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Work Life Lead: A Steward’s Vision

To be a Steward of an organization is not a default option for leaders. It is a choice. An intention that requires a specific perspective about the role and responsibilities of leading.

It is more than a perspective of managing. It is a vision for what the organization has been and what it can be in the future. For the steward, the company is not her own, even if she owns it. It is something larger, beyond the structure of policies, products, systems and resources. It is a vision of potential and sustainability.

Most leaders who have had any training are taught the mechanics of managing. They acquire the mindset and skills of leading by their own self-development, by trial and error in life and work, and through mentors who help them to learn. However, development as a steward is not for one’s own sake. It is development for the sake of an idea or a purpose or a calling. It is development that elevates the steward’s perspective to be a vision for the potential impact that the organization can have.

A steward’s vision incorporates many things. Let’s look at five.

1.  An Understanding of the past. The past is not simply historical. Not just names and dates on a calendar and in an annual report. It is also a culture and an experience that people have. I recall working with a group, and what they wanted was to return to a time twenty years in the past when their company was like a family. To see that perspective and understand it is what philosophers call wisdom. To see the past as an expression of the values of the company during that time and in that place is to understand the potential that resides latent in the organization.

The steward sees the best of the past and understands it as an asset that gives strength and continuity to the organization. For the steward to do this, she must respect the past as a living part of the company as it exists today. The remnant of feeling and experience informs those who have been with the company a long time about whether their current leadership is worth following or merely tolerating.  The steward sees this and understands, and she treats this knowledge with respect and dignity.

2.  A Perception of the future potential. A vision for the future is a picture of realized potential. This picture is not a snapshot, but rather like a time-lapsed photographic record of the organization in action. It sees how the organization grows and develops over time. It is a vision of possibilities and opportunities, and of the limitations and potential problems that can inhibit the company’s growth.

3. A Commitment to Sustainability. Do you have any idea what is required for your business to be sustainable in five years? Being able to understand, or better, see what sustainability looks like for your organization is an essential element in a steward’s vision.

Sustainability is a commitment to responsible growth. It is not a vision of maintaining the status quo. It is a perspective that puts the mission of the organization above the structure of the organization. As a result, to protect, preserve and promote the mission of your organization is to be vigilant in developing an operating structure which makes sense for the mission’s success.

4. An Appreciation of People. A steward understands that people are the core assets of a company. Therefore the care of employees is an important aspect of a steward’s vision. This perspective goes beyond the relationship between leader and followers. It also sees that the structure of the organization must support people to the extent that they exhibit leadership behavior as stewards as well. If there is only one steward, then the organization will suffer. However, if the structure of the organizations allows for the self-development of people to become steward leaders, then many of the issues and problems that bubble up to the top of the executive leadership chain will find their resolution by those who seek to give their best in their service to the company at all levels.

5. A Vision of Impact. We all know people and businesses who simply exist. They have a niche. They live in that niche, and survive the ups and downs of the economy. What they can’t really show is the impact that they have had over time. A steward understands that an organization’s value is in its impact. To be able to say, “We make a difference that matters. “ is to say, we are more than just a structure existing in time and space. We are a contributor to the world of our clients, employees and community. Our impact matters because we believe our mission matters, and when we do well, it means that our mission and impact aligned for success.

A steward’s vision is more than a strategic plan and a list of goals. It is more than inspiring ideas, that are unrealistic and impractical. It is a picture of the legacy of impact that the company wants to create through its people. The steward, as a result, becomes a champion of this vision, for if she is an able steward, it is not her vision alone, but one shared by the whole community of constituents that surround the business.

The starting point is the desire to be a steward of your company’s future. You must have a vision of yourself as steward before you can lead others to have the same for themselves and the company.

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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Posted in General Leadership, Leadership Q + A, Work Life Lead.

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