Robert Greenleaf

2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Alice Eagly

Servant Leadership. To many who first read Robert K. Greenleaf's game-changing essay in 1970, "The Servant as Leader," it surely sounded like an oxymoron. Although many religious traditions held notions of the leader as servant, the modern leadership model at the time was one of command and control. How the world has changed… and not. As corporate ethics violations, the destruction of the planet for profit, and the hunger for power illustrate, there are daily reminders that many people in positions of leadership have not gotten where they are through their desire to serve others or their desire to grow individuals and communities, common measures of servant leadership in action. Greenleaf later expanded the concept of Servant Leadership to include the ways organizations and societies could also serve in this capacity. Greenleaf's leap to Servant Leadership is an example of lateral thinking at its best. Before he retired from AT&T in 1964 he was well-known for his creative connections and intuition, using literary material in leadership development programs, for example, and bringing philosophers, psychologists, and theologians in to converse with executives. He created their corporate assessment center and was instrumental in pushing against the color and gender barriers at AT&T. In the years since that seminal essay, Servant Leadership has been explored and developed by researchers and practitioners around the world. Numerous articles, books, conferences, and journals have sprung from Greenleaf's deep thinking waters.

Furthermore, spearheaded by the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in Indianapolis, Indiana — which was founded by Greenleaf in 1964 as the nonprofit Center for Applied Ethics — an entire movement devoted to exploring Servant Leadership, building out its theory, and implementing it in organizations has grown.

Learn more about Greenleaf's life in Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of a Servant Leader by Don M. Frick.