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The STEW of Steward Leadership


BlogCLA.StewPot By Mark L. Vincent

A stew is either a mess or good eats. One has to look at the context to know which it is. Even more, over or under rationing the ingredients, or not inserting them at the proper time, and a fine meal becomes toxic.

The STEW of a steward leader is much the same. The context in which they serve, the person they choose to be, and the way they carry out their role are the ingredients with which they work. The leader occupies the intersection where the proper mix and timing of these ingredients occur, making the stew good or awful.

So much of stew making is out of a leader’s control. The context might be able to be shaped over time, but not immediately and probably not radically. Many other forces outside the leadership purview exert their influence where the leader has little to none.

Even if it could be shaped, the leader inherits the context as it is, not as they might have preferred it to be. Who decides to follow and in what ways are also outside the leader’s control, at least directly. Even though they can easily reduce the number or loyalty of followers by doing nothing or by acting callously; even though they can reduce obstacles and increase rewards for following, the choice of whether to follow remains with the follower.

Leaders cannot control everything about themselves in relationship to their context either. One cannot suddenly have a more commanding voice, a higher math aptitude or or a greater number of birthdays. They can increase their skills, but they cannot be other than who they are, even when functioning at superhuman capacity.

What the leader is in the most control of is themselves in relationship to their context, and they are part of that context where they lead. This means the character and the behaviors they bring to the context matter a great deal. So does their capacity to adapt. I would add that the length of their purview also matters. By this I mean a cultivated ability to see how a long term vision is affected by actions in the near term. And by long term I mean casting a vision that extends beyond one’s own career to one’s successors and beyond.

Those who study leadership might become critical at this point, stating that this description of a steward leader is not much different than a servant leader or a transformational leader. Some even issue a challenge that anyone who promotes steward leadership as a specific leadership approach needs to offer more proof that this is any different than what is being written about elsewhere.

Actually, steward leadership does not try to disintegrate or abandon previously demonstrated leadership theory. Instead it builds upon it, extends it, and offers a wider doorway into claiming a leadership identity:

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Servant leadership tends to emphasize the character of a leader. Transformational leadership tends to emphasize the behaviors of a leader. Many feel these are complementary rather than conflicting points of view. Because steward leadership treats them as complementary, leaders and students of steward leadership will find that servant and transformational understandings continue. Steward leadership builds upon them by providing a more articulate underlying purpose (my leadership role and the organization I serve is given to me in trust) and a more compelling end (I am accountable for and must return this trust at the end of my service).

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Servant leadership tends to measure the sincerity, authenticity and integrity of the leader. Has the leader put others first? Transformational leadership tends to measure the vitality of the organization. Has the leader been able to get people what they need in order for them and their organization to succeed as they have defined it? Steward leadership extends both of these–the measure of integrity specifically includes relationships with all stakeholders, including subsequent generations, and even more, the master who employs; and the measure of vitality specifically includes increased capacity and quality of life for all these same stakeholders.

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Neither servant nor transformational approaches deny that one can claim a leadership identity–a vocation if you will. In fact, both offer some level of encouragement to do so. A leader who understands this knows that their identity is not just what they are at the moment, but who they are whether they have a formal leadership role or not. Such a person is likely to be just as effective a follower as they are a leader. The character and actions of leadership are so fundamentally engrained in them that they contribute however they can. They cannot not do it.  The steward leader claims this vocation.They are working for their master in whatever context they are.

The STEW of a steward leader then is to claim the role of helping and caring in the middle of a unique context, thinking about the long-term as they do and choosing actions in the moment that face the right direction.  The steward leader does so knowing they might not be the one who enjoys the feast they prepared for the benefit of others.

And still they are satisfied.

How do you describe your leadership style?

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Additional reading:

Mark L. Vincent is CEO of Design Group International, an organizational development company he co-founded in 2001 to help organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future.

CLA.TwitterProPicDKBMark will also be leading an Intensive Training Institute (ITI) session at the 2013 CLA National Conference in Anaheim called, The Art of Agreement.  Be sure to register for the conference and sign up for this dynamic learning experience.

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