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Wisdom of SL

A book review by Duane Trammell

The other night, my partner and I had Chinese food delivered.  Like a little kid, I always look forward to opening my fortune cookie after the final bite of moo shu chicken.  When I opened my cookie, it read: “In the cookies of life, friends are the chocolate chips.”  Obviously this Chinese wisdom didn’t come from an ancient philosopher, yet I liked this fortune for several reasons.  I like cookies, I like chocolate chips, I like my friends, and it reminded me of my friend Isabel Lopez and her book, The Wisdom of Servant Leadership and the infamous cookie story.


I met Isabel in the early 90’s.  I attended the annual Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership’s conference in Indianapolis and took a seat in the ballroom without any special expectations.  A woman was introduced and humbly walked to the edge of the stage.  There were no fancy Power Point animated slides, no strains of swelling music, no promises of “this will change your life.”  Instead, she engulfed the stage with a powerful, deep, vulnerable authenticity.  As she began her speech, she remarked, “My earliest introduction to servant-leadership was my family:  My mother, who cared, taught, guided, encouraged, and laughed; my grandmother, who imparted wisdom, joy, teachings, and acceptance of others; and my father, who taught me simplicity, honor, and the capacity to love.”  She went on to say that there were significant events in her life that made their mark on her understanding of leadership, and that she would be telling different kinds of stories to share her insights about servant-leadership.  Then she told her cookie story that I make her tell in every workshop I attend.  Several years ago, I told her “You have to get all of these stories and insights about servant leadership in a book so that I can give it to others.”  And she did.


Isabel Lopez’ book, The Wisdom of Servant Leadership couldn’t be more aptly named.  If wisdom is the combination of knowledge, experience, and good judgment, then this book delivers.


There are many reasons I love this book, but there are two reasons that every serious practitioner of servant leadership should have it as a basic text in their library:

  1. She brilliantly integrates the isolated core messages of Robert Greenleaf into one, integrated model.
  2. She tells her stories of servant leadership so that we can see, hear, smell and taste the essence of what servant leadership is.

Isabel LopezAfter attending one of Isabel’s workshops, I was so inspired from her storytelling that I designed two major initiatives.  One was rewriting the leadership development curriculum of TDIndustries through a series of interviews and storytelling.  The other was designing a community leadership development program based on her premise of hospitality being at the heart of servant leadership.  It was such a simple idea, but one that has resonated with every group I have shared it with.


Sometimes, the writings of Greenleaf can be difficult for first-time readers.  In both her “Core Messages of Greenleaf” mapping and her “Inputs/Outputs” chart, Isabel shows a natural flow from the Credo, to “the Test”, to serving, to institution building, to creating a better society.  What was once complex is made so clear through Isabel Lopez’ years of study of Greenleaf.


Perhaps she sums up servant leadership best in her section on “Above and Below the Line.”  She tells us, “Wisdom uses intellect, knows heart, and understands spirit.  This is the essence of wise leadership.”  The same could be said of Isabel Lopez.