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By Bennett J. Sims

With the world threatened in new ways since the turn of the millennium, the old leadership paradigm of eye for eye and tooth for tooth does not offer much hope. Bennet Sims offers a new paradigm, one that has in fact been around for a long time.

Great leadership honors the freedom of the human spirit. It uses power to inspire, enroll and organizenever to manipulate or subjugate. Great leadership takes its cue from the Creator of human freedom. The power that spins the stars does not dominate, dictate or coerce. It liberates, leaving large room for human choice, human fault and human growthall within the moral and behavioral boundaries of love boundaries that include the gift of forgiveness in response to the human admission of responsibility when the boundaries are breached.

These convictions, while appealing as lofty leadership ideals, are difficult to apply in human systems for reasons of fear and ages-long custom. Leaders naturally fear to allow much freedom, since freedom in the ranks risks outcomes that defeat the production purposes of organizations. Fear is reinforced by experience with human perversity and the centuries-long history of hierarchical patterns in which power is understood as control.

But Servant Leadership understands that the first purpose of any organization is human enhancement, not human employment. This is true even, and especially, in for-profit businesses. Where freedom is the overarching context in any enterprise, workers serve a purpose secondary to delivering a product or a service. The first purpose in such systems is the inclusion of workers in responsibility for decision making and the success of the system.

Whether freedom is allowed or not, the human spirit is structured for it. The freedom to consent to leadership or to resist it is a birthright of human make up. What distinguishes Servant Leadership is that it not only allows freedom in the workforce, but actively encourages it. Participation, not subjugation, is the true aim of power. Organizations so aimed and led will be enlargers of life for their members.


The secret lies in the mindset and integrity of the leaders. This is true in all systems: families, business enterprises, schools, churches and nations in their domestic and global security. Systems succeed because they cherish their members and speak the truth. Systems fail because they exploit their members and practice concealment and deceit.

Systems built around love and truth succeed because they fit realityhere defined as "the encompassing theater of all life". Reality is gracious and kind. The heart of things is a heart, an enduring paradox of velvet and steelof love and law, in which law itself functions as an expression of love by providing structure and boundaries for human creativity and choice. Success in leadership therefore depends on being shaped in personal character to the shape of the grand designand to the character of the Designer. If this analysis is accurate then knowledge of God is fundamental to effective leadership. Robust and sensitive love reduces fear and builds the courage to break out of customary power patterns of domination and control.

Swiftly now a new human consciousness emerges. From a deep momentum that appears to have begun with prophets and visionaries, and brought to vivid climax in Jesus of Nazareth, there rise in our time at least eight great movements that challenge the mechanistic ideology of power as dominance. In seeking the of victimization by subjugational powerand equally long ages of enthrallment with violencethese movements stir hope and reform all across the world: the Feminist movement; the Spirituality movement; the Racial Rights movement; the Democracy movement; the Non-violence movement; the Gay-Lesbian legitimacy movement; the Participatory Management movement; and preeminently, the Environmental movement

No matter how one responds to these surging currents of aspiration and energy, they appear to be here to stayand not only to stay, but to advance and prevail against all the stubborn resistances of privilege, fear and rage. These capital movements of our time insist that power used for dominance, and secured by violence, must wind down and disappear. Whether they be oppressed minorities or subjugated majorities, whole sections of the human family may no longer be legitimately marginalized and deprived. Be they racial groups, gender groups, whole populations, or the planet as a plundered system, power hence forth has no acceptable moral purpose except for empowerment to participatein freedom and dignity.

Given the counter-power of fear and avarice, the struggle to change human systems from exploitation to participation, from violence to negotiation, will stretch beyond the horizons ordinary time. But the exalting truth of our time is that the momentum of fundamental change is in irreversible floodand will not be turned back. Power understood as liberation, for human life and all that lives, is what we believe Jesus envisions and proclaims as the Kingdom, or Rule, of God. The Institute for Servant Leadership exists to advance this understanding of the Kingdomand to mobilize human hope and commitment for reshaping the world accordingly.

Bennet Sims is the Episcopalian Bishop Emeritus of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and founder of the Institute of Servant Leadership in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is author of Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium. ISBN 1-56101-145-2

This article is taken from Turning Point, the newsletter of the Institute for Servant Leadership, Vol.15, No. 6.


The Circular Community


by Bill Jamieson

  Organise your meetings according to the new paradigm of the previous article.

I recently shared with a friend the process that we have followed for our last four board meetings. I told him that we do not have a chair, that we gather in a circle, and that one member of our community begins the meeting by leading us in a time of prayer and sharing. As we move into the agenda, the leadership of the meeting rotates as we share the responsibility for the business of the Institute.

My friend reflected that we are part of a growing trend that is moving away from the hierarchy of triangular organizations to the community of circles. He gave me Christina Baldwin's book Calling The Circle. . . The First and Future Culture. Baldwin is the founder of PeerSpirit, an organization on Whidbey Island that helps institutions, communities, organizations and groups make this transition.

She posits that the circle is the basic primal shape, and that "first cultures" always gathered in the round for their councils. Our era (what she calls the "second culture") broke the circles apart and replaced them with hierarchies. She suggests that if we are going to recover our sense of unity with one another, our environment and the Holy, we need to move into the "third culture" by rounding the edges and returning to the circle as a way of doing our work together.

Baldwin writes that "A circle is not just a meeting with the chairs rearranged it is a way of doing things differentlv. (The circle) is an ancient process for consultation and communion that, for tens of thousands of years, had held the human communitv together and shaped its course. In these circles "leadership is shared and the center is imbued with collective wisdom." She suggests four basic agreements among people in the circle: confidentiality around personal stories; listening without interrupting, making statements that solve problems rather than push a personal agenda, and calling "time out" if people need to regroup and think through an issue.

Baldwin holds the circle as a way for us to "get far enough outside our usual ways of acting and perceiving to have a real experience of each other, and to discover alternatives for the way things are." Her circle is "an organizational structure that locates leadership around the rim and provides an inclusive means for consulting, delegating tasks, acknowledging the importance of people and honoring the spiritual."

The center of the circle, she says, holds the authority of the group. If that authority is "retained or personified by any person, the circle turns into a triangle. Someone becomes the leader and others become the followers, the compliant or the rebellious subservants. On the other hand, if authority is held as a spiritual concept, the circle remains intact, operating as a peer group of people who choose to imbue the center with their vision of the worldThe center must be imbued with authority, and those on the rim petition the center for guidance."

In our language, the center is the Holy Spirit, symbolized by a burning candle in the center of the circle. The power lies with the Spirit and is shared with us when we listen and ponder together. By practicing the holding of a sacred center at the core of our meetings, we become more able to live out of that core in our individual lives.

The work of the community is done on the rim of the circle by holding fast to three principles: rotating leadership as we move from task to task, shared responsibility, and reliance on the Spirit. It has three practices: speaking with intention, listening with attention (no cross talk) and self-monitoring of our contributions.

By practicing the holding of a sacred center at the core of our meetings, we become more able to live out of that core in our individual lives.

Baldwin suggests that one member of the group accept the responsibility of serving as guardian of the agreements, principles and practices. The guardian's task is to sense when the spirit center is lostor the agreements, principles or practices are being violatedand to ring the bell to call everyone to silence and re-centering. She also suggests that the circle be called together by a rotating convener with a ritual such as lighting the candle, ringing a bell and holding silence. The convener then restates the agreed-on principles and practices and seeks agreement that we will follow them and accept our individual responsibility for holding and honoring them. The convener then leads into the group sharing. Following a ritual, that is common from meeting to meeting, bonds the community, just as the repetition of liturgy does in religious services.

The circle as a way of doing an organization's business offers a balance of the need for spiritual intimacy with task. Baldwin writes that as we "weave the strength of the circle around the rim, committing to the principles, practices and agreements; as we focus on clear intention and set our greatest good in the center; as we are present to each other and to the circle's purposewe create a container of remarkably high tensile strength. The circle is held by each of us, but is not created solely by, or for, any one of us."

She warns that our "conditioning to compete for attention, to protect our turf and to overpower each other at moments of dissension does not magically disappear in a circle." This reminds me of Parker Palmer's words at the Soul of the Executive retreat when he told us that simply moving "box people into circles does not form circle peoplebut merely box people sitting in a circle." By honoring the principles, practices and agreementsby holding the spirit center that is greater than allby listening with full attentionby seeking truth rather that rightnessand by shifting from competition to cooperation, consensus can be reached.

For a circle to work we must be open (both in our hearts and in the circle) to radical insight, interconnection, intuition and spiritual inspiration. Even though the Institute board has begun to practice this process with intention, I found myself rebelling a bit as I read the book. All of my training is to take charge, push my agenda, and meet every challenge that is contrary to my thinking with a forceful response. All of my heart instincts, however resonate with Christina Baldwin. The dominance/competition-centered hierarchy is a contributing factor to violence and the breakdown of Community. I believe our current practice offers a servant leadership model that promotes civility and builds community.

Bill Jamieson is president of The Institute for Servant Leadership, 15 Macon Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801-1522, USA. Ph: +828-258-8044. E-mail: Website:
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