The Steward Leader
Stewardship of people within an organization has taken on a whole new level of meaning for me after reading Peter Block’s book Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest. Block approaches the issue of leadership, in the face of the changing business environment, from a stewardship perspective. His primary thesis? Focusing on individual leaders as the key agents for meeting the challenges of the new marketplace is misplaced.
In contrast, he believes, “It is this pervasive and almost religious belief in (individual) leaders that slows the process of genuine reform.”1 Empowerment is the answer to many of the difficult questions of business. He believes strength lies within each person working for an organization. In this environment, stewardship gives away power to make decisions to those who may have the least ‘important’ positions in a company.
Block drives to the heart of the issue by saying:
Stewardship begins with the willingness to be accountable for some larger body than ourselves – an organization, a community. Stewardship springs from a set of beliefs about reforming organizations that affirms our choice for service over the pursuit of self-interest. When we choose service over self-interest we say we are willing to be deeply accountable without choosing to control the world around us.2
Block notes that much of his advice on leadership within an organization runs completely counter to the way most business leaders have been trained. The idea that they should willingly put themselves in a position that requires them to be held accountable for actions or decisions completely outside of their control challenges convention. And yet, I see this as a critical part of creating an environment for personal transformation.
Trusting and believing that every person is meant to make decisions and will make decisions, if given the opportunity, that benefit the community or organization over self, lays the foundation for a transformational environment. No matter how counter-intuitive the concept may be, it changes employees–who might otherwise only do the minimum required–into active participants who feel a vested in seeing your business succeed.
1 Block, 6.
2 Ibid. + page number.