One of the first distinctions made in considering steward leadership is the difference between being a steward versus an owner. When the difference between them is explained as who “owns” the enterprise, it tempts the leader to mere awareness or mental assent: “I KNOW the distinction.” Or, “Yes, yes, I am just here temporarily and will have to hand it off to someone else just as it was handed off to me.
Awareness of the difference alone is not going to cut it. The impactful distinction is made in forming a foundational perspective that influences the leader’s choices and their long-term navigation of their life and that of the organization as they fulfill a mission. Holding the first chair doesn’t matter. Neither does length of tenure. Neither does succeeding in one’s lifetime.
The Old Testament character, Daniel, was a failure.
That is, he was a failure if he is viewed from an owner leader perspective. He never sat in the first chair. He didn’t have the right network to help him rise further to the heights of success. He kept finding himself put out of the C-suite. The leaders he supported kept ending in disaster. Even as God himself, spoke to Daniel, the message was one of continued turmoil and sorrow until long after Daniel’s lifetime.
With the measure of stewardship in mind, Daniel becomes one of our greatest examples, an extraordinary hero. We begin to see him as one who accomplished far more for God’s mission than did any of the rulers he served.
There is a purpose behind this little exercise. We can understand that a story like Daniels’, pointing to the difference between an owner and a steward, is more effective in developing understanding for the steward leader approach than is a conceptual description to which mere mental assent is given.
And truthfully, we need many more stewards who dare to be a Daniel than we do rulers who stand by their window and marvel at what they created by their own hand.
Mark L. Vincent Ph.D, CCNL 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. He also facilitates CLA Leader2Leader group in WI.