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Leadership Q&A: The Stewardship Perspective


This is a column in a continuing series on The Stewardship of Gratitude.

One of the hidden problems of traditional leadership is a narrowness of perspective that is translated into a type of tunnel vision. Too often the leader, wrapped up in his own focus to strategic details, believes that his vision is THE vision. The longer this perception persists, the more insular and resistant to new ideas and approaches the leader becomes.

It is helpful to think of leadership as a circle encompassing the three dimensions of ideas, relationships and the social & organizational structures that provide the context for leading. Reduce or limit any of these dimensions and the ability of the organization to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate programs and operations is narrowed.  This narrowing is different than focusing, which doesn’t exclude, but priortizes.

Following the circle image, what is relevant to leading is inside, and everything else is outside. In a traditional structure where there is one leader, and the rest are followers, it is impossible for the circle not to become more narrow over time. This is especially true today as the amount of information and the complexity of organizations are taking quantum leaps.

There are, as a result, two trends that are problematic for organizations. One is narrowness of perspective, and the other the lack of access that “lower” members of the organizational hierarchy have to leadership.

Circle of Impact - Fill in the Blank

A solution is to develop a stewardship ethos in the organization. This is a shift away from narrowness and hierarchy to openness, cross-discipline collaboration, and shared responsibility. A way to approach this move is to see that each of the three dimensions of leadership  – Ideas, Relationships and Structure – become the responsibility of everyone in the organization. These dimensions function as the context for Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

Think about that for a moment. Consider how each of the people in your organization can take initiative to be responsible for communicating, collaborating and coordinating their work with others.

Is this happening now? If not, it may be due to an operating structure that functions as a hierarchy of narrow personal interests.  This is a product of the kind of traditional leadership that assumes that there is one leader, and everyone follows by complying with the expectations from the top.  This is an approach that is less and less effective as the world of organizations changes. It is not a sustainable position for most organizations.

To bring about change requires commitment and consistency in implementing a stewardship strategy. This strategy involves communicating a revised understanding of of the organization’s purpose. It means training and support people as leaders in their specific roles within the company.  And it means changing structures to enable higher levels of interaction and coordination between people, departments, divisions and units.

The aim of such a change is to create an environment where members of this organizational community care about its future sustainability and health to the extent that they are willing to invest their own ideas, relationships and work to make it better. Instead of being cogs in a machine, they become stewards whose contributions make a difference that matters.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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