By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner
We just celebrated the birth of our country and its independence. Many of those celebrations were probably consistent with the past – picnics, barbecues, neighborhood gatherings, block parties, beach parties. They were also uniquely different this year because many of us took our first big steps towards coming out of our “Covid Caves”. We are beginning to feel comfortable again by getting together without consideration of “social distancing”. We are replacing our Zoom screens with real person-to-person interaction. We are gathering again in personal, professional, and social communities.
As begin to meet again in real face-to-face groups, I thought about the concept of stewardship. I cannot prove my point with scientific evidence, but I have a suspicion that during the past twenty months or so as we “socially distanced”, we may have let our responsibility to be good stewards in our professional and personal lives slip a bit. Bear with me as I revisit this topic which I wrote about in a column many years ago.
During my fresh-out-of-college job
interview with Arthur Andersen, a very senior partner introduced me to the
concept of stewardship. It was a new concept to me, and one that I really had
never given much thought. At the time, I associated the term with how to
conduct myself in the circle of my family, or beyond that with the concept of
volunteerism. I never focused on the fact that stewardship must be part of the
fabric of all organizations for them to be successful.
The definition of stewardship that
senior partner gave me was simple and straightforward. It has stuck with me throughout my entire career,
throughout my life. “Stewardship means it is my responsibility to make this a
better place for the people that follow me because those ahead of me made it a
great place for me.”
Every organized group is brought
together for a common purpose—to achieve a common goal. I believe that one common characteristic that
every organization must have to achieve its goal is that of stewardship. And the concept applies to all members of
each organization—whether they are labeled as leaders, executives, management, staff,
or workers. Everyone needs to be a good steward for the organization to achieve
its peak level of performance.
Ideally, everyone should act like a
steward regardless of their title within an organization. Most, if not all, of
you are leaders at some level in your organization. Whether you are leading a project
team, a department, a division, or a company—you are a leader. As a leader, you
should accept your responsibility not just to lead but to act as a steward as
well. Here are some of my thoughts on the behaviors of a good steward.
No matter the role, I believe a
good steward first and foremost cares about the people she works with, whether
they are under her direct supervision or not.
She considers their interest and development as important as her
own. She understands their personal and
professional goals and helps balance her needs with theirs and towards the success
of the organization. She creates or contributes to an environment in which
everyone works together towards a common goal.
Whether leading a team or participating
as a member of a team, a good steward builds trust within the team. He acts with integrity and expects his
teammates to do the same. He ensures
that team members are not afraid to call each other out when they feel trust is
A good steward maintains her own
competence level to do her job. She
regularly engages in her own development.
She also works with her team members to ensure that they do the
same. She helps secure the resources
necessary to maintain those levels. And
she works with her teammates to identify new competencies needed for continued
success and to obtain the resources to get them.
If he is the leader of the
organization, a good steward sets the vision and defines the organization’s
mission. Below the leadership level, he
learns the mission, understands it, and works with his team members to define
how their part of the organization fits in to that mission to help achieve it. As
a colleague of mine often states, each person must own their portion of the
vision and the mission.
A good steward also understands the
organization’s culture and owns her part of it.
She encourages all her team members to do the same both directly and by
her behavior. She understands that
culture is what must take place, even when no one is looking. Shed ensures that her team members do the
As an organization or team leader,
he makes certain that every member understands their role in the success of the
team. He holds them accountable on a
regular basis and rewards or admonishes them appropriately, depending on their
actions and results. He does not do
their job for them, but he teaches them and sees that they take responsibility
for their actions. He leads by example,
acknowledges responsibility for his own actions and remediates his own behavior
when necessary. He does not “play favorites” and holds each of his team members
accountable for their actions.
The good steward provides her team
with the resources necessary to accomplish their objective. Then she gets out
of the way and lets them do their work. She recognizes that the environment
will constantly change and that course corrections will be required. She communicates regularly with her teammates
so that they are comfortable with notifying her of changes in the environment
and the need for course correction. She
encourages their regular communication and feedback.
He is aware of the need for himself
and his team members to have appropriate “down time” to recharge and redirect,
as necessary. He makes sure that all
team members feel that he is open to their communication and feedback about all
issues that might affect the team’s performance—especially in periods when peak
performance is required.
Coaching, developing, mentoring,
teaching. These are all bywords for a
great steward. She does all of these as
she works with her team members. She is
also willing to listen to them teach, develop, and instruct her when their expertise
is greater than her own.
A good steward opens, and keeps
open, the lines of communication with peers, colleagues, subordinates, and leaders
above him. He monitors his own performance
and acknowledges wins and losses. He
recognizes achievements of others and rewards them as appropriate. He works
with others to investigate failure and remediate as quickly as possible. He advises changes in course when they are
necessary. He communicates, communicates again and then communicates more.
She evaluates her own performance
and shares her successes and failure with her teammates. She recognizes their successes and helps them
overcome the difficulty of failure. She
provides regular feedback and feedforward communication so that others know how
they fit into organization. She does not
focus on blame for past mistakes but on how to correct those mistakes going
forward. She learns from the failures that occur.
He takes care of his own physical, mental,
and spiritual well-being and encourages his team members to do the same. He knows how to have fun; he knows when the
team needs to “blow off steam”; he knows when to rest and he does.
The good steward encourages her
team to continue their own self-development.
She helps them access opportunities to do so through the
organization. If necessary, she will
help them seek outside assistance to continue their development.
And of course, good stewards think
straight and talk straight.
Ironically, most of these
characteristics are the same characteristics that define a good leader. In
fact, any leadership list I would compile overlaps with this. That is because
good leaders are stewards, and stewards are good leaders.
You can be a great steward in all
phases of your life, whether it is within your family, your work, your
community, your school, your church, or any organization in which you
participate. If you do these things, if you behave in this fashion, I believe
you will leave behind an organization, a community, a society, and an
environment that is better than it was when you got there. You will be a good
Hopefully, the most difficult
stages of the Covid pandemic are behind us.
As we return to some semblance of our previous lives, or as we adjust to
a “new normal”, let us all be good stewards. Accept your personal
responsibility to improve today for tomorrow. Strive to focus on yourselves in
a manner that helps build the future for those who will succeed you. If you believe
that practicing stewardship in your organization is important, you must make
the effort to contribute. Otherwise, why are you there?
As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts and to learn from you. Please feel free to write me at Ed@ThinkStraightTalkStraight.com and share yours. And of course, my book, “Think Straight. Talk Straight.” is still available on www.Amazon.com.