Book Review: Servant Leadership, by R.K. Greenleaf

Servant leadership, in one word, is passion; undying loyalty to a single belief that you cannot help but drive yourself and those around you towards your vision. It comes from knowing yourself totally, building your life “as a piece of art,” and then working your way through society by training others to be as you are: an agents of an institution which has been changed to be driven to serve those under its care in every possible way. Greenleaf’s servant leadership is holistic, and depends on a number of factors.

(a) The servant leader must be a conceptual leader. (b) He must be a seeker, yearning for a better way. (c) He must be balanced with two sides: those who can implement his ideas, and those who through only passion and not gain, seek to keep him on a right path. (d) He must seek to give to others first, knowing that is the natural order. (e) He must then endeavor to create an institution that holds these principles, and serve not only that institution, but the people it helps with “electric devotion.” (f) He must help others to become as he is, and channel servant leadership throughout all who surround him, not through pride or pomp, but by knowing himself and being dedicated to his calling. (g) Finally, he must must always remember that his calling is to grow people.

Greenleaf, while a practicing Quaker, admits proudly that he is not pious, and this is shown in his work. His idealism has obviously been influenced by Christianity, yet he is unwilling to admit this, and so believes that all people should be servants first yet does not take into account the work of the spirit in changing people towards that end. That aside, his servant leader is a workhorse, yet does allow time for family, but is also single-minded towards one end, where the leader and his dream become the same thing (evidenced by Journey to the East, by Hesse). Prexy was able to maintain his lifestyle because of his connection with Christ, but for a common, secular man to attempt this without a lifeline, raises deep concerns.

The core of servant leadership is calling: finding your passion and focusing everything around that worldview. To totally give yourself to that calling however, is about timing, relationships, and opportunities. Had Herschel not been born in Warsaw, or Cowling not attended Yale, their lives would have been very different. Greenleaf challenges me; why have I not embraced my passion? Is it of any worth? Does that great work begin now, or at some more opportune time? He troubles me, and makes it sound all too easy (even though he admits it is not).


Greenleaf, R.K. (2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness. New Jersey: Paulist Press.