I appreciated Greenleaf's writing style and the inspiration he offers. While reading most of the essays in this collection I felt like I was sitting down with my grandfather and we were having a conversation over coffee in his den about how to make the world a better place. In the essay "Old Age: The Ultimate Test of Spirit" he referred several times to letters he received from friends and readers about advice they would like and how he responded candidly to them. It made him seem approachable and believable; the style fit well with his content on how to be a servant and make society better. Even in his essays he's coaching younger people! Greenleaf does not write about what he thinks should be done or what might work, but he writes from a long life of experience and reminds us what truly has worked in the past for him and others. It's almost as if he is saying, "Come on, I know you can do it!" The essay "Have You a Dream Deferred?" is actually an address he gave to a group of first-year Ohio Fellows in which he calls the students to take the next three years of their lives at their college or university and use them to make their institution the best it can be, and in turn, they will grow in creativity, distinction, and wisdom, among other noble characteristics. As a recent college graduate I was truly inspired and wished I had heard that speech or read this essay my freshman year. His writings invoke you to action and that shows he truly cares about his work and his message.
I also appreciate Greenleaf's humility and humor. I caught myself laughing out loud many times because of stories and anecdotes he uses to illustrate his points. He keeps his writing as simple as possible, using the same phrasing to describe concepts he truly believes in such as servanthood and leadership. He never uses his expertise, or status, to give his points credibility but rather lets his message, what he believes in, and his many years of work, thought, and broad experience speak for itself.
The essays themselves would be stronger if they had more structure and organization around a succinct argument. In his writings, Greenleaf picks some broad topic, such as seminaries, to write whatever comes to mind. The only attempt at an organization of those thoughts is a subtitle with a word or thought below which he will write a few thoughts in paragraph form and then move on to another thought without attempt to really make connections between his ideas. There are many connections to be made, which are left to the reader, but it would be helpful to know the connections Greenleaf has found. This would not detract from his informal style that I appreciate, but only make it easier to understand his thoughts. Perhaps Spears edited the essays in this manner and gave them even more structure than they had before. In his introduction Spears could draw Greenleaf's unorganized points together; as it is now even in the introduction Spears only lists the main points he finds helpful in these essays without offering much connection between them.
Also, the essay "My Debt to E.B. White" did not fit with the other seven essays whatsoever. In this essay are Greenleaf's thoughts on certain writings by E.B. White that Greenleaf admired and includes long quotations from those texts. For those of us who never knew White, and especially those who rarely read The New Yorker, the essay's point is lost to us. It is much to specific and detailed and the wholeness that Greenleaf is indebted to White for helping him see in White's life is not discussed enough to make the essay so broad to relate easily and connect with the other essays in the collection. It is much better left entirely out of this book.
Overall I found my introduction to Robert Greenleaf, his life, his thoughts, and his style to be engaging, unique, wise, and inspiring. The book was enjoyable to read without dull intellectualizing and what quotes he did use were relevant and very personal to Greenleaf. His years of wisdom are captured in these essays and anyone interested in leadership and how we should organize ourselves to build a better society, especially young leaders full of potential and ripe for service, would do themselves a disservice if they overlook Greenleaf's work.