Photo Credit: Work.Chron
All of life is stewardship. Doesn’t it make sense? Our jobs, our relationships, our personalities, and our future have multiple layers. When we think of stewardship, rather than ownership, or entitlement, or giftings, or personal rights, we take on a much broader, healthier view or life. Writing about it previously here, I wanted to focus more, this time, on our workplace.
In 1993, Peter Block wrote a revolutionary book entitled Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest. He updated and expanded it twenty years later (in 2013). Block defines stewardship as “the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us. Stated simply, it is accountability without control or compliance”.
Words mean things. When we use the word “steward”, we loosen our grip on ownership – of our job, title, product, and work relationships. However, we do not loosen our commitment on personal responsibility. This is the gem of stewardship – a gem in the workplace that can be mined by each one of us.
Years ago, in nursing school, we used Virginia Henderson’s definition of nursing which focused more on facilitating the patient’s return to caring for him/herself than on the “giving care” component we often think of with nurses. Nursing as stewardship. When our children came along, we as parents would need to decide whether to home school or put our children into a private or public school. Another parent gave us wise counsel: Whatever your decision, you are responsible for your children’s education, some of which you may contract out to other teachers or institutions. We, as parents, were stewards of our children’s education.
In the workplace, we have heard the word steward used in the service industry: union shop stewards, ship stewards, stewards on airlines, stewards of estates. However, the stewardship that Block describes can proliferate at all levels, especially if our leaders set this value and mindset. What if an organization determined to have an inclusive model of accountability where all employees operated by serving, rather than controlling, those in their influence (colleagues, customers, vendors)? What if we chose to apply ourselves to the work before us, with deep personal care and commitment, rather than under a boss’s control or need for our compliance?
Stewardship as a concept and value is both time-tested and trendy. Check out REI‘s commitment to customers in delivering quality outdoor gear…and also to its employees. Stewardship.Photo Credit: Slideplayer
My first encounter with this word, stewardship, was as a child hearing the parable of a master preparing to leave on a journey. He entrusted the three servants with some measure of his wealth (talents). Their master had given each varying amounts of money, according to each servant’s ability. The master would be away for some period of time and meant for his servants to “steward” the money. Two servants invested his money in such a way that each doubled the amount entrusted them. The third servant, fearing the master (and possibly lacking confidence in his own ability), hid the money entrusted to him. He only had what he’d received in the beginning to give back to the master. The first two servants were rewarded for their faithfulness, care, and initiative, but the last cautious, fearful servant suffered the consequences of his inaction.
There is much to learn about stewardship from this old story. Stewardship is taking personal responsibility and interest in quality of service or product and depth of relationship. Like in the story, it could mean taking risks ourselves or with each other (especially leaders entrusting other team members with decision-making and design). It means empowering others in discussions and details that we might prefer keeping for ourselves (except that we are stewarding toward a larger outcome). It means making investments in others and in the over-all organization. Stewardship is the embodiment of employee engagement…all-in, whatever it takes, for that greater good. Lastly, the story spoke to rewards for those diligently stewarding what was placed in their care, and the consequences of those who refuse to be engaged…which leads to a place nobody really wants to go.Photo Credit: Quotesgram
Leaders and managers who are willing to give up control and who genuinely care about their employees and customers become true stewards themselves. They set the standard for stewarding across a company. Whether leaders are on board or not, any of us can still have ownership of a new-old way of thinking and practice. We can steward well what is our responsibility or under our influence. Again, this type of “ownership” is not about owning the job, the product, or the relationship. Stewardship is the owning of our personal responsibility – our piece of what could be excellent, and our piece of what’s not going well, and applying our experience, knowledge, giftings, and heart to benefit all touched by our service. Our stewardship.
Photo Credit: Whatcomlandtrust
What are your stories? Do you see the impact of your stewardship? Of the stewardship of others? Could you see how this might color the culture at your workplace? Is your company one where top-down, bottom-up, people care about each other and what they’re doing? It shows…if you are, or if you’re not. Stewardship.
Photo Credit: Quotesgram
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