Robert K. Greenleaf once wrote an essay, “Essentials of Leadership,” because he believed “we in this country were in a leadership crisis, and I should do what I could about it.”
In 1964, Greenleaf founded the Center for Applied Ethics in Westfield, Ind. It would later become the Greenleaf Center, a worldwide training organization. The center’s main mission is to teach individuals and groups and organizations that true leadership comes from serving people. It’s the premiere center for this leadership philosophy, most often targeted to businesses, organizations and corporations.
Greenleaf died in 1990. His first career was as a researcher and developer with AT&T, and a second career was speaking and writing about servant leadership.
Had he lived, Greenleaf likely would have been proud of an achievement that no other city has been recognized for to date. On June 16, Columbus will be named a Servant Leadership City.
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“This is the first. I don’t know when there will be another,” said Kent Keith, Ph.D., CEO of the Greenleaf Center.
A pre-conference with lunch will precede the Greenleaf Center’s 20th Annual International Conference in Atlanta.
City leaders point to Bill Turner, retired chairman of the W.C. Bradley Co., as the main backer of the philosophy locally. One of his sayings is “servant leadership will change the world.” In an interview, Turner credited his father and grandfather for blazing the servant-leadership trail in this area. They were D. Abbott Turner, and W.C. Bradley, respectively.
“They put the needs of people first,” said Bill Turner, who will be present when the award is bestowed.
“It’s quite an honor for Columbus,” he said.
Keith of the Greenleaf Center said the idea for the award was kicked around recently among the board. One of them, Robert Thomas, knows Columbus and the work of the Bradley-Turner familes well.
“So, we decided to have the conference in Atlanta and the pre-conference in Columbus,” Keith said.
The Pastoral Institute, a nonprofit founded in 1974, contains a Center for Servant Leadership. The institute was founded primarily as a counseling center, then other divisions were added gradually. Bill Turner is a recent board chairman. The Center for Servant Leadership, founded in 1999, is currently led by Kelvin Redd.
“I’d like the award to give someone a sense of our purpose in this community, whether servant leadership is practiced in all sectors or not,” said Redd, who writes a blog about servant leadership and last year published a book on the subject.
About 155 local companies utilize the institute’s Employee Assistance Program. As well, a partnership between the institute and Columbus State University allows servant leadership students to put their classroom know-how into community action.
Redd spends much of his time communicating the servant leadership teachings to companies and groups who may not have heard of it. He calls it planting seeds.
“There are pockets where people don’t know about servant leadership,” Redd said. “A team could win a championship, but there may be areas of the team with the best players” who don’t know how to put other players first.
There’s no shortage of material on the subject. Works include Ken Blanchard’s “Helping People Win at Work”; (with Garry Ridge); “Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership” by James Sipe and Don Frick; and “The Leadership Paradox” by Denny Gunderson.
Anyone can be a servant leader — no matter what his or her job, age or station in life, Redd said.
Key characteristics include: humility, self-awareness, being a cheerleader and sharing in a vision. Incongruous as it may sound, leaders are given power by giving their power away. “As I’ve traveled around, the stigma is that servant leadership is soft,” Redd said. “I always try to touch on that. You still hold people accountable, but you can love people and forgive them.”
As for other cities that might work toward the distinction Columbus has achieved, Kent Keith said Fon du Lac, Wis., is interested in becoming a city known for servant leadership.
“(City representatives) will be coming to Columbus. Columbus is the benchmark and they can learn from and encourage each other,” Keith said.