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Work Life Lead: The Steward’s Art

image“This is one of a series of columns on The Stewardship of Gratitude. Follow on Twitter at #stewardgratitude.

An artist is a person who takes common materials, joins them together to create something of beauty that can elevate people or a society’s perception of their lives.

The artist sees connections between ideas and objects, people and situations, and brings them together in a meaningful way.

Within each of us is an artist waiting to emerge.

The material of our art doesn’t have to be paint, brushes and canvas. It can be people, policies and purpose. In my Circle of Impact guide, the artist’s materials are ideas, relationships, the social environment and organizational structure. The organizational artist brings them all together to create something that elevates participants’ perception of what is possible when they join together.

Leadership is much more like art than it is a science. Circle of Impact - Fill in the Blank - blue

As the steward of the organization, the leader cares for it, strengthens it, protects it, and seeks to sustain its value through the inevitable transitions in time.

Most people I know would not label themselves as leaders, nor as an artist.

However, they would agree that they care about the people, the institutions and communities where they live and work. The question for us is,

How does our caring get expressed in ways that make a difference that matters?

When we care for something, we have chosen to become of a steward of its life. Stewardship is the practice of caring. It is more than showing up, participating in an activity, and going home. it is taking a personal stake in the progress and welfare of the group, organization or environment.

I’m sure many of you have served on boards of one kind or another. To be a board member is to be a steward of the organization’s future. There are two approaches that generally can be taken. One is to preserve the current system, and resist any change that might threaten the organization’s historic mission and approach. The other is to be first the steward of the mission, not the organization. In so doing, to creatively seek to find the best system or organizational structure for the future. This latter approach opens the organization to a far greater opportunity for the artist to creatively practice the art of leadership as stewardship.

I once worked for a client whose company had gone through a troublesome time with the unethical actions of former leaders. As stewards of the company,  the new CEO and Board Chair chose to begin their service by focusing on the values of the company. By taking this approach, they elevated everyone’s perception of the value of the company and gave employees and the community a platform from which to support the company’s development in the future. As a result this company has been recognized as one of the most trustworthy companies by Forbes magazine.

When organizational stewards are creative in their service, they first of seek to understand the materials that are available for their use. Those resources are financial, material, and human, as well as governance policies and operating structure. There is the network of supporters, the local community environment, the conceptual ideas that inform the mission of the organization, and different types of approaches to how to be an organization. The steward as artist creatively connects and blends these various materials to create a vision that inspires, guides and unifies the constituents of the company to focus together on the future. The organizational artist looks beyond the conventional use of these materials to see how new ways can bring strength and sustainability to what they care about.

The major distinction between the steward as artist and many contemporary leaders is that they understand that the work of art is more important than the artist. The culture of the artist respects the materials and seeks to exploit their potential for creating an organizational work of art of strength and sustainability.

For the organizational leader to be both steward and artist requires a presence of mind that is open and mature. The leader learns to see that which others cannot. From this vision, the leadership steward enables others to share in the steward’s art. As a result, the company becomes a work of beauty that elevates everyone’s perception of the difference that theycan make that matters. And a more sustainable environment for managing the challenges and transitions of our time is created.

Photo credit: Dan Strange

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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