The third of the The Core Four Actions states “What you steward, endures.” For many people, stewardship is the monthly tithe at the church, or the occasional reminder that a good farmer cares for the soil as much as the crops. For some, it is an act of doing nothing about something that is completely intangible.
When we go to the dictionary and look up the word “steward”, it states that stewardship is “a responsibility to take care of something one does not own.” When reflecting on this definition, I am reminded of what James Belasco and Ralph Stayer wrote in their book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring To Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead , Time Warner, 1994: “The primary purpose of strategic planning is not to strategically plan for the future, although that's an important purpose of the exercise. It is primarily to develop the strategic management mind-set in each and every individual in the organization. The purpose of the process is not only to produce a plan. It is to produce a plan that will be owned and understood by the people who have to execute it.” One huge learning for leaders who embrace stewardship is for them to recognize that we really do not “own” the organization’s mission, vision, or core values. We are caretakers of them. The same goes, on one level, with the strategy and the strategic plan. We do not own strategy as a possession as much as take care of it and make sure that it is not lost in standard operating procedures and tactical execution.
For me, stewardship is a proactive and thoughtful leadership action revolving around the following four words: intention, integration, intensive and interactive. First, successful stewardship is the intentional management of key ideas, systems, and perspective. Too often, senior leaders and midlevel managers forget that having a strategic plan requires discipline and executing a strategic plan requires patience.
Second, successful stewardship is integral to the development and execution of strategy. Through stewardship, we decide what business we are in and what business we are not in. And this is no small piece of work.
Third, successful stewardship is an intensive act of leadership. Every day, it seems we have to balance our history, our present obligations, our expectations, and our challenges plus our future desires, hopes and visions. Every word we as leaders speak and every action we take, or do not take, sets a precedent within the organization and in the community. To balance all of these expectations, we have to consciously manage what is most important, i.e. the strategic nexus.
This leads us to the fourth key point about successful stewardship. It is interactive leadership. Think strategic dialogue. For example, in many non-profits, being successful has been a qualitative measure. If we had a good story to tell, we were successful. With the changes that have taken place in the last number of years, now successful non-profits have to be both qualitative and quantitative. We need to share the stories and the metrics. To do this, we need to engage with staff at all levels, listening and sharing about what is most important, and explaining how we measure our success in this new environment.
Remember: stewardship is intentional, integrated, intensive and interactive. This week, sit down with your team and discuss how you all can steward what is most important. Otherwise, it has the potential to get lost in the busy day to day world of just getting things done.