In my retirement travels, I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve at dozens of ministries across our country. Some of these ministries appear to be operating on a shoestring budget. Some have had large enough budgets to fund multiple aircraft needed in their missionary work. In all cases, in my opinion, stewardship should be top-of-mind to them, but I have been surprised. Some of these ministries have done a much better job with stewardship than others, and it appears to me to have little to do with the size or sophistication of the ministry. On the other hand, it has EVERYthing to do with leadership.
What I have witnessed is that some organizations do not hire leaders that are focused on stewardship, but are instead focused on task achievement, i.e., performance and productivity. There is a difference between being a great servant and being a great steward. At the leadership level, that difference is amplified, and stewardship ebbs.
Stewardship is the use and/or management of resources. In ministry and in business, the managed resources belong to others and are typically allocated with a specific purpose in mind. STEWARD LEADERSHIP THEORY takes that definition one step further and assigns accountability in the areas of resource acquisition, mission alignment with resources, human accountability for resources, and execution of agreed upon goals.
From the outside looking in, some of these ministries would do well to adopt STEWARD LEADERSHIP THEORY. What this model offers that the more familiar Theory X, Theory Y, Transformational Leadership, Agency Theory Leadership, and Servant Leadership models do not is a unique alignment between the leader and the organization. Traditional leadership theories do not require that the leader have a personal belief system that aligns with the organization – “I will do what you want me to do as long as you pay me for my work…,”is a common tenet. In these models, the leader is a role, not an identity. The corporate goal relies on skills and task accomplishment from leadership. Acting out of self-interest is common; traditional leadership models commonly emphasize external factors such as earnings, advancement, and title as part of their motivation strategies.
In STEWARD LEADERSHIP THEORY, alignment between the leader and the organization is natural – “I will do what you want because it is exactly what I would do if it were my time or money involved…”. The STEWARD LEADER leads because that is his/her identity, and not just his/her role. Studies have shown that STEWARD LEADERs are motivated by pride of work opportunities with which they are entrusted, self-actual-ization, internal achievement, and affiliation with the organization more than traditional external motivators.
Because of this personal agenda, STEWARD LEADERSHIP THEORY is more common across the spectrum of nonprofit organizations. This broad-scoped list includes the Arbor Day Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, Rotary Club, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, AARP, Teach for America, SOWERs, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, to name a few. You can add most churches as well as all other organizations where context and a common agenda are apt to be shared between the personal mission of the individual leader and the mission of the organization.
"Servant Leader" is a popular title these days. There are similarities in the models; servanthood is an element of STEWARD LEADERSHIP – both models elevate service above self-interest. While the Servant Leader may be found in all types of organizations, the position of STEWARD LEADER is more closely aligned with Christian leadership opportunities. The roots of the word “steward” are biblical and describe a higher level of accountability to, responsibility for, and trust between the owner of the resources and the leader. Biblically, three leadership hierarchies are described: Shepherd, Servant, and Steward.
In 2010, Scott Rodin in The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations, and Communities, avered that we are first called to be Godly servants, then stewards, and then called to be leaders. He states, "Commitment to our call ... guides us as steward leaders. But we are stewards first … [and then] we are called to lead.” As such, many scholars agree that stewardship is a more comprehensive leadership basis than pure servanthood.
STEWARD LEADERSHIP is managing and operating in service, while leading, rather than operating in control and execution of a particular task. STEWARD LEADERSHIP THEORY emphasizes the steward relationships with the owners, donors, and stakeholders, in addition to employees of the organization, and historically, more involved in strategic fulfillment of the organization’s agenda. Another distinction between the servant leader and the steward leader is often a higher duty of care that is assigned to a steward that may not be required in the servant relationship.
What is a steward leader stewarding? The contemporary answer is the "time, talent, and treasure" of the company -- all of the organization's resources to which s/he is entrusted by the Board. This is as true for the leader as it is for the steward leader’s charge within the organization. But there is much more the steward leader is sensitive to. The list is truly endless and spans not only the leaders calendar, specifics of his/her catalog of duties, and his/her own spiritual gifts, but other intangibles such as their compassion, relationship choices, authority, grace, emotions, who/where they serve, mentorship, and even their own bodies and health, just for example.
STEWARD LEADERSHIP combines the best elements of the Agency Theory Leadership model with the Servant Leadership model and promotes a higher level of responsibility and trust between the leader and the ownership. There will be an organic alignment between the leader's personal value system and the mission of the organization. The intangible is the identity that the STEWARD LEADER develops with the organization that fulfills the leader and makes the him/her a natural fit for such advanced responsibility.
Although there is more and more being written about STEWARD LEADERSHIP THEORY, it is unfortunate that so many great ministries (and other organizations) have overlooked stewardship in their hiring criteria, especially for their leadership. It is important for today's organization, regardless of the size of the budget, to hire leadership that aligns in every way with the culture of the organization -- including with matters of stewardship. It is not enough for a leader to be a great producer, today's leaders must also be great stewards.