Greenleaf Centre for Servant-Leadership UK
Conference 2016 Report

Servant-Leadership: A Celebration

1st and 2nd November 2016
The Ambassadors Hotel, London

The Greenleaf Centre for Servant-Leadership UK’s 2016 Conference was about celebration. Not only was the celebration to mark the Centre’s 20th conference but, more importantly, about the impact of Servant-Leadership on the people and organisations that practise it. To this end, the speakers offered diverse views on their practices and own unique offerings on Servant-Leadership. As always, the conference was made all the more in-depth and rich by the community of attendees and supporters. The one regret was the absence of John Noble, one of the two founders of the Centre, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Centre since its start. John was unable to attend due to serious illness but his contribution was recognised at a special ceremony - of which more later in this report.

Ahrabella and Ralph Lewis began the conference by looking at their work in the Health Sector in Uganda with a number of truly special Ugandan Servant-Leaders in that sector. They asked participants to greet each other in the Ugandan way, which involves a long lingering handshake and much emphasis on connecting personally, before each beginning to think about work topics. They showed a video of Martin who works with AIDS clients (clients not patients as client suggests they have equal responsibility for their welfare, rather than patients, who surrender their welfare to the medics!) Martin talked about loving his clients, and he meant it. Ahrabella talked about the role of creativity in reinforcing service through teamwork and communication in poster design and individual leadership aspirations. Finally everyone learnt how to applaud, Ugandan style.

The conference was privileged to have Meg Wheatley as one of its key speakers. Meg is one of the world’s foremost leadership thinkers and writers, with many publications including Leadership and the New Science, and the upcoming Who Do We Choose to Be? She lead us on an amazing journey through her many years of consulting with an enormous range of organisations, and invited us to think about what we ourselves were doing to facilitate our own Servant-Leadership contribution. Her focus was very much on relationships, and building networks of people who share a common cause through connecting with kindred spirits. Finally Meg read to us her poem What the World Needs from her new book, accompanied beautifully by Stephanie Winters on cello. It was an inspirational session.

To close the day Justin Gallagher talked about (and demonstrated) the parallels between Servant-Leadership and Aikido – of which there are many. First and foremost, Aikido is a way of promoting harmony, and it does this through a concern for the well-being of the attacker while defending oneself. Promoting awareness, and looking for space for development is also important. Justin had trained in Japan, and leads an Aikido group in Leeds. He shared many stories of how the practice of Aikido had helped people in their own development and confidence through helping others. It was a wonderful and illuminating session to close a marvellous day.

Day Two began with Sister Anna Dooley and Robert York from the Sisters of Nazareth talking about their experience in introducing Servant-Leadership throughout all the care homes they run in the UK. Sister Anna talked about the history of the Sisters. They were founded by Victoire Larmenier, a French nun, who came to London and opened up a house with the focus on service, caring for the poor, the elderly and children. The values of the Sisters come from her; love, compassion, patience, respect, justice and hospitality. The Houses are open to all regardless of faith, gender or background. Robert York talked about his role as CEO, and the mistakes he has made along the way, bringing leadership to light in a very humorous but effective way. The Sisters of Nazareth have taken their core values and linked them to Servant-Leadership. To ensure that Servant-Leadership is truly practised, they have been holding discussion groups with all the staff, and also rewriting job descriptions, for example, to focus on Servant-Leadership values.

Tom Georg Olsen is Group Servant (Group CEO) and Chairman of the Norwegian based IT company, Miles AS. He offered us a superb demonstration of the values of Servant-Leadership in place in a business organisation, how this leads to commercial success but, more importantly, people satisfaction and the building of a community of trust. Miles has a very strong focus on recruiting the right people, a practice that can lead to thirty or forty reference calls with a number of questions that most companies don’t ask about - for example, working styles and communication. Their aim is to have people who have not only professional authority but warmth as well. Then the focus is to establish that culture of trust where people serve each other and the clients, where leadership is distributed, and where as many decisions as can be are delegated. Miles is a true example of where Servant-Leadership values are lived out, and a wonderful example for other companies. And Tom brought all this to life with a wry smile, and great sense of humour.

We welcomed back Di and Ali Feldman from Australia for an update of their marvellous session on mentorship which they shared with the conference a number of years ago. Humour seems to be a core attribute of Servant-Leaders, and Ali and Di talked, with great warmth and much laughter, about the essence of mentoring and its history with Telemachus. They explored Servant-Leadership and mentoring, and then had the groups work in pairs mentoring each other with the aid of a Mento (an Australian sweet). Lots of sunshine from our favourite Australians!

We then had a session, led by Larry Spears from the USA, honouring John Noble for his years of service. There was, in addition, a video tribute from the writer and poet, Jim Autry, also from the USA, author of a number of leadership books, including The Servant Leader, Love and Profit, and Life and Work A plaque was presented to Marian Noble, John’s wife, to acknowledge the contribution John had made to Servant-Leadership over the years. It was a very moving few minutes and greatly appreciated by all.

This was followed, very appropriately, by the welcome return of Stephanie Winters, a world renowned cellist, with an exquisite performance of the Bach Cello Suites, illustrating the theme of Listen Differently. She brought all the elements of the conference together, bringing the two days to an end with a magnificent and emotive finale, reminding us all of the Servant-Leader’s capacity and need to listen to what underlies our deepest needs.

Ralph Lewis.