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What are you in business for? – Robert K Greenleaf (Excerpts from Servant Leadership) blog.synergita.com /2012/10/what-are-you-in-business-f or-robert-k-greenleaf -excerptsf rom-servant-leadership/ Udhay Kuppuswamy I have conf idence that a new business ethic will emerge…T here are many parts of the total business ethic that need attention, but the one I will deal with seems the most basic… Looking at the two major elements, the work and the person, the new ethic, simply but quite completely stated will be.. “T he business exists as much to provide meaningf ul work to the person as it exists to provide a product or service to the customer”. T he business then becomes a serving institution – serving those who produce and those who use. At f irst the new ethic may put these two on par. But as the economy becomes even more productive.. the new business ethic of service to those who produce, may rise in priority, above service to those who use and the signif icance of work will be, more the joy of doing rather than the goods and services produced. T here must, of course, be goods and services at some level, but in an era of abundance, they need not be the top priority… … In an overcrowded industrial society. where most people spend their working lives, [business institutions need to ] adopt an ethic in which meaning and signif icance are the goal – at least on parity with other goals. And to bring it to parity, it must, f or a while at least, be the primary goal… Its accomplishment rests on the ability of institution builders and leaders to move these institutions (while keeping them intact and f unctioning) f rom where they are, with the heavy emphasis on production, to where they need to be, with the heavy emphasis on growing people. And they have to do this while meeting all the other perf ormance criteria that society imposes f or institutional survival. … T he process has already started in some businesses, with the ef f ort to accommodate the very able young people…who have a clear, individualistic style that they are determined to preserve and who need the excitement of a dynamic purpose. … Motivation then becomes what people generate f or themselves when they experience growth. Whereas the usual assumption about the f irm is that it is in business to make a prof it and serve its customers and that, it does things f or and to employees, to get them to be productive, the new ethic requires that “growth” of those who do the work is the primary aim, and the people then see to it that the customer is served and that the ink on the bottom line is black. It is “their” game. T he art of course is how to do this in a f irm that employs many thousands.. … When the business manager who is f ully committed to this ethic is asked “What are you in business f or..?”, the answer may be ” I am in this business f or growing people” – people who are stronger, healthier, more autonomous, more self -reliant, more competent [and more happy]. Incidentally we also make and sell at a prof it things that people want to buy, so we can pay f or all this. We play that game hard and well and we are successf ul by the usual standards, but that is really incidental… We manage the business about the same way we always did. We simply changed our aim. Consequently, as an institution we are terribly strong. In f act we are distinguished. How do I know we are distinguished? Because the best young people want to work f or us.. and once they are inside, they never want to leave. Any business that can do that is a winner.


[T hese words f rom Robert Greenleaf written three decades ago are more relevant today than ever] Excerpts from Servant Leadership (1977) By Robert K Greenleaf 25th Anniversary Edition (2003) Magna Publishing Co Ltd pp 154-160

Relat ed post s: 1. Leadership-Perf ormance Management f or New Age Organizations


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