Wednesday, March 25, 2009


There has been a lot of positive economic news lately. A lot of people have been thinking and feeling that the recession will end sooner than later.

But, as I have been writing about in this blog, what happens if the recession ends tomorrow? Or a month from now? Or Summer? Or late 2009 or early 2010? Did we learn anything? Are we going to be any different, or live any differently than we did before?

When crisis passes, instead of doing a "lessons learned", and being humbled, we tend to go back to the bad habits. We tend to take on an air of hubris and invincibility. We tend to perennially believe that we are above the cycles of history and that these kinds of things can never happen again.

I happen to love the writing and thinking of Robert K. Greenleaf. Greenleaf was the coiner of the term Servant Leadership (and a GREAT introduction to Greenleaf's life and thinking is contained in Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership, written by Don Frick, as well as Greenleaf's book of essays Servant Leadership, A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness)

In his seminal essay The Servant as Leader, written in the 1970's, Greenleaf has a section called "Foresight-The Central Ethic of Leadership".

There is absolutely NO question, that the situation we are in is due to a direct lack of Foresight (and Leadership), by several, including those in Washington, in the companies that melted down, those in regulatory agencies, and others (i.e. The Fed, World Bank, etc).

Listen to what Greenleaf says about Foresight:

"The failure (or refusal) of a leader to foresee may be viewed as an ethical failure, because a serious ethical compromise today (when the usual judgment on ethical inadequacy is made) is sometimes the result of a failure to make the effort at an earlier date to foresee today's events and take the right actions when there was freedom for initiative to act."

Those who did have the foresight to predict the consequences of the risky behavior of the banks and other institutions (and they WERE out there), were often called negative, or pessimistic, or the implication was that they didn't know what they were talking about. The good times, in essence, were going to roll on forever.

As we move forward, we need to start thinking about the next trap doors and pits that we could fall into. What is the next "bubble"? What will crash next? Where are the holes and weaknesses in the economy, and in capitalism in general that need to be looked at and fixed?

Certainly what happened at AIG, Bear, Lehman, Freddie and Fannie, etc, can NOT be allowed to happen again. But there again, we need to strike a real balance between absolute iron fisted control, and the fostering of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Greenleaf, gives us a prescription as to how we are to look at these things:

"One is at once, in every moment of time, historian, contemporary analyst, and prophet-not three separate roles. This is what the practicing leader is, every day of his or her life".

Perfect. How many of us know how to do that? How many of us are taught to do that? How many of us even think about that?

In the final analysis, we know that there are a LOT of problems in America that will need to be tackled. Problems with infrastructure. Problems with health care. Problems with education. Problems with the growing gap between the richest and the poorest. These are huge problems that are going to take innovative solutions, and dynamic leadership from the type of leader with Foresight that Greenleaf imagines.

Perhaps the best "mission statement" moving forward comes from Greenleaf's very definition of those that Servant Leaders are leading (a lot might think these things are "Utopian" and would never work in the "real world" or in the "rough and tumble world of business". For those, I suggest you check out, and, and, and while you are at it take a look at this seriously impressive list of projects:

"The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: 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?"

Moving forward, I'm optimistic. I'm filled with hope for America. I think we can do this.

I'm excited to start. Tomorrow. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 (a passage which has virtually carried me forward over the past several months), "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day."