by Dan Lococo
Barrier Knocker Downer
Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Over the past three years I’ve had the good fortune to facilitate a servant-leader roundtable in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After some lean times, the biggest challenge facing the group is dealing with its own growth. A guiding principle that emerged early in the life of the group is “The wisdom is in the room.” This principle has fostered a welcoming environment where the college president learns from the mechanic who learns from the marketing director who learns from the community organizer, and so on.
The group began January 27, 2011, with five persons who had met at a Wisconsin Servant-Leader Cities Tour event a few months earlier. In response to the question “How can we continue to grow as servant-leaders?” we agreed to meet once a month in the dining room of a local hotel. Within a short time, we lost two of the original five members to job changes and relocation.
Our group started with an initial reading of “The Case for Servant Leadership” by Kent M. Keith. The book gave the group a focal point for discussion. Two things became apparent very quickly: Reading and reviewing someone else’s words only took us so far; and, there was a lot we could learn from each other.
Slowly, the group began to grow. New members joined through referrals and from the connection to the Wisconsin Servant-Leader Cities Tour events. Together we processed the three-page document “The Key practices of Servant-Leaders,” also by Dr. Keith. Each one-hour roundtable focused on one of the practices from the perspective of each member in the assembled group. In leveraging the wisdom in the room, we were able to examine servant leadership through the lens of the relationships each of the members engaged in as a part of their day-to-day experiences.
The stories shared around the table told of administrative assistants leading volunteer organizations, business owners finding a balance point for employees to feel comfortable challenging authority, and a middle-level police field officer having to tell the police chief he’ll need to be patient and trust her judgment. The conversation ranges from self-leadership to leading peers to leading down to leading up.
What makes the roundtables such a joy to facilitate is the wisdom in the room. The members check their titles at the door, show great respect for one another, and are not afraid of the moments of silence that come with thoughtful reflection.
In the past year, the roundtables have grown to 20–25 people gathering each month from a pool of 50 active members. I try to identify topics that allow each member to contribute to the conversation from their own perspective and to gain from the perspective of others. At the end of each meeting, notes are shared, along with the names and contact information of those in attendance. The participants can either contact each other directly or continue the conversation through a LinkedIn group account created exclusively for people who have attended at least one monthly roundtable.
In January 2011 we were just a handful of people who thought it would be a good idea to gather around the topic of servant leadership. At the end of 2013, we have a growing community of servant-leaders who are dedicated to developing their servant leadership practice by being present to the wisdom in the room.