The need for effective leadership is steady and compelling, and one that must be forever evolving as times change rapidly before our eyes. The right leadership style is highly important in the good times, but is even more essential in the face of budget reductions, fundamental changes to ways of working and increasing pressures on resources.
‘Stewardship’ is a new post-heroic leading approach where executives empower, inspire and strengthen the leadership of others – stewardship as an outcome of leadership behaviours is something that promotes a sense of personal responsibility in followers for the long-term wellbeing of the organisation and society. It appears in sharp contrast to a conventional command and control leadership style solely focused on reducing costs and creating profit, a constantly improving bottom line. For most inner leaders and their stakeholders, profitability is not enough. Like any tool, the bottom line is only as effective as the person who uses it ( Douglas and Wykowksi, 1992). Stewardship is about service to something greater. Yes, a business needs to make money, but it is also entrusted with the well-being of people, the environment and the planet. When they exclude that, they have a very small purpose that inspires no one, and that evokes neither passion nor commitment among its employees nor its followers.
Most leadership models are based around the leaders acting as ‘carers’, if you will – enabling their young to learn and grow and rewarding success. However benevolent, this gets in the way of leaders becoming stewards of their business. It is unfair, and unrealistic, to expect employees to assume a deep level of accountability and personal responsibility if at the same time they are encouraged to be dependent on their superiors. There is a balance here of course – to have faith in your superiors as internal coaches is another matter.
What’s required is a redistribution of power, moving choice and resources away from the dominant inner section of the organisation. Equality should reign, and trust should flow freely.
The nine dimensions of steward leadership identified in recent research conducted by Ashridge Business School and the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business are:
1. Personal Mastery:
Personal mastery is about continual growth and enhancement of abilities and capabilities. Stewardship requires a leader who is confident and is certain of their priorities. It is about trust – a person who is not a master of his or her own abilities will not inspire the trust in others necessary to make stewardship a reality.
2. Personal Vision:
Clarity of vision and commitment through action is essential for leaders to position themselves and play to their strengths. Steward leaders must have a vision focusing on what they want to create for themselves and the world around them.
Mentoring is about paying attention and responding to the needs of others. It also seeks to establish a values base in others. Steward leaders also know that self-care is crucial to stay the course and remain resilient.
4. Valuing Diversity:
In an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural society, stewards must purposefully seek out and value different inputs and people.
5. Shared Vision:
Clarity of vision of, and commitment to, a just and sustainable society underpin stewardship.
6. Risk-Taking & Experimentation:
Successful stewards must display courageousness from openness to new ideas.
7. Vulnerability & Maturity:
Maturity requires a fundamental shift in self-awareness and behaviour to show empathy, compassion and active listening. Steward leaders are authentic, value uncertainty, and are open to learning from others.
8. Raising Awareness:
Championing stewardship, sustainability and the common good is essential. Steward leaders must sound the trumpet of good corporate governance through raising awareness of a sustainable civil society characterised by service to society.
9. Delivering Results:
Achieving concrete and measurable results are central to stewardship, and leaders should demonstrate commitment to others via delivery. The steward leader is committed to delivering results responsibly in partnership with empowered others, within a purposeful community.
Steward leadership can be developed. These nine dimensions help leaders adopt the qualities of ‘stewards’ earlier in people’s careers, and earlier in their lifetimes, to help create a new, more sustainable, future.
The following five points are key to helping organisations achieve real shifts in mindsets and develop new sustainable behaviours:
1. Impose experiential learning. Make an idea come alive and inspire your people.
2. Walking the talk really counts.
3. Spread the word. Champion the success of employing a stewarding attitude.
4. Top-level sponsorship is vital.
5. Provide active support as follow-up to experiential development experience. This helps convert a shift in mind-set to sustained habitual new behaviours.