Tony Dungy, the celebrated former coach of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts and winner of the 2007 Super Bowl, has been characterized as revolutionizing the role of the NFL coach. He learned from having assisted Pittsburgh Steeler coach Chuck Noll, and extended that learning into his own deep convictions about what truly motivates people. In his words: "It's about the journey -- mine and yours, and the lives we can touch, the legacy we can leave, and the world we can change for the better."

In fact, his book about his leadership philosophy is entitled Quiet Strength. NFL coaches, along with other major league professional teams, are high-profile leaders, whose techniques and personalities are visible to millions of viewers and fans. One of his core beliefs is that coaches are essentially teachers. I applaud Tony Dungy for his conviction to treat his players, and everyone else, with respect.

These concepts have certainly been developed in the business arena as well. Among many influential thinkers and writers, Ken Blanchard and Stephen Covey are names that most managers and leaders recognize. Mr. Blanchard is the author of the leadership classic The One-Minute Manager, and Mr. Covey's seminal book was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Both have had distinguished careers in the field of management and leadership training and development. They, among others, have influenced millions of people around the world and helped shape the way businesses and organizations are run today. But who influenced them? Who were their teachers?

One such person was Robert Greenleaf. Ever heard of him? Mr. Blanchard wrote in his foreword to Focus on Leadership: "I am a fan of Robert Greenleaf and think that servant leadership is the foundation for effective leadership." Mr. Covey put it this way: "The servant leadership concept is a principle, a natural law."

The servant leadership they are referring is the foundational philosophy developed by Mr. Greenleaf, who spent his career in management research, development and education at AT&T. He was also a lecturer at both MIT and Harvard business schools, and on the faculty at Dartmouth and the University of Virginia. He was a consultant to universities, businesses, and foundations during the '60s and '70s. His thinking and writing led to the establishment of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in Indianapolis, Ind., which thrives today under the direction of CEO Kent Keith (www.greenleaf.org).

The servant leader philosophy encourages caring, empowerment, ethics and trust within the culture of an organization. The fundamental premise is that an individual first chooses to be of service, then leadership is chosen as the means to be of service. It includes a commitment to community and shared decision-making. It emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy and the ethical use of power.

In my experience as a leader and in working with hundreds of other leaders, I believe this is a tremendously potent leadership model. The best leaders I know are guided by these values and principles. One of the most demanding aspects of leadership is the relentless stream of changing circumstances. This makes it imperative for leaders to find an internal guiding light of purpose and perspective within themselves. The concept of the servant leader can provide some of that perspective. In this model, leaders are seen as stewards of their organization's resources: human, financial, and material.

Servant leaders are guided by a genuine concern for the well-being of their employees, and seek ways to develop and encourage their skills, effectiveness, and ways for them to participate appropriately in the organization's decision-making processes. Customers are honored and valued as individuals, worthy of care, concern, and quality goods and services. Servant leaders see their organization as woven into the fabric of their communities, as active and contributing members of the larger whole.

Servant leadership companies also consider the larger context of the environment, which is the constituency that cannot speak directly for itself. They consider both the short- and long-term impacts of their activities on the environment throughout their supply chains. These principles are incorporated into today's corporate social responsibility practices.

Tony Dungy worked in Indianapolis for six years as the Colts coach, and I do not know whether he connected with the Greenleaf Center there. But his philosophy is certainly completely congruent with the principles that the unassuming and contemplative Robert Greenleaf developed there many years ago.

Contemporary leaders such as Dungy are publicly and dramatically demonstrating the effectiveness of these profound principles. Your role as a leader may not include being on national television, but your employees, customers, and community depend on you nevertheless to lead with the qualities that are so well elaborated in the servant leader model.


Mary Luttrell is a business strategy advisor, specializing in planning, marketing, performance management and leadership.  Ms. Luttrell is an ISO-Certified Management Consultant whose firm has been named one of the 100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America. Contact Mary at 707-887-2256 or thecoach@sonic.net. You can download Mary's whitepapers and subscribe to her weekly tips for leaders on her website: www.maryluttrell.com.