meaning “low.” In ancient Greek, it literally means “not rising far from the ground.” The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of humility as a noun is the feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others. This meaning is picked up and expanded upon in the lyrics of an ancient song recorded in the Bible in the book of Philippians; “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself…”  Here Jesus’ attitude is being held up as a word picture for what the attitude for humility looks like. This attitude is one of seeing and believing that every human being is a person worthy of being respected and valued and that no matter what status I have inherited or attained, I am willfully emptying myself of prideful elevation of self. 

It’s in a further reading of the lyrics of this ancient song that the meaning of humility, or the ripple effects thereof, are expanded upon.  The lyrics go like this; “And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”  This next step on the journey toward humility ties the outcome of a humble attitude, being humble action or behavior, even if/when that action leads to personal loss. This is a revolutionary idea, that if adopted, could upset the power balance and change the world as we know it.

Humility is a very personal thing based on values, beliefs, and one’s worldview.  No one can make you into a humble person, and if you try to act humble without an authentic change of heart, people’s B.S. detectors will all sound in unison.  The question is, can humility be learned?  In the book, Start With Humility: Lessons from America’s Quiet CEOs on How To Build Trust and Inspire Followers, authors Merwyn Hayes and Michael Comer, the answer is “yes!”  Maybe there still is hope for an older white man like me?

Hayes and Comer start by offering defining characteristics of humility, including;  humanness, vulnerability, and the ability to keep one’s perspective.  Humility is not weakness, the absence of ego, or lack of assertiveness.  They go on to lay out a practical process for growing humility as a person.  The formula goes like this:

Human Authenticity + Humble Behaviors = Trust/Respect

How does this relate to personal and systemic racism?  First, for me as a white man, human authenticity can and must be based on a commitment to empty myself of any and all feelings of superiority – to see myself on ground level, embracing the humanness of others with respect and dignity, no matter the differences.  I know I do not have the self-awareness needed to do this on my own.  I need Black and Brown and all Minority brothers and sisters to speak truth and tell me what they see, feel, hear, and experience.

On a systemic level, humility requires practices that lead to humble habits and behaviors.  These include but are not limited to; admitting mistakes, acknowledging where the system is broken (even if I struggle with the false belief that I’m not responsible for breaking it,) admitting my ignorance for all that I don’t know or can never fully understand, and striving to be empathic at every stage of the journey.  As it turns out, these are practices I can commit to grow habits and attitudes that connect my heart to behaviors that have the potential to effect lasting change.

In Jesus’ response in the ancient song recorded in Philippians, we see that humility was very costly.  I believe this same is true for me, and for us today.  The world around us is spinning out of control on an axis of racism and violence.  Humility is a fixed point. Change starts one person at a time.  Change starts with the transformation of one human heart.  Change starts with me.  Will you join me?

To Do or Not to Do? This is the Question.

I have been following Tim Ferris for some time now, and I appreciate his 5-Bullet Friday emails. This past Friday’s email was, as usual, excellent. I clicked on several links to read more (as I normally do), and the article titled Via Negativa: Adding to Your Life By Subtracting resonated with me. Like many of us who are struggling with our “new normal,” approaching life from the negative makes sense. Brett and Kate McKay invite us to instead of concentrating on what we do, to turn the focus on what we don’t do. This path has two main thrusts: stripping bad habits and situations out of your life and avoiding bad habits/situations in the first place.

This idea comes at an appropriate time. Working from home, helping my teenage son stay interested in school via Zoom, cooking more than usual (eating more than usual), staying up way too late, and feeling a range of emotions each day is beginning to take a toll. Going out to our local lake and walking helps a lot. I will do it again this Sunday afternoon.

What are you doing to keep your head on straight? May I invite you to be proud of what you are NOT doing? Check out the article and know that you are doing just fine by deciding not to eat that second bag of chips.

To NOT doing,

Dr. Crystal

Servant Leadership and Transparency

I have been interested in the ideas of building trust and organizational transparency before and since I wrote my third book, Bloom Where You Are Planted: Reflections on Servant Leadership and as it were, I came across an infographic that speaks the language of Servant Leadership. The folks over at Track Your Truck GPS Fleet Tracking ( ) understand organizational culture, transparency, and building trust from a Servant Leadership mindset.

Track Your Truck’s infographic is in alignment with Chapter 11 of my book in where I write about high trust organization. You can view it here. Here is a recap:

Organizations that experience high trust possesses the following behaviors:

High-Trust Organizations

  • Information is shared openly
  • Mistakes are tolerated and encouraged as a way of learning
  • The culture is innovative and creative
  • People are loyal to those who are absent
  • People talk straight and confront real issues
  • There are real communication and authentic collaboration
  • People share credit abundantly
  • There are few “meetings after meetings”
  • Transparency is a practical value
  • People are candid and authentic
  • There is a high degree of accountability

I suspect that Track Your Truck is also experiencing the dividends that organizations experience when they hold a degree of high transparency that I wrote about. Here they are;

The Seven High-Trust Organizational Dividends

  • Value
  • Accelerated growth
  • Enhanced innovation
  • Improved collaboration
  • Stronger partnering
  • Better execution
  • Heightened loyalty

Moreover, as I browsed their website, I was quite impressed with their level of attention to customer service and the fact that you can speak to a “live” person! We can hardly call a company today (and surely not the bigger ones) and get to speak to a human being! The five keys to transparency with customers are on point and truly matter in today’s business world.

We both agree that transparency is key to the trust of the organization. Building one’s brand requires that servant-leaders apply these three behaviors to external stakeholders, that is, customers, suppliers, distributors, investors, and communities. There are three concepts to consider;

  • Talk straight

Treat customers as if they are educated adults.

  • Create transparency

Create a dynamic self-regulating economy where customers feel the transparency of your organization.

  • Listen first

Genuine listening is one of the truest forms of competitive advantage. Create customer panels. Conduct formal market research, make personal calls to customers, and create loyalty programs. Your customers feel good when they are heard.

Track Your Truck understands that the same concepts that apply at the level of Market Trust also applies to Self-Trust, Relationship Trust, and Organizational Trust.

At the end of the day, whatever trust we can create in our organization and the marketplace, is ONLY the result of the credibility and trust we create in and for ourselves.

If I ever need the types of services Track Your Truck offers, I would reach out to them first! You can see their infographic again here. Please visit their website to learn more at


Servant Leadership and Forgiveness


Announcement: I apologize for missing chapter eleven of the book that we were using as a guide in our last series. I went back and blogged about it. And now we are complete. Look forward to our new series using the book, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret J. Wheatley. Happy Saturday, friends!

“On the horizon of this landscape, a landscape that is personal and spiritual as it is political and global, we see ourselves free of what binds us, and we walk in such a way that others are drawn forward so that they too, may be free.”

~Shann Ferch, Author of Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity: Servant Leadership as a Way of Life

Servant-Leadership, Forgiveness, and Social Justice by Shann R. Ferch represent chapter eleven of the book we are using as a guide, Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.

Servant Leaders understand the concept of forgiveness and with each new day work towards the consciousness of forgiveness of one’s own shortcomings and the shortcomings of others so that they may see the heart of people in everyday living. Forgiveness is paramount to the Servant-leader as it improves relationships of all kinds and types and brings out the best in people.

The on-going expansiveness and unfolding of a servant-leader are that they desire to honor all of the relationships that they are involved with and see those relationships as sacred. I certainly appreciate how the author combines the construct of forgiveness with servant leadership and social justice.

I believe Dr. Ferch hit the nail on the head when he argued that the more traditional ways of leading fail to take into account people’s emotional and spiritual wellbeing. BAM! These types of leaders fail to consider their own emotional and spiritual wellbeing much less anyone else’s and this type of atmosphere (culture) is a breeding ground for the elitist mentality. In the end, these leaders, however well meaning, end up leading from a different energy than from the heart of a serving leader.

This is where Servant Leadership can help. Organizationally speaking, Ferch puts it this way, “The idea of servant-leadership…can be seen in movements that have brought dead organizations back to life, and reconciliation and healing to nations deeply wounded by human atrocities.”

Other noted scholars in Servant Leadership acknowledge that as a part of this sacredness, just as Greenleaf did, listening is paramount to the Serving Leader. Listening aligns behavior and cognition with everyday activities and is most effective when connecting with others, and involves a give-and-take relationship. Through the act of listening, and providing feedback, relationships develop and mature, creating more servant leaders.

Kouzes and Posner found that empathy is critical to effective leadership; along with listening, empathy, and trust, servant leaders make organizations functional and influence others within the organization. Greenleaf claimed servant leaders have an unqualified acceptance and a tolerance of imperfection. Empathy allows the followers to expand consciousness and recognize their acceptance for who they are. Taken together, listening, empathy and trust allow servant leaders to facilitate relationships and demonstrate attributes such as trust, integrity, accountability, and authentic concern for people.

Empathy, listening, and meaningful dialogue is critical for Servant Leaders developing a higher, more evolved consciousness that seeks to heal one’s self and others so that the Servant leader is better and by extension, the organization in which these Servant Leaders work.

What can be found as a result of empathy, listening, and meaningful dialogue is reconciliation, as Ferch says, “…the deeper restoration that is the result of a disciplined and unflinching look at the wrongs we do to one another.”

Ferch is so right when he argues that Servant leaders can invigorate organizations through a culture of acceptance, empathy, and relational justice. More than that, when this energy is present, forgiveness is a part of the cultural landscape of the organization where it can be asked for and granted, and the Servant Leader models such behavior.

Phew! Powerful stuff, right?

At the end of the day, if we, as Servant Leaders, can incorporate these ideas into our thinking and heart space, we can create and sustain the joy for ourselves and others. Moreover, most certainly, we can create this in our organizations (where we spend so much of our daily lives) so that we work with joy, calling to a higher purpose, and personal meaning. In this way, we all are free.

To Forgiveness,

Dr. Crystal

Servant Leadership: 2016 Year in Review


Lead a More Daring Life” ~David Berry

It has been an amazing year for my learning blog, Lead.From.Within. The three-year journey has been chocked full of amazing learning experiences, networking opportunities and the chance to teach and write about Servant Leadership. This year, my message has spanned across 69 countries, the top five including the United States, Brazil, Canada, Philippines, and Russia! That is 31 more countries than last year! I am truly grateful for the opportunity to share in this journey with you.

In bringing 2016 to an end, I want to share seven contemplation questions that Cynthia James challenged us to sit with and to journal the answers for the new year. However, first let’s take a quick glance back at what we have learned and the tools we have gained for our Servant Leadership tool box in 2016;

2 Books

  1. A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World by Daniel Goleman.
  2. Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence


The themes from a force 4 good book included the key concepts below. For the fuller explanation, click here.

1.      Free the Mind and Heart

2.      Embody Compassion

3.      Educate the Heart

4.      Oppose Injustice

5.      Choose Humane Economics

6.      Help Those in Need

7.      Heal the Earth

8.      Connect Across Divides

The themes from the Practicing Servant Leadership book were varied including servant leadership and boards of directors, servant leadership and organizations, and the use of positive language as Servant Leaders.


Four bloggers/teachers that have challenged me to greater depths of service and spirituality are David Berry, Marcel Schwantes, Cynthia James, and Rosetta Thurman. If you have a chance, you should check them out in 2017.

Cynthia James, a poet, novelist, and independent scholar recently posted a challenge for us on Facebook. She presented seven contemplation questions for us to consider for our lives in 2017. When you have a chance, take some time to get quiet and jot your answers down. She says that if we get quiet and listen for 30 days (at least 10 minutes a day), we shall see amazing results in our lives! Here they are;

1.      What is the highest vision for my life?

2.      What must be released to fulfill this vision?

3.      What makes my heart sing?

4.      Where can I be of service that makes a difference?

5.      Who are the people that inspire me and why? How am I like those people?

6.      Where are the places I made a difference this year?

7.      If there were no obstacles. What would I be doing?

In the coming year, I will continue to ask myself the following questions (last year’s contemplation questions) and I challenge you to do the same to stay present with Servant Leadership and its message;

  1. How can I serve?
  2. How can you serve?
  3. How can we serve together?
  4.  Under what context am I serving?
  5. What do I want the end result of my service to look like?

I thank each of you wholeheartedly for your support of my blog! I am indeed in a debt of gratitude to you. I look forward to 2017 with great joy and anticipation for our work together. All is well. We are complete. And so it is. Namaste.

Something extraordinary is waiting for you.”

To Our Journey,

Dr. Crystal

Servant Leadership: The Movement


ANNOUNCEMENT: Happy Holidays to Everyone! I have been away for a while working on a servant leadership book as the series editor for a volume on servant leadership from the follower perspective. Look for our book on Servant Leadership with 12 fabulous authors/contributors later in 2017! As we close 2016, please know that I am grateful for each of you that follow along and journey together as Servant Leaders. Be Blessed! See you in 2017…

Despite current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes when networks of relationships form among people who share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage and commitment that lead to broad-based change.” ~Margaret Wheatley

The Servant-Leader: From Hero to Host by Margaret J. Wheatley represents the last chapter, chapter twelve of the book we are using as a guide, Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.

Margaret Wheatley, author of the book, Leadership, and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World sums up the servant leadership experience in her interview with Larry Spears and John Noble of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in the last chapter of the book. I believe her words and hope sustains and drives the Servant leadership movement forward. We will use her book for our blog series in 2017. Here are her closing remarks.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” That phrase comes from a wonderful gospel song. This is the time for which we have been preparing, and so there is a deep sense of call. Servant-leadership is not just an interesting idea but something fundamental and vital for the world, something the world truly does need. The concept of servant-leadership must move from an interesting idea in the public imagination toward the realization that this is the only way we can go forward. I personally experience that sense of right-timelessness to this body of work called servant-leadership. I feel that for more and more of us we need to realize that it will take even more courage to move forward, but that the necessity of moving forward is clear. It moves from being a body of work to being a movement – literally a movement – how we are going to move in this world. I think that will require more acts of courage, more clarity, more saying this has to change now. I am hoping that it will change now.”

Servant Leaders understand that leadership is a journey and that Servant leadership is a movement whose time has come. We are here to live, learn, and lead with a heart of service. I wish you the very best for your Servant Leadership journey in 2017!

To the Movement,

Dr. Crystal

4 Premises of Theology Concerning Servant-Led Institutions


Towards a Theology of Institutions by David Specht and Richard Broholm represents chapter nine of the book we are using as a guide, Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.

I think it is befitting that after the presidential debate that took place last night, that this chapter speaks about this particular moment in time being both a terribly auspicious and an incredibly exciting moment to be exploring Servant-Leadership and Robert Greenleaf’s call for a theology of institutions. While there are innumerable opportunities for leadership to fail, some failures are particularly grievous, for, in each instance, they appear to reflect a fundamental lack of clarity on the part of those in leadership about what and whom they were holding in trust.

Today, we are facing a level of dispiritedness and lack of confidence in the commitment and capacity of public institutions, private institutions, and leaders that are unmatched. At the same time, is it also an exciting and provocative time to explore the lively intersectionality of the human spirit, sacred tradition, leadership, and institutional life.

Robert Greenleaf realized in the 1970’s, the necessity of existing institutions recognizing and adopting servant-leadership as a way of life and leading. We are in desperate need to understand and adopt servant-leadership in our institutions, both socially and politically in today’s atmosphere.

To that end, Specht and Broholm offer four theological premises for those who would hold organizations in trust. Let’s recap each.

Premise #1: Institutions Are a Part of God’s Order

Decent humanity and basic human respect are inextricably tied to and not separate from its social and political institutions.

Premise #2: God Loves Institutions

All faith and spiritual traditions understand that God’s love is universal but also the true essence of God’s intimate concern for each of us as individuals. Servant Leaders understand that rooting ourselves in the premise that God loves institutions (even in their mess) is an essential basis for the compassionate regard for organizations and institutions that enable us to hold them in trust.

Premise #3: Institutions are Living Systems

The affirmative belief that institutions are whole and living systems allows us to see first that institutions are alive and that institutions are systems. As such, they are wholly and completely interdependent on the evolving world around them, both impacting and affecting everything around them. The authors put it this way, “A fundamental mindfulness discipline of healthy organizations and institutions is maintaining a consistent awareness of these two dimensions of the institution’s utter interdependence with the world around it: both its fundamental dependence upon the world and the inevitable intended and unintended consequences of its decisions and actions upon that same world.”

Premise #4: Institutions are Called and Gifted, They are Fallen, and They are Capable of Being Redeemed

These premises hold three important theological assertions concerning the nature of institutions that stand in their own right and are interdependent on one another. As called and gifted institutions, they are called here for a reason. They are intended to represent instruments of God’s healing and reconciliation and to serve the common good, and good things are expected of them. Institutions are fallen and prone to inflating themselves, displaying disrespect and forgetfulness for its membership, and act in ways that neglect of harm the common good. In this way, institutions are capable of both great good and immeasurable harm.

Fundamentally speaking, holding an institution in trust, particularly around its brokenness, and in recognition of the realities mentioned above- that it is gifted and called, that it is fallen and that it is capable of being reawakened to its absolute best and evolved consciousness for the good of its people. Each of these premises can coexist simultaneously as possibilities within the life of institutions, each presenting in great measure, at any given moment in the life of an organization.

To human decency and respect for one another,

Dr. Crystal


6 Positive Phrases Servant-Leaders use when Listening


“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” ~Simon Sinek

Since there was so much good information in chapter eight, Servant-Leadership Characteristics in Organizational Life by Don DeGraaf, Colin Tilley, and Larry Neal, I decided to blog again on this chapter from the book we are using as a guide,Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.

Of the ten core competencies of Servant-Leadership, the foundational competency is listening. Not just listening, but authentic listening. That’s why is it the first core competency because it serves as the vehicle through which the other competencies can be nurtured. Servant-Leaders understand that great leaders are good communicators who can speak eloquently and more efficiently, but they are excellent and empathetic listeners.

One way that Servant-Leaders can develop listening skills is to practice reflective listening. Reflective listening includes three components;

  • Nonverbal clues: Learning to be aware of nonverbal communication in yourself and others
  • Understanding the content: Understanding the speaker’s main ideas and checking them out
  • Understanding feelings: Listening for and being aware of the feelings a person may have when communicating

And if you are like me, you’ve had to learn that remarks like, “I see” or “Oh, really,” or “You did?” are noncommittal responses and is not considered reflective or empathetic listening! Door-openers are responses that engage the person speaking and makes you an active listener. For example, below are some door-opening phrases that are either positive phrases or killer phrases. See if you have ever said any of the phrases.

Positive Phrases                                                                                 Killer Phrases

Keep talking, you’re on track.                                             The problem with that idea…

Keep going.                                                                                It’s not a bad idea, but…

I’m glad you brought that up.                                             You haven’t considered…

How can we build on that?                                                   We’ve tried that before.

That’s an interesting idea.                                                   You don’t understand the problem.

Let’s try it.                                                                                Has anyone else ever tried it?

Servant-Leaders understand that when we actively listen and use the positive phrases rather than the negative ones, we confirm for the listener that we hear and feel what they are saying. And don’t we all want to be heard and understood?

My son participated in an assignment this week whereby he brought the REAL BABY home. It was a part of his home economics class, the Real Baby Simulation Experience. It was fun. And he was tired. I got the chance to actively listen to him as he was frustrated at certain points of the experience where the baby was fussy. I stayed the course with him and listened quietly.

I offered him suggestions and coached him through it. He told me he could handle the baby through the night. And he did. He never came to get me. The next morning, he was so proud of himself. He did it! And I am proud of him too! He was actively listening for the baby’s cry and immediately began figuring out what the baby’s needs were. He was attentive and caring.

I always thought he was a loving child. And even as a teenager (and the teenager-ish attitude at times), his compassion, and authentic love showed through in his care and concern for the Baby. What a great experience for him…..and for me too!

To Authentic Listening,

Dr. Crystal

The 8 Pitfalls of Organizations and Emerging Servant Leaders


“All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimeter of chance that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time. The difference between the average man and a warrior is that the warrior is aware of this, and one of his tasks is to be alert, deliberately waiting so that when his cubic centimeter pops out he has the necessary speed, the prowess, to pick it up.” ~ Carlos Cataneda

Servant-Leadership Characteristics in Organizational Life by Don DeGraaf, Colin Tilley, and Larry Neal represents chapter eight of the book we are using as a guide, Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.

These authors provided an overview of the ten (10) core competencies of Servant-Leadership (Larry Spears created), but in this context, they used them in tandem with organizational life. I wrote about the ten core competencies a while back (here).  Rather than go back through them, I would like to touch on the core competencies that resonated with me today, and with another book, I am reading right now, Synchronicity: The Inner Path to Leadership by Joseph Jaworski. That core competency is awareness. But before I do, we should understand why awareness is so critical. Warren Bennis, Tom Cronin, and Harlan Cleveland suggested eight propositions for American leaders as to what blocks our ability to embrace awareness more fully:

  • The trouble with American leaders is their lack of self-knowledge.
  • The trouble with American leaders is their lack of appreciation for the nature of leadership itself.
  • The trouble with American leaders is their focus on concepts that separate (communities, nations, disciplines, fields, methods, etc.), rather than concepts that express our interconnectedness.
  • The trouble with American leaders is their ignorance of the world and of the U.S. interdependence – their lack of world-mindedness.
  • The trouble with American leaders is their inattention to values – forgetting to ask “Why?” and “What for?”
  • The trouble with American leaders is that they do not know how to make changes, to analyze “social architecture” [Warren Bennis’s term], and to create a team to make something different happen.
  • The trouble with American leaders is an insufficient appreciation of the relevance of stakeholders; of the implications of pluralism; and of the fact that nobody is in charge, and therefore each leader is partly in charge of the situation as a whole.
  • The trouble with American leaders is that they are not sufficiently aware of the context, or the external environment, or whatever it is they are responsible for doing.

Wow. These guys really pulled us on the carpet and told us about ourselves. I have seen and continue to learn myself as a Servant-Leader concerning the criticisms listed above.

Servant-Leaders understand that the core competency, awareness, is most critical to the development of the inner life of a Servant-Leader and the impact it has on organizational life. That cliché, “Some men go through a forest and see no firewood,” is so true in the ever-changing life of an unaware organization. That lack of awareness is dangerous to the 21st-century organization.

The need for managers to be critically aware of their customers, their staff, and their organization is well researched. But, as Servant-Leaders know, that additional step is to develop self-awareness. Self-awareness is about realizing life while living it, in every moment. As Jaworski says in his book, “it is a fundamental shift of mind.”

And the shift is a challenge. Heck, we are ALL so busy. It’s easier to live superficially than to live deeply. With all the programs we have to develop, people to see, places to go, and things to do, it’s a no wonder we can’t get off of the hamster wheel for a moment of self-reflection!

As a part of awareness, self-reflection allows us to renew the passion that attracted us to our organizations in the first place. It’s necessary to get that “fire back in our belly” so that we can access, reflect, and be honest with ourselves if we want to sustain our passion in the workplace and our personal lives.

I know that I am speaking to the choir right now. As Servant-Leaders we know all of this stuff. But, it is our responsibility to help others. To help other organizations. To help other Boards of Directors. And boy, do I have the perfect opportunity in front of me.

Have you ever been to a meeting where the energy is dead? I mean you can hear the crickets chirping and feel the lack of passion. This group that I am a new member of should engage in self-reflection, and be honest about where they are. Otherwise, I am afraid of what their destiny will be. What our destiny will be. They have long lost their passion and the way forward.

I leave with you a passage on the passion that the authors spoke about and know that if this group (and others) can get the passion back, they can survive and thrive as market leaders.

“When servant-leaders can demonstrate their passion for many of the core values of their organization, they reaffirm their organization’s commitment to the growth of the people and to building social capital within their communities. As a result, we must continue to develop our “inner fire within ourselves,” which allows us to continue to deliver programs and services at a high level over the long term, as well as encouraging a passion for services within our staff to meet the needs of the customers.”

To Re-Igniting the Fire Within,

Dr. Crystal