How to Handle Difficult Family Conversations with Finese This Holiday

by: EJ on 11/23/2016
Posted in: Community

According to American Automobile Association, 48.7 million people will be traveling to visit with family this Thanksgiving holiday.  Connecting with family can be a nurturing and supportive time and important to our well-being and sense of belonging.  It can also be a time of lively discussion and sometime difficult conversations when the values you hold true don't necessarily match those of the people you hold dear. Today's blog is an excerpt from The Heart of Sustainability: Restoring Ecological Balance from the Inside Out by Andrés Edwards from Chapter 5, "Leading from the Heart".  Andrés is speaking about leadership styles in business, however, it applies equally to being a leader and educator for your family.


Image credit: Satya Yoga Studio

First coined in 1970 by retired AT&T executive Robert K. Greenleaf, servant leadership draws on our innate desire to bring out the best in others. As Greenleaf points out: The servant-leader is servant first …. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead …. The best test ... is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  Servant leadership steers away from a hierarchical structure and instead involves group members in the decision-making process. The servant leader infuses the leadership model with essential human qualities. Larry Spears, noted servant leader scholar, outlines ten characteristics of Greenleaf ’s servant leadership (summarized here):6

Listening: The servant leader acutely listens to what is said and unsaid by the group and thereby clarifies the group’s intentions. He or she also listens to the inner voice that can be helpful in guiding the group.

Empathy: Servant leaders empathize with and accept others for their unique spirit. Servant leaders have developed their empathic listening skills and believe in the good intentions of their colleagues.

Healing: Healing of relationships involves the servant leader’s healing himself or herself and his or her relationship to others. Since part of the human experience often includes having a broken spirit and emotional wounds, servant leaders recognize the potential to help make whole those with whom they work. Greenleaf stated, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between servant-leader and led, is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something they share.”7


Photo credit: Above Average Yoga

Awareness: The servant leader is both self-aware and aware of others and general circumstances. This awareness strengthens the leader’s ability to deal with issues involving ethics, power, and values in an integrated fashion. 

Persuasion: One of the key distinctions between authoritarian and servant leadership is the reliance on persuasion rather than coercion. Being persuasive helps the servant leader build consensus in groups. 

Conceptualization: The servant leader has the capacity to balance the short-term objectives and the long-term goals of an organization. Conceptualization involves thinking big and having great dreams for what is possible. A conceptual approach helps to build the vision of an organization. 

Foresight: Related to conceptualization, foresight “enables the servant leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.” Foresight underscores the power of intuition in learning from the past and planning for the future. 

Stewardship: Stewardship focuses on servant leaders “holding their institutions in trust for the greater good of society.” Stewardship incorporates a long-term perspective that supports serving the needs of others. The approach emphasizes openness and persuasion rather than control and authority. 


Starhawk on Gabriola

Commitment to the Growth of People: The servant leader has a deep commitment to the personal and professional development of the people in an organization. Nurturing this development requires being open to people’s ideas, including workers in decision making, and supporting their career goals.

Building Community: Because people often experience isolation, the servant leader seeks to build community within an organization by, for example, creating conditions that support team building and projects that encourage cooperation among workers.



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