Terre Haute, Indiana native Robert Keifner Greenleaf founded the Center for Applied Ethics in Boston in 1964 and authored Servant-Leadership in 1977.

Portrait of Robert K. Greenleaf.
Robert K. Greenleaf, n.d. Credit: Vigo County Historical Society View Source

Greenleaf defined servant-leadership as “a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.” He continued to write and publish for the rest of his life. The center became the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in 1985. Upon Greeneleaf’s death in 1990, the headquarters moved to Indianapolis where it stayed until 2005 before moving to Westfield, Indiana, and then Atlanta, Georgia. Larry Spears took over as CEO and President during the Center’s Indiana residence.

While in Indianapolis, the Greenleaf Center sponsored a four-year research and resource development initiative, the Trustee Renewal Project, funded by lilly endowment. The project resulted in three publications: The Dynamics of Trusteeship, Nominating: Making Decisions for the Future, Nominating Committees as Change Agents, and A Balcony Perspective, Clarifying the Trustee Role.

The philosophy behind the center is about an approach to leadership that he believed should be taken by leaders in business, government, arts, education, nonprofit organizations, and other groups. The Greenleaf Center has been a thought leader in the field of servant leadership and a good steward of Robert Greenleaf’s writings. The center offers publications, online education, speaking, workshops, and an annual international conference on servant leadership. 

The center relocated to Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, in 2019.

Revised March 2021

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