Robert Greenleaf’s “Best Test” for Servant-Leadership – A Different Type of Assessment for a Different Type of Leader

Robert Greenleaf, the originator of the practice (and expression) servant-leadership, developed a simple test to determine how effectively we’re practicing servant-leadership in our daily lives. He called this the Best Test. Regardless of our roles at work and in daily life, we’re each leading and often leading multiple constituencies. How effectively we’re leading is always determined by those we lead…those we serve. Our titles, compensation and perks are only anecdotal evidence of our leadership effectiveness. In Greenleaf’s words:

Do those served grow as persons?

Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

Do you have servant-leaders in your life? Are you leading per the Best Test? I remember each of the servant-leaders I’ve been fortunate too have been associated with (names, faces, some of our interactions, etc.) but I admit: At the time, I was oblivious of their leadership style and the impact it had on me. It’s taken me years and working in leadership and coaching roles to appreciate these individuals and the commitment they had to serve. (I don’t know if they were aware of their leadership style. I only know the lasting impact on myself and how they “pass” Greenleaf’s Best Test with ease.) If you’re looking for immediate gratification in a servant-leadership role, you are likely to be disappointed (and so are those you serve.)

What can you do to coach and motivate yourself to aspire to “pass” Greenleaf’s Best Test? Let’s look at each declaration individually:

  1. Do those served grow as persons?
    • Are you assessing if those you lead (and influence) develop as people?
    • If you’re conducting formal or informal reviews, do you (prepare for and) discuss empathy, humility, listening and purpose?
    • Do you create time to engage with those you lead and influence in a setting devoid of power and control (e.g., not across a desk or from a podium?)
  2. Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
    • Are you creating and maintaining space and conditions for those you serve and influence to “try on” additional responsibilities purposely chosen to help them become servants to others?
    • How are you processing feedback from those your serve? Are you “working” face to face, or have you chosen to use one of the automated solutions increasingly in use today to “assess” people quantitatively?
    • Are you comfortable with autonomy in others? What does this do to your identity?
  3. And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
    • Do you make time to “see” those less privileged in your community (or workplace) and engage them directly?
    • How do you react to those living or working in lesser conditions or roles?
    • Have you motivated and led those you lead and influence to serve those with less privileged in your community?

This is a small subset of the questions we can ask ourselves. There are several proven resources for assessing one’s “fit” to Greenleaf’s Best Test (and what to do with the information you develop.) Here are a few I have found effective:

  1. Read Don Frick’s biography of Robert Greenleaf: Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership. I’m very fortunate to be able to call Don both a friend and a colleague. Don’s book had a major impact on me when I first read it more than 2 years ago. I continue to refer to it and to recommend it to others.
  2. Invest in servant-leadership training for yourself and for those you lead and influence.  The Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership has several excellent options:
  3. Learn from experts and discuss it with other seekers: International Servant-Leader Summit (June 10-12, 2020 | Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
  4. Become a member of The Greenleaf Center, and start interacting with other seekers through the member portal, participate in Center webinars and share the details of your servant-leadership journey.

 

 

Greg Tutunjian

Greg Tutunjian is a leadership and performance coach specializing in team-centric innovation. Greg is a former software and systems engineer, technical program manager and director, and now advisor to organizations ranging from small and medium-sized software product and service companies to Fortune 10 multinationals.