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


11 Tips for Servant-Led Collaborations

“When an organization knows its Spirit, it can lead itself from within…Organizations need a strong sense and conscience, a strong awareness of self, Who are we? What are we trying to do?”

~ Margaret Wheatley, Author of Leadership and the New Science

Anatomy of a Collaboration: An Act of Servant-Leadership by Wendell J. Walls represents chapter seven 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.

Wendell J. Walls provides us with a fascinating story of how two organizations come together to host a joint conference (summer of 1999), and how they would forge this perfect union, a partnership, between the two of them; the Greenleaf Centers for Servant Leadership and the Community Leadership organization.

As the old saying goes, “It’s all about timing” and as it were, at the time of writing this blog and reading this fascinating story, a board of directors that I sit on is in its initial conversation with another organization (of like-minded souls) to merge conferences in 2017. Coincidence, you say? Nope.

Everything ALWAYS works together for what you need at the exact and perfect time. I am printing this article to take to the next board meeting.

So Walls takes us through the journey; how both organizations moved to Indianapolis, how the two CEO’s got together (Walls and Larry Spears) and really connected with their organization’s work and future, both professionally and personally, and one day during a conversation Spears and Walls was having at a pub on the north side of Indianapolis, Spear says, “What do you think about doing a joint conference?” to which Walls replied, “Sounds like a good idea to me.” And so was born the idea, really a new consciousness of collaboration, between the two organizations.

That’s how it happens.

Collaboration is born out of two people or two organizations (or several organizations) who have the same consciousness of Servant-Leadership. Both sides (or all sides) come together and realize it all about service. Walls said about the collaboration, “It is my belief that this collaboration reflected a consummate act of servant-leadership by the two organizations via their staff and the board leadership.” This example provides us, and me in a perfect way, with a model for effective institutional collaboration.

What I really thought was dead on in Wall’s article is that he talked about how, in the midst of planning the focus was on if the two organizations came together because of a finance issue or even if the collaboration was about a merger or take-over. Funny, how the energy of fear always races in first….

But because Walls and Spears and their organizations are both servant-minded in nature, there existed a spirt of collegiality right from the start. And this my friends, will always take an idea or a thought to the next level. Walls goes on to say how several positive ways of operating assisted the collaboration along the way; meaningful communicating, putting the hard stuff in writing early, accepting differences and similarities, navigating crisis together, and facilitation as an equal part of collaboration.

Walls talks about the synchronicity of it all and how successful the conference was. He mentioned the book by Joe Jaworski (I ordered this morning on Amazon) called Synchronicity. And I believe just like Walls does that the entire collaboration was meant to be, because that’s what synchronicity is about, “when things come together in an almost unbelievable way in our lives; high energy, coherence, a deep sense, of satisfaction, distributed leadership, and highly significant results.” Wow.

I am so excited that this article would *fall in my lap* just as the exact time that I would need it. I am inspired by the possibility that lies in front of me; to be a part of a collaboration that will, in the end, serve and heal the two organizations themselves and to be a beneficial presence to the people the two organizations serve.

Walls gives us 11 tips when considering collaboration. I’ll type this up separately to present to the board. Here is a re-cap of each.

  • Builds relationships at every opportunity. These relationships can be the gateway to future collaborative projects.
  • Allow the time and space for ideas to come forth. This could be quiet times or Aha moments. Ideas always come as a result of great communication and listening.
  • Collaborate just because it’s the right thing to do. There’s no need to wait for a problem to occur which then we believe a collaboration will solve.
  • There will be risks. Take them. No risk, no reward.
  • People fear loss, not change. Realizing this early on helps to ease the feelings of loss.
  • Frequent face-to-face meetings are a must. Emails, phone calls, and texts alone will not get it.
  • Put all of the firm stuff in writing immediately, Then, let the collaboration form organically as you move along.
  • Differences are a great path of creativity, discovery, and change. Spend time understanding differences between one another (or between organizations).
  • There’s nothing better than a crisis to seal a strong collaboration. Don’t fear it. Embrace it.
  • For the health of the group, engage in facilitation. If there is no independent facilitator, then facilitate for one another.
  • If in doubt, charge ahead. It will be worth the effort.

I wrote a blog post about a year and a half ago on collaboration. It was my most-viewed post in the history of my journey to share my message of Servant-Leadership (2,656 views). That was a clear indication for me that people and organizations realize the important of collaboration.

I like that Walls spoke on Stephen Covey’s 4 roles of leadership. Covey talked about them at the conference. He said that the leader must be a model of credibility, diligence, and the spirit of servant-leadership first and foremost, the leadership role is about pathfinding; wherein a vision is discerned, the alignment of values between organization must be institutionalized, and the fourth role (which is the fruit of the first three) is to empower the people.

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of many community-based and organizationally-based collaboration projects where we empowered the people around an idea. It’s hard work. Collaboration is about building relationships. They are about stepping into the unknown together and making dreams come true. They are about manifesting something into being. They are about leaning into and recognizing synchronicity when it happens. And when it all comes together, oh how sweet it is…

To Collaboration,

Dr. Crystal


4 Values of Servant-Led Organizations


There is nothing wrong with creating greater shareholder value or making a profit in your company… …However, there is something wrong when a Fortune 500 company doesn’t consider that its primary mission should be to exist for the sake of others, and not just for the sake of others in their exclusive shareholder family, but for the sake of making this world to the least and the last a better place.”

— Dr. Tony Baron, The Art of Servant Leadership

On the Right Side of History by John C Bogle represents chapter six 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.

In this chapter, Bogle provides us with a captivating overview of the Vanguard Group, a mutual fund organization that has, since its inception, used the principles and philosophy of Servant-Leadership to make it a leader in the mutual fund industry. Bogle argues that Vanguard’s principles of creating a corporate environment that encourages its staff to do the right things in the right way have placed them on the right side of history.

It’s fascinating to read the story of the Vanguard Group and how they have surpassed their competitors in the industry by fostering a single focus on serving their fund’s shareholders. creating and maintaining an attitude towards low costs, and utilizing conservative investment strategies and concepts. Operating under the Servant-Leadership philosophy, the Vanguard Group enjoys assets topping 400 billion, cash flow at 50 billion, and switching to a no-load distribution in 1977, making the Vanguard Group that segment’s largest unit.

How do they do it?

Bogle takes ideas from Greenleaf’s essay, Building a Model Institution that provided the wisdom and vision for what has manifested at the Vanguard Group. Here is a re-cap of each.

Distinguished Serving Institutions

Employees who accept the challenge of discipline to operate in a higher consciousness are lifted to a nobler stature and are more effective. They are likely to achieve greater with less discipline in the workplace.

An Understanding of Leadership and Followership

Everyone in any institution is part leader and part follower. It follows that those employees that are natural servant leaders are the ones that should be empowered to lead.

Organizational Structure

Organizations that place an importance on organizational structure and culture understand how power and authority are handled. In this way, a discipline towards helping employees accomplish their goals for themselves and others make for a successful organizational structure. The Vanguard Group places the most power and authority with the fund shareholders rather than the managers. In essence, the collective power rests in the hands of those Vanguard serves.

The Need for Trustees

The Vanguard Group understands the need for trustees. That is those persons in whom ultimate trust is placed. These persons are objective, unattached persons that stand apart from the organization offering a detachment commitment that insiders.

Not only are the above-mentioned characteristic vital to the success of the Vanguard Group, but so is foresight and caring. Foresight is crucial to leaders to navigate the unknown. Foresight is about operating with a sense of purpose and objective, moving toward and embracing the unknown and harnessing the talent to manage the process for reaching new goals. Finally, the third is to have people who care about the organization.

Bogle puts it this way, “the institution must be the object of intense human care and cultivation. Even when it errs and stumbles, it must be cared for, and the burden must be borne by all who work for it, all who own it, and all who are served by it, all who govern it.”

At the end of the day, “the Vanguard way” is about creating extra value for its investors and indeed, their peers recognize this value advantage. Others in the industry didn’t pay attention until 10 years after the Vanguard Group’s success was noticed. And, they are being copied, but not with much enthusiasm.


Servant-Leadership is on the right side of evolving corporate history and the policies and procedures, that is, the consciousness that Vanguard adopted a quarter-century ago makes them a valuable Servant-Led institution today. To learn more about the Vanguard Group, click here.


To Servant-Led Organizations,

Dr. Crystal


10 Core Competencies of Servant Leadership and Philanthropic Institutions


You cannot buy engagement, and you will pay for disengagement.”

Adele du Rand, Professional speaker

Servant-Leadership and Philanthropic Institutions by John C. Burkhardt and Larry C. Spears represent chapter five 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.

In this chapter, Burkhardt and Spears discuss the ever growing and evolving field of philanthropy including the ever changing society in which these institutions seek to serve. Robert Greenleaf had some ideas about the roles of service and leadership within philanthropic institutions and he believed, as I do, that service and leadership and interdependent, symbiotic and connected.

They mention the characteristics of servant leadership; Listening, empathy, healing, persuasion, awareness, foresight, conceptualization, commitment to the growth of the people, stewardship, and building community with regard to and in alignment with philanthropic institutions. Here is a re-cap of each.


Philanthropic institutions must show the way forward and listen not only to themselves but to listen, and even amplify the voices of those they serve that go unheard.


Foundations and other grants-making organizations must be ever careful that within their role of judging grant proposals (most times way more than they can fund) that they don’t lose sight of the people who have a need and to maintain this empathetic connection between the people who have the influence and the people who are being served.


Healing in this context refers to the healing of one’s self first. Greenleaf challenged us to heal internally from the isms in the world (racism, sexism, etc.) and to provide access to opportunity, promote and engage in peace, and to build community. He said these efforts cannot happen if we have not addressed them both internally and externally. Indeed, philanthropic institutions have the responsibility in the ongoing press of reconciliation.


Foundations must rely on leadership that works by influencing people through moral power and not through coercion and positional authority.


Philanthropic institutions must rely more on the awareness of perception to a greater level than ever before. Greenleaf spoke about the leaders as the seeker and in the grants-making world, awareness is a more evolved way to work (and judge grant proposal) rather than to just rely on objectivity, detachment, and expert knowledge. Awareness is at the next level of consciousness than these.


For philanthropic institutions, foresight is the most important servant leadership characteristic to possess for just as the original donor employed foresight in leaving an endowment and/or money for the future of service, the institution must commit to resources now, not thinking about the present day but using foresight considering the future of its work and service.


Conceptualization is about grant-making institutions making meaning of its work and service to society. In this context vision and conceptualization are seen as a process in which the leaders and followers arrive at the decision together. Conceptualization should be seen as the way for the institution and not merely a skill of the leader.

Commitment to the Growth of the People

As philanthropic institutions shift their consciousness from seeing its philanthropic investments as commitments to the people, rather than the problem, they will perceive their work in a different way, a new conceptualization. And Greenleaf called this new way of seeing it as a “high calling.”


The role of philanthropies is to, as Peter Block said, “hold something in trust for another.” What this means is that wealthy individuals gave their wealth to trusted organizations to act responsibly in serving and healing the world. Stewardship must directly impact the decisions that institutions make as stewards of endowments. In other words, keep the original vision of the endowment while operating in today’s context of need, all for the people.

Building Community

Philanthropic institutions must work together in purpose and as clear vehicles of internal cohesion if they are to be of service. Greenleaf says it plainly, “Am I connected?” Modern philanthropic institutions must live and work in a holistic and integrated way so that that remain, “On the growing edge of the contemporary phase of history but still connected to the main body of people and events. This is what community building is all about, staying connected to the people.


At the end of the day, philanthropic institutions and organizations have the greatest challenge as they serve and heal the world. Their challenge is to set the intention (create a vision) for their communities that go far beyond their approach, creating access for people, and contact. It’s all about engagement. Burkhardt and Spears put it this way, “The sense of community envisioned by Greenleaf does not tolerate much self-interest, nor does it provide much in the way of shelter from real relationships, with real people in real situations.


To Engagement,

Dr. Crystal


3 Questions to Consider as a Servant Leader

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 “Any time people want to focus on my work, servant-leadership, or other values as a way to get better results it’s critical to start from the right place. You sincerely have to start with what you yourself are wanting to become, the being and becoming of you.”      ~James Autry

Love and Work by James Autry represents chapter four 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.

In this chapter, we get a glimpse into James Autry’s perspective on Servant Leadership, love, and work through an interview he had with then president and CEO of The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership Larry Spears and John Noble, the then director of the Greenleaf Centre-United Kingdom.

After 28 years in the management field, Autry provides us with real insight into what he’s learned about what makes a servant leader and what makes a great workplace. The interview included many questions. I chose three that resonated with me and hopefully they will resonate with you. Here is a re-cap of each.

What are the markers in your life, the people, and events that have helped shape your thinking?

Autry believes that everything is connected and interrelated. That is every experience, and every relationship is connected and they all point in the same direction. He said that he learned later in his business career that the most effective managers were those who were thought of as the weakest by higher management. He says he tried to manage from the old hierarchal attitudes and it just didn’t work for him.

The beginning of his transformation happened when he heard a speech by Bob Burnett, the CEO of the Meredith Corporation. Burnett claimed that “the most important thing is love,” and this statement forever changed Autry’s perspective of leadership in the corporate world. Indeed, he had never heard of managers and CEOs using the word lovein the business world. So, Autry let go of his old ways of managing and over time saw improvement. Autry argues that when he shifted his consciousness and started supporting people and building community within the workplace, the company went from 160 million in revenues to 500 million!

What does servant-leadership mean to you?

Autry doesn’t hardly ever use the term servant leadership but rather he pairs it with terms like being useful and being a resource. He believes that a leader’s responsibility is to provide the resources necessary for the team to accomplish their objectives and he understands that the principal resource of the people is you, the leader. The leader must serve the people. He says there are 5 precepts that he lives by; project authenticity and vulnerability, be present, be accepting, and see your role as being useful, as being the servant.


If every CEO, manager, and employees saw themselves as caring and serving to one another, the corporate world would be different and the profit we so want to make would show up bottom line. Every.Single.Time.

What is your sense of how a leader gets better at developing a servant’s heart, and how to view oneself as a servant to others?

This is the most powerful question asked. Autry’s response was, “To me, the road to servanthood has to be almost by definition, a road away from ego. We could shift this over to Buddhism and say path of heart– the path of heart, the move to a servant’s heart is a move away from ego. I think it has to be done in the context of one’s own spiritual development, spiritual growth, and by reading other spiritual disciplines, and picking people you think are spiritual heroes, those who emulate how you would like to be and following these models, letting them be mentors.”

One such person for me, one that I see as a mentor, although I have never met him, is David Berry. I am not exactly sure when I started reading David’s blog, but his message instantly struck me as real and authentic, caring and compassionate, spiritual and in-depth. He’s a great writer and his message is substantive. You never leave his blog post without a call to action for your own life.  Whether that is in your personal life or your professional life as a leader, David always inspires and encourages us to greater and better heights within ourselves. I think he is a servant leader.

His blog this week, The Story of Self perfectly aligns with our discussion here. You should read it and think about your own values, strengths, limitations, and purpose. And then write them down. I did. It’s empowering. Servant Leaders understand that this self-work is critical and worth every ounce of effort.

To Love and Work,

Dr. Crystal


6 Qualities of a Board Chair as Servant Leader


“The chair is the servant-leader of the board. The board is servant-leader of the ownership. The chair is, therefore, servant-leader of the servant-leaders.”

~John Carver

The Unique Double Servant-Leadership Role of the Board Chairperson by John Carver is chapter three 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. Last week, we discussed the role of the members of a board of directors. Since this chapter was chocked full of good information, I will discuss the end of the chapter today.

Carver argues that a common mistake of boards of directors today is that it looks to the CEO to tell it what to do. Ask any board today where its last agenda for the meeting came from and you will find that it is generally the CEO or Executive Director.

I served as the executive director of a nonprofit community-based organization a few years ago, and I will tell you that I managed the board of directors. I had written and won several grants for the organization (that it was building from ground zero) and I helped to recruit the board of directors. Although well-meaning people, they had no idea of how to create or run a board of directors. I found that I was creating and reporting to the board!

That experience reminds me of the Geico commercial where the elderly ladies are sitting in the front room and one of the ladies is showing the other two her Facebook timeline which she had created on her front room wall. One of the ladies said, “That’s not how any of this works!”

At any rate, there should be a distinction between the line of CEO and board chairperson. Most board chairs will not like what Carver says because he says that the board chairperson is staff (The board chairperson is staff to the board, (that is to staff the management) to the board, while the CEO is line. The board chairperson is staff to the board just as the finance officer is staff to the CEO. The board chairperson role, as important as it is, can have no real authority over line personnel- which includes the CEO and the other employees of the organization.

The chairperson’s obligation and authority can only derive from a group decision and group expectations. I discussed this “one voice” approach last week. Remember this does not imply unanimous votes. What is implies is that without a group mindset, the board lacks the discipline and until the board exercises group decision-making power, it has absolutely no authority over anyone.

Carver believes that this type of discipline for a board is difficult to achieve given the current consciousness of how boards operate. And so the vacuum is filled with uncoordinated individual actions- or worse, the board settles into the “indolent” comfort of letting someone else just tell them what to do. Sometimes that person is the board chair, but most often that person is the CEO. Boy, do I remember that! It’s just the way we’ve always done it.

A powerful thought from John Carver is this, “Governance can only have the needed integrity when boards, not their CEO’s assume responsibility for governance.” He says it would be a breath of fresh air if board meetings truly became the board’s meetings, not the CEO’s meetings for the board.

Wow, he stepped on some toes with that statement!

Carver quotes a greeting card that sums up a chair’s responsibility, “A friend is someone who learns the words of your song, then sings them back to you when you forget.” In this way, the board chair can be encouraging, inspiring, challenging, enlightening, and even cajoling – all within the servant leadership consciousness that call for this kind of tough-love leadership. This kind of tough-love leadership doesn’t let the board members off the hook, though. Group responsibility is tricky and something we are not used to as boards. As boards, we must have the discipline for the group responsibility for governance.

The deal is that there is an irony in that the group charges and empowers one of its own to help it be true to itself and its self-defined responsibility. Your experience and mine on the board makes a huge difference in board effectiveness, right? The tone of interpersonal exchange, the board’s relationship to staff, and the board’s relationship to ownership.

The irony is this: the more the board embrace’s group responsibility and expresses this through a coherent governance model, the less it matters who the board chair is. It’s like that quote from Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

So, how does a board chair garner the discipline to guide a board to group responsibility? What are the core characteristics of a board chairperson who can carry out such responsibility? I am glad you asked! Carver provides us with 6. And they all align with servant leadership. I’ll give a re-cap of each below.

Personal Integrity

The board chairperson must deal – in a straightforward manner – with the trustee relationships and commitments from a place of authenticity. This means no playing favorites and engaging in games. The board chair’s behavior is guided by principles and not politics.

Ability to Leave the CEO Alone

A board chair must have no need to interfere with the CEO’s responsibility. While a chair’s intervention between the board and its CEO can ease the board member’s anxiety in the short term can inevitably damage the proper board-CEO relationship.

Intelligence and Conceptual Flexibility

Board members must have the ability to think conceptually. At this level of leadership, the ability to deal with concepts, constructs, and principles is critical to the success of a servant leader who serves as a board chairperson.

Mindfulness of Group Process

A board chairperson must not live and operate naively unaware of interpersonal and political realities. Rather, a good candidate should be comfortable with group processes and should have the ability to capitalize on the group’s skills and talents. More than that, a board chair should operate in a calm and cool manner when the group process goes awry. Especially when you will be blamed for it.

A Disposition of Servanthood

A good chairperson is a servant leader who never forgets on whose behalf he or she works and by whose grace he or she exercises authority. This is the most important characteristics. Personally speaking. A board chair works for the people!

Ability to Confront and Lead

A board chair must be able to lead with authority and confront the board members and group with their own or its behavior. A good candidate must be able to say, “We committed ourselves to X yet we at this moment are doing Y. We must either stop or change our commitment. Which shall it be?”

Servant Leaders who serve as board chairpersons understand that these characteristics are ones that allow the leader to modestly in command. This is the way of a servant leader. A board chair’s role is both compassionate and compelling. It requires self-discipline as it is asking others to do the same.

At the end of the day, it’s what Greenleaf has always challenged us to BE as Servant leaders; the most morally justifiable leaders and leadership are founded in, legitimated by, and yes, even sanctified by servanthood.

This kind of chair never forgets that the conductor doesn’t make the music.

To Board Chairpersons,

Dr. Crystal


4 Ways Boards of Directors Use Servant Leadership


The Board Chairperson is like the moon shining by a light no less spectacular because it is only reflected. This kind of chair never forgets that the conductor doesn’t make the music.”

~John Carver

The Unique Double Servant-Leadership Role of the Board Chairperson by John Carver is chapter three 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.

John Carver provides an excellent discussion and a sort of paradigm shift on the role of the board chairperson and the role of the board as a group in his chapter on servant leadership. Having served on several boards of directors in the past, I am always refreshed by Carver’s no-nonsense concepts for boards and their chairs and how eloquently and transparently Servant leadership serves as the way for boards to operate to better serve the people and the organization.

Carver argued that boards of directors are in trouble and have been in trouble for years. He quotes Peter Drucker in 1974, Harold Geneen in 1984 and the Danforth Foundation report in 1992 indicating that boards are primarily nonfunctioning. Geneen complained that about 95% of the top 500 companies in America’s boards are not doing what they are supposed to do – morally, ethically, and legally.

And that they couldn’t, even if they wanted to.

In this vein, Carver proposes four ways that boards can shift in consciousness to become a functioning board. Here is a recap of each.

Transformation Toward a Substantially New Institution

Carver created a program called Policy Governance®  model which sets a new course for board leadership that aligns with Robert Greenleaf’s vision to, “invite people to consider a new domain of leadership grounded in a state of being, not doing.” Servant Leaders understand that leadership and service are not something you do, rather it is an expression of being. Transforming toward a new institution is not about organizing a better agenda or more fundraising. It is about a deeper level of consciousness whereby leadership at a high level concerns itself with values- the importance of life, commitment to life and the tradeoffs of a life of service.

Governing boards have to be able to combine the ideas of technology and values to connect as Carver says who we are and what we can do. The compelling question that John Gardner asks us as servant leaders is, “Do we have it in us to create a future worthy of our past?” Board leadership must integrally mean the phrase, “on behalf of” to every single motion, vote, idea, action, and plan to act on behalf of others. Indeed, the best of board governance is possible when it includes the concepts of servant leadership.

Where Servanthood Begins: Fidelity to the Organization

Board leadership should always operate under the awareness that it is to be an owner-representative. This means that the board understands that if they are operating on someone’s behalf, they should know who that someone is. And that the board’s role consists of an intimate relationship with those owners, not the relationship to staff. Carver argues that the board is a servant to the owners. In this way, the board takes it upon themselves to know what the owners want before it decides on what the organizational goals should be. The owners should expect that a board operating on their behalf know about them, better than they know about themselves regarding the organization and the matters at hand. As a Texas legislator said one time that sums it up, “I vote the way my constituents would vote if they knew what I know.”

The Discipline of Leadership

Carver discusses the concept called the problem of agency which is defined as using one’s own judgment on behalf of someone else. The challenge with the problem of agency is that an agent has to be able to subjugate their personal needs in the service of the other. This is what servant leadership is about. Board members who are Servant Leaders know that when they take their seats, a transformation must take place wherein they are the vessels through which others dreams, decide, vision, and intend. De Tocqueville’s experiences capture the point beautifully. Citizens, he said, got involved in their local civic organizations first out of self-interest, yet as they became keenly aware and mindful of their public responsibility, they began to transcend their self-interest to other interested. This is the transformation board members must engage in as Servant Leaders.

Another crucial point for board members to remember if that as Servant Leaders, board members must transition from an operational mindset to a governing mindset. To not make this transition will cripple the board. Operational behavior does not serve the board of directors, rather a conceptual mindset is what is needed. Greenleaf referenced this when he said, “Leadership, in the sense of going out ahead to show the way is more conceptual than operating.” It is necessary for board members to become conceptual people who envision a world that isn’t, rather than think and operating from a world that is.

I have been on boards where it was our goal to recruit members with a certain skill set, say, for example, an attorney, an accountant, etc. to make sure we would have the skills on the board that we needed. But, that can work against a board. Carver says that board should learn to use experts to inform the wisdom of the board but never to substitute for it. Wow! Boards have to take responsibility as a group and not lean on one skill set to save themselves from their group responsibility. There is a huge difference in board-as-expert-collection from the board as responsible servant leaders for an ownership.

From Responsible Individuals to Responsible Boards

Lastly, Carver points out that it is not enough for trustees to be servant leaders individually. Doing so is not conducive to creating a servant leadership group. He says that boards can easily be incompetent groups of competent people, untrustworthy groups of trustworthy people, and cruel groups of good-hearted people.

Bam! I had to read that twice!

Greenleaf reminded us that servant leaders role as board members is to act as a unitary body. It’s all about working as a group. Carver says there is a simple way to test this. He says that any board that authentically works as a group will tell its CEO when we speak as individuals in or out of board meetings, you never have to pay attention to any of us!” Working as a group of board members allows boards to delegate clearly and powerfully to a CEO. As Carver point out, board members must speak with one voice and one voice only. A chairperson’s authority must come from a group decision. This is not to say or imply that there will always be unanimous votes, but that if the mindset and consciousness are not spoken as a group it hasn’t spoken at all.

Carver pulls us on the carpet as board members regarding our consciousness and ways of working for the organization and the owners. He uses Servant Leadership as a guidepost for how we can radically shift the way we see our role as board members. This chapter is right on time as I have just accepted a board position with a state coalition. These concepts and ideas are here to remind me of my goal as a servant leader with this board.

Caroline Myss, in her book, Invisible Acts of Power: Channeling Grace in your Everyday Life puts it this way, “We must come to terms with our personal agendas and desires while on the path of impersonal, spiritual service. Our task is to infuse our action with all our faith and belief in its goodness and release it into the universe to do its invisible work.”


To Boards That Serve,

Dr. Crystal


6 Applications of Servant Leadership


SL #2

Servant Leadership deals with the reality of power in everyday life- its legitimacy, the ethical restraints upon it and the beneficial results that can be attained through the appropriate use of power.”   ~New York Times

The Understanding and Practice of Servant-Leadership by Larry C. Spears is chapter two 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.

The concept of Servant Leadership has continued to explode onto the organizational and corporate scene since my enlightenment of the concept from an academic (although lifelong) perspective six years ago. In fact, we have witnessed this explosion on and interest in servant leadership with fire over the last fifteen years. A concept coined by Robert Greenleaf now over 40 years ago, is creating a quiet revolution in today’s workplace all over the world.

Servant Leadership is about a shift in consciousness about the way we live and work. It is about working based on teamwork and collective decision-making. It is based in an ethical and caring concern for others, and it is about enhancing the growth of others while caring about the quality of our institutions and organizations. Indeed, Servant Leadership is a better, more holistic approach to serving others first. Others meaning employees, customers, and the communities in which we live.

We are not naïve in thinking that Servant Leadership is a quick fix to the problems in life and the workplace. Servant Leaders understand that this way of being is a long-term, every-single-day, transformational approach to life and work. And so, we as Servant Leaders live each day in a conscious effort to create positive change for our immediate world (our job, our home, our kids, our community) and that trickles out into the greater world community.

My mom is a servant leader. Granted, she didn’t know about Robert Greenleaf or the other great scholars of today like DePree, Senge, Covey, Wheatley, Autry, and many other popular writers who teach Servant Leadership. She just worked in the church, in her family, at her job, and in her community as a Servant Leader. I saw firsthand as a child how she worked first as a cook at our local county jail preparing food for the inmates. After 30 years, promoted to the Food Service Director, she showed great care and concern for the preparation of the food for inmates. She abhorred people’s opinions that prisoners should be glad that they can even eat. She fried her famous chicken and would sneak some to the jailers who would come up to the kitchen and beg for a piece. Although a stern woman who told you like it was, she has a heart of gold and the prisoners knew it.

They felt it.

It was the same way with her work in the church. I participated in cooking and preparing so many church dinners that I cannot even count. They knew my mom would present and serve the food to the people with the utmost professionalism, love, and care. And everyone loved my Mom’s cooking.

I was reminded of this childhood experience as I was reading Juana Bordas article, “Pluralistic Reflections on Servant Leadership” when she said, “Many women, minorities and people of color have long traditions of servant-leadership in their cultures. Servant-Leadership has very old roots in many of the indigenous cultures. Cultures that were holistic, cooperative, communal, intuitive, and spiritual. These cultures centered on being guardians of the future and respecting the ancestors who walked before.”

This was my mother’s life. This is what she taught by example.

And today, I have the ideal opportunity to practice my servant leadership through my care-taking of her for the last 15 years. She now lives her the rest of her autumn days in a nursing home, most days remembering her life. She is proud, and I am grateful that she showed me the way, she is excited that I took an academic path toward understanding and teaching servant leadership. But, at the end of the day, she would tell you, just be it!

So, Spears provides us with a glimpse into the six applications of servant leadership that are being used by organizations across the country today. Here is a short re-cap of each.

Servant-Leadership as an Institutional Model

  • As an institutional model, servant leadership advocates a group-oriented approach to decision-making and seeks consensus over the old top-down form of leadership. Many organizations today use the servant leadership model as a guiding philosophy. Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, and the Men’s Wearhouse, just to name a few.

Education and Training of Nonprofit Trustees

  • Greenleaf wrote extensively on the role of boards of directors within institutions and the theoretical and ethical basis for their service. His essay, “Trustees as Servants” asked two pivotal questions of Boards and Trustees, “Whom do you serve?” and “For what purpose?” Greenleaf argued that boards must a make a radical shift in how they approach their roles so as to create institutions of great depth and quality.

Community Leadership Programs

  • The third application of servant leadership is it role in community leadership organizations and the importance of building true community. M. Scott Peck wrote about this in his book, A World Waiting to be Born, in which he says, “The world will be saved if we can create three well-managed, large institutions- one in the private section, one in the public sector, and one in the nonprofit sector. I know that such excellence in management will be achieved through an organizational culture of civility routinely utilizing the mode of community.”

Service-Learning Programs

  • A fourth application of servant leadership is the use of service-learning in the various colleges and universities across the country. During the last twenty-five years, experiential learning educations programs are developed in virtually every college, university, and secondary schools. Service-Learning has become a major focus combining service and learning. The National Society for Experiential Education has published a massive three-volume work on the topic.

Leadership Education

  • A fifth application of servant leadership is the use of the philosophy in formal and informal, as well as corporate education and training programs. And dozens of management, organizational consultants, and leaderships consultants employ servant leadership materials as a part of their work with organizations. As a part of total quality management approaches, Servant Leadership is making headway for corporations in understanding how business is developed and conducted, while still positively affecting the bottom line.

Personal Transformation

  • Programs relating to personal growth and transformation are using the servant leadership approach as a way for people to grow and evolve -spiritually, professionally, emotionally, and intellectually. Servant Leadership has ties to emotional intelligence and human potential. The key to servant leadership is that it offers and encourages everyone to seek out opportunities to both serve and lead.

In the end, Servant Leadership is full of curious and meaningful paradoxes, just like life. The seeds of servant leadership have been planted in the minds and hearts of people who seek to better the human condition. Indeed, Servant Leadership provides the vehicle and framework for known and unknown individuals to continue to hope and guide the way to the creation of a better, more conscious and caring world community.


To A Better World,

Dr. Crystal


Who is a Servant Leader?


publication1NOTE: Happy summer to you! Today, we begin our 12-week series on servant leadership using the book, Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence as our guide. I have been engaged in serving as a volume editor on an upcoming book with Palgrave MacMilliam about Servant Leadership and Spears and Lawrence’s book gives us valuable insight into Servant Leadership with 12 contributors in their book. Look for our book on Servant Leadership with 13 fabulous authors/contributors later in 2017! Let’s get to it….


Allow the way to your great work to be guided by your service to others.”

~Mollie Marti

Who is a Servant Leader? The first chapter delves into this question and provides a short excerpt by from Robert K. Greenleaf’s seminal essay, “The Servant as Leader” which contains the essential understanding and definition of servant leadership in the book, Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.

Greenleaf presents us with two questions, to which he answers with a resounding yes concerning a servant leader. He asks, “Servant and Leader- can these two roles be fused in one real person, in all levels of status or calling? And, in so, can that person live and be productive in the real world of the present? The first chapter is an attempt to explain why and to suggest how.

Greenleaf crystallized his vision of servant leadership through his reading of the novel, Journey to the East by Herman Hesse, a work that deeply moved Greenleaf.  In the story, the servant, Leo, was the caring leader.  Leo’s leadership style was that of a servant such that the people claimed that they did everything themselves.

On the journey, Leo disappeared.  The group fell apart and abandoned the spiritual quest.  The group realized they needed Leo.  Years later, the narrator found Leo and learned Leo was the head of the noble order, its guiding spirit, and a great leader.  The narrator had only known Leo as a servant.  Indeed, a leader who exemplifies servant leadership, such as Leo, can see the effect of his or her leadership through the growth of the people. Who is a servant leader? A servant leader serves first, just as Leo was portrayed.

Greenleaf goes on to say that when he came upon Hesse’s book in 1958, he had been listening (as always) and searching for voices of prophecy, those who spoke of truth for the benefit of humankind. He knew the message in Hesse’s book was of a prophetic nature.

Greenleaf puts it this way, “I now embrace the theory of prophecy which holds that prophetic voices of great clarity, and with a quality of insight equal to that of any age, are speaking cogently all the time. Men and women of a stature equal to the greatest prophets of the past are now with us, addressing the problems of the day and pointing to a better way to live fully and serenely in these times.”

What is fascinating is that Greenleaf understood that prophetic vision is directly tied to the level of seeking and the responsiveness of the hearers. So those prophets grow in stature as people respond to their message. Indeed, it is the seekers, then, who make prophets. Isn’t that beautiful? Doesn’t it give us a perfect example of servant leadership?

Being careful not to ignore the great voices of the past, Greenleaf says that servant leaders do not wake up each morning with the compulsion to reinvent the wheel, rather if one is a servant – either leader or follower- one is always searching, listening, experiencing a better wheel for the times in the making. It can emerge any day, and any one of us can discover if from our personal experience.

Servant leadership is positioned to help us today. Greenleaf was hopeful then that despite tension and conflict in the world, there would be more natural servant leaders, like you and I, to see clearly the world as it is and to listen carefully to the prophetic voices that are speaking now.

Servant leaders, that is, you and I, are challenging the pervasive injustice with greater force, and we are taking sharper issue with the disparity in the world concerning the quality of society, available resources, and the performance of the institutions that exist to serve society. We see that right now, through the servant leaders who are stepping forward in service to the recent tragedy in Orlando. Indeed, we are helping the world to relate to one another in more supporting ways and less coercive and hateful ways.

I choose to remain hopeful.

Greenleaf tells us specifically and concretely, “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.”

Phew, isn’t that powerful? The allegiance of the led is granted to the leader only through and by the evidence of service by that leader.

In the end, Greenleaf believed that Hesse was telling us in his book that Leo is the symbolic personification of Hesse’s’ aspiration to serve through his literary creations- creations that were greater than himself- and his work, for which he was but the channel, will carry on and serve and lead in a way that he, a twisted a tormented man, could not, as he created.

Isn’t that the dilemma for us all as servant leaders? As we create, and as we emerge as servant leaders, we cannot project ourselves beyond ourselves to serve and lead.

Servant leadership is not a popular concept. It wasn’t then and its painstakingly making its way into the mainstream of leadership concepts today. Greenleaf reminds us that the danger, perhaps is to hear the analyst too much and the artist too little.

At the end of the day, I agree with Greenleaf, that Albert Camus was one of the great artists of his time and deserves the title of prophet. I have posted the last paragraph of Camus’s published lecture, entitled “Create Dangerously” many times on my Facebook page. It reminds me daily of my vision, my mission as a servant leader, and the reason why my circle of influence continues to emerge as servant leaders by my modeling and example of service.

Create Dangerously

‘One may long, as I do, for a gentler flame, a respite, a pause for musing. But perhaps there is no other peace for the artist than what she finds in the heat of combat. “Every wall is a door,” Emerson correctly said. Let us not look for the door, and the way out, anywhere but in the wall against which we are living. Instead, let us seek the respite where it is—in the very thick of battle. For in my opinion, and this is where I shall close, it is there. Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps, then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empire and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation, others, in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth that each and every woman, on the foundations of her own sufferings and joys, builds for them all.’


To Creating Dangerously,

Dr. Crystal

*Replaced [he] with [she] in the poem