Ann and Robert Greenleaf Audio Tape

March 1, 198?


In the mid 1980s, Ann visited Robert Greenleaf at Crosslands Retirement Community. They shared breakfast and then talked together about a variety of topics relating to servant leadership. We are pleased to share their conversation in several short audio clips:


1. Seeing Things Whole

In this audio clip, Greenleaf speaks of the influence of his father in helping him see things whole. “If a person is to be trusted to lead, he or she needs a basic quality of seeing things whole.”


2. Servant Leadership in Tough times

In this audio clip, Ann asks Greenleaf about how leaders can serve during tough times. Greenleaf offers two suggestions: (1) Tough times sometimes call for swift, decisive actions and they may seem abrupt. “You can be strong without being tough.” (2) Take advantage of the “good times” to prepare and build trust for the tough times.


3. Reciprocity in Organizational and Employee Responsibility

In this audio clip, Ann asks Greenleaf about an unbalanced perception that “the organization owes me a job,” but “I don’t owe the organization.” Greenleaf shares that our large scale ways of educating people like schools and churches sometimes don’t adequately prepare people for the world that is really there…many times an unjust society. Greenleaf confesses he wasn’t really prepared and that he was lucky he maintained a job while many others were laid off as he reflects on the Great Depression. He calls himself “lucky” and that because of this, he isn’t qualified to answer this.


4. Reflecting on Trusteeship

In this audio clip, Ann asks Robert Greenleaf, “Where are you in your thinking?” Greenleaf believes that most managers are limited in their capacity to create vision, they are great in operations. But trustees must be tutored into “The Art of Statesmanship.”   Vision is needed for the organization. There is a disability that goes with long years of management…new ideas are needed for the future of the organization.


5. Where Vision Comes From

In this audio clip, Ann asks about the evolution of leadership and aren’t there different layers needed? Greenleaf relates one aspect of vision…”the barrier that separates mystery from reality. He goes on to explain that vision comes out of a sense of history of the organization. One must be well acquainted with the history, the mistakes, having a wider vision of leadership. A visionary sees where the organization needs to go. It is essential they be listened to!


6. Restructuring Organizations

In this audio clip, Ann relates that many businesses are having to restructure to stay viable. She asks Greenleaf, “What are we missing?” Greenleaf relates his experience with Townsend and Bottum. That his friend Bill Bottum worked to institute leadership as not a CEO with all the power and answers, but a Primus Inter Pares: First Among Equals. Like a Governing Board.


7. Trust

In this segment, Ann asks Greenleaf to speak about his ideas about trust. Greenleaf shares the idea that “he believes we took a step backward when the book publishers put the phrase “servant leadership on the titling and topics of his books. He wanted to used the idea, “The Servant as Leader” as his first essay was called. The difference? It is the job of the leaders to become servants of the people. We can get further in organizations by focusing on the behavior of the leaders and converting leaders to servants. Greenleaf makes the point that your organization probably won’t be a servant-led organization. But individuals, at any level can choose to create an island of serving in a non-serving organization.


8. The Importance of Family

Ann asks Bob Greenleaf what role does family play in servant leadership? Greenleaf talks about the support he has had by being cared for by a loving family, but he also says he has known other great servant-leaders who did not have a family of support. He thought it was important not to take “the business problems home” but to talk about other things at the dinner table. In his retirement years, Esther traveled with him and did become included in his work.


9. Spirituality and the Quaker Clerk Role

In this segment, Ann asks Greenleaf, “Is there anything you have learned from your spiritual life that has helped in your exploration of servant leadership?” Bob explains the role of the Clerk in the Quaker tradition—to listen to many points of view and then reflect a resolution to the problem in the best language that serves everyone that all can accept. This skill of being able to deeply listen, withdraw your own personal perspective, and find the resolving language is the skill of which consensus happens. “It is sheer invention. The first idea may not be acceptable. So you keep re-presenting until there is one that is acceptable. It is a creative process that makes consensus work.


10. The Importance of History.

Ann and Bob Greenleaf talk about the importance of learning from history. “Those that refuse to learn from history get a chance to relive it.


11. Gratitude for Robert Greenleaf

Ann thanks Bob Greenleaf on the behalf of all who have benefitted from his writings. She eloquently expresses the major contribution that Greenleaf has made in helping organizations lead with a serving spirit.