Seven things not to do if you want good volunteers

boardroom

If you feel your organization is at its best when the boardroom is empty, you may have a problem.

Some years ago when I was volunteering on a board, the chairperson turned to me at a meeting and whispered, “I’ve given up way too much of my time for this organization.” I was surprised to hear her say that because she was one of our most dedicated members. After all, she was the one who recruited me to serve.

I decided later that she was going through volunteer burnout, which happens when organizations demand too much of too few people. The year after she stepped down as our chair, she virtually disappeared. I would see her occasionally at events but only briefly. Then, poof, she was gone for good.

I’ve thought many times about what makes volunteers stick around after their terms are up, serving in various capacities year after year. Or what prompts them to drop out completely, sometimes from exhaustion or frustration, or both.

From homeless shelters and food banks to small-town symphonies and little league teams, our world is a better place to live because of volunteer organizations. Yet, sadly, many of these beneficent institutions are poorly managed. Sometimes they are so badly run that they drive away even the most committed volunteers.

If you want your volunteers—or your paid employees—to stick around, here are seven things I have learned over the years not to do:

  1. Keep your vision a secret. For some organizations, it’s crystal clear why they exist. It’s very easy to see how their mission is impacting people’s lives. Other groups seem to be holding on to the vestiges of a forgotten era. These groups have no clear purpose and are simply marking time. Does your organization have a reason to exist? Make sure volunteers understand they are there to further the mission, not to advance their own agenda or pad their resume.
  2. Provide lousy leadership. Can you blame a volunteer for quitting if everything is disorganized, meetings last until midnight or an ineffective leader won’t step aside? Volunteers aren’t paid, so we really can’t expect much of them, can we? Besides, he goes off the board next year, so why rock the boat? This kind of thinking is dangerous. Developing leaders and holding them accountable is probably the single most important thing an organization can do—and the biggest reason why volunteers leave if good leadership is missing.
  3. Poorly train your people. Just leave them in the dark. They’ll learn soon enough. Don’t pass along any records or notes. Don’t develop any training materials or do any kind of orientation. Onboarding? What’s that? Let them learn through osmosis like the rest of us.
  4. Don’t set clear expectations. I hate to say it, but I have served on committees where I have absolutely no responsibilities. I attend meetings, join in the discussion and vote, but that’s about it. No one has ever said, “Jay, this is what we expect from our members. If you don’t think you can perform these duties, then we suggest that you not serve.” Give your volunteers goals and assignments. Believe me, they will perform better and derive more satisfaction than if you don’t ask them to do anything at all.
  5. Work your best volunteers to death. Volunteer burnout occurs when organizations rely too heavily on just a few volunteers or major responsibilities are consolidated into a handful of powerful positions. Often the unlucky person who has agreed to take on a top job is burdened with a huge amount of administrative work. Look for ways to lighten the load and redistribute work to other members who are willing to help.
  6. Ignore the succession plan. Every organization should have a clear and transparent process for electing or appointing new officers. If you have any say in succession planning, make sure your leaders have term limits. A person who’s allowed continue as chairman for 30 years may think that he’s providing a lifetime of service, but it also means a lot of other people never got a chance to serve. A whole generation of future leaders got shut out. Succession planning is one part continuity and one part new blood. Don’t forget the new blood part.
  7. Don’t thank your volunteers. While it’s true that serving is its own reward, many volunteer jobs are pretty thankless. Take the time to recognize volunteers for all they do. Make people feel good about their volunteer work.
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Stop procrastinating and start hustling

Lincoln

It’s a myth that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope just before his most famous speech. He actually began writing it weeks in advance. He said of procrastinators: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

I’ve been thinking about writing about procrastination for some time now, but I keep putting it off. Ha, ha, but it’s true. For some people, this post will seem foreign. You are the ones who tackle every project with gusto and vigor, never pausing until it is finished. You need not read any further. You’re excused.

But if you find your mind wandering, if you waver when you know a deadline is looming, if you have trouble staying on track and following through, this post is for you.

First of all, if you’re a procrastinator, you’re in good company. Many highly successful people procrastinate. I’ve been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Bully Pulpit, which is about Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the golden age of journalism. I was surprised to learn that Taft was an inveterate procrastinator, yet he served as solicitor general, secretary of war, president and chief justice of the United States. Other famous procrastinators, according to the The Daily Beast, include Bill Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, Franz Kafka and St. Augustine.

Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson took procrastination to new heights. He was assigned to cover the Kentucky Derby in 1970 by Scanlan’s Monthly, and he missed the deadline. With a courier waiting at his hotel room door for his story, he began ripping pages of notes straight out of his notebook and handing them to the courier. He thought his career was over, but his piece won rave reviews.

I do not recommend imitating Thompson’s celebrated work habits or lack thereof.

Mindtools.com has a little test you can take to see if you are a procrastinator. I found that I am a “mild procrastinator.” At least I didn’t slip into the “procrastinator” category, which indicates that you are missing deadlines and wasting a lot of time. That’s time, by the way, that you could be using to get critical tasks completed. If you don’t believe me, take inventory of the cost of dragging your feet. How much business are you losing? How much more could you get done if you closed the gap between what you intend to accomplish and what you actually do?

But how to overcome procrastination? I think we all know intuitively what we should be doing to buckle down, but here are five ideas in case you are hopelessly mired in procrastination. These are good reminders for mild procrastinators, too.

  1. Keep a schedule of tasks and projects. When are your projects due? How much time will it take to accomplish them? A little trick I learned years ago from my publishing days is to count backwards from the date you want to deliver the finished, printed piece. You not only know when your part is due, but you understand how if you miss your deadline, it could throw off the whole project.
  2. Divide big projects into smaller pieces. So often we become overwhelmed by the enormity of an assignment. But if we break it down into its logical parts, we can tackle just about anything. It also helps to have an action plan that spells out each milestone and its expected completion date.
  3. Get other people involved. When you’re part of a team, peer pressure helps to ward off procrastination. You don’t want to let down your team members, and they will hold you responsible for your share of the work. You might also ask someone you trust to hold you accountable for your goals and deadlines. Accountability groups are a good way to do that.
  4. Tackle your toughest assignments at the beginning of the day. Most time-management experts will tell you that you’re freshest in the morning, and that’s the ideal time to get the hardest chores off your plate. Author Brian Tracy calls it “eating a frog.” If you can get your frogs out of the way first thing, you’ll end the day having accomplished what is really important.
  5. Reward yourself. If you’ve met your deadline or finished a particularly tough assignment, give yourself a break! Take a little time to relax and do something enjoyable before you take on your next project. The same goes with your team. Reward your organization for a job well done.

How about you? How do you deal with procrastination?

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Honey, have you seen my Apple Watch?

Watch

It’s 7:06 somewhere. I’m keeping my old watch for now, even though the battery died a few years ago.

All of a sudden, we are obsessed with watches. It started with those images of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his Rolex. You know, the one that Jonnie Williams gave to Maureen, who then gave to Bob, who wore it proudly—until the Feds took it away, and it became evidence in his corruption trial.

Now comes the Apple Watch, or should I say the “ideation” of an Apple Watch. It’s not here yet. All we know is that it will be available in early 2015. Its arrival must really be up in the air for Apple to pass up the holiday shopping season, but I suspect sales of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will be brisk enough to make stockholders happy.

Besides, Apple may have accomplished everything it wanted to do by simply teasing us with the simulacrum of a watch. Just a hint of what’s to come had everyone gushing. Time magazine ran a cover story this week, pointing out that Apple is brilliant at reinventing consumer product categories and making us desire things we ordinarily wouldn’t buy. The Apple Watch may very well be that next category, similar to the first iPods and iPads.

Remember when it was trendy to have an iPad? You’d walk into a meeting and some early adopter would be sitting there with his brand-new iPad propped up on its case, scrolling through emails or typing on a keyboard attachment. Get ready for the same thing all over again!

So for now, we wait for the $349 watch that we really don’t need.

Speaking of things we probably don’t need, here are some random thoughts I jotted down last week while watching Apple’s Big Event (on my iMac of course):

  • A live feed that wasn’t live. Based on comments I saw on Twitter, I wasn’t the only one who was disturbed by Apple’s bungling of its own live streaming of the event. The feed kept cutting out, and a translator’s voice was competing with Tim Cook’s voice. It didn’t seem like a good omen when the world’s largest tech company couldn’t get its technology right.
  • Apple nomenclature. How does Apple name things? I would have thought the new watch would be called the iWatch since we have the iPhone, iPad and iPod. According to Fast Company, there is already an iSwatch. Perhaps to close to iWatch?
  • Bigger and bigger iPhones. At the rate we’re going, the iPhone will soon be the same size as an iPad Mini (7.9”). Cook will then proclaim that this “new” device is faster, thinner and larger than ever before! At which point, the iPad Mini will be quietly phased out.
  • Apple socks and underwear. You saw it here first, folks. By weaving tiny sensors and chips into specially designed undergarments, Apple will take wearable technology to a new level. Brightly colored socks will make a fashion statement while diagnosing your running form, and extending the battery life of your Apple Watch and Apple Earrings (coming in 2016!).
  • U2 performance and free album. I suppose if I were in the auditorium and got to see U2 live, I’d be pumped. But the whole spectacle seemed overblown to me, especially when Bono and Cook announced that U2’s latest album would be available for free to iTunes’ 500 million account holders in just FIVE seconds. Okay, you did it. But we didn’t ask for it, and I wouldn’t say it’s U2’s greatest work.
  • Apple wins! The very fact that I’m writing this proves that Apple is winning on the PR front. As MarketWatch noted last week, Apple analysts were giddy, describing the unveiling as “magical,” and stock pickers gave Apple a solid thumbs up. The Apple mystique is alive and well.

All right, I admit it, I do look forward to seeing the new iPhones.

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The blogs that got away…

Abstract painting

As in life, blogging is about choosing the medium you want to work in.

This month marks the third anniversary of The Wayward Journey. It seems like a good time to take stock of how far I’ve come on the Journey, but I think I’ll leave some of that reminiscing for another day.

Instead, I want to talk about the blogs that got away because originally The Wayward Journey was to be but a stepping stone, a practice blog of sorts that would prepare me for my real work. There were so many other blogs I wanted to write!

You see, I was so excited about blogging in the fall of 2011 that I thought one blog was not enough. Heck, I needed seven or eight blogs! I suppose I was no different from anyone who’s ever caught fire and thrown himself headlong into a new endeavor. I was going to be a blogging machine. I had the fever.

I was enamored with WordPress and the ease with which you can set up a blog. However, I neglected to consider one tiny thing: You actually have to write something.

I never got past The Wayward Journey, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The Wayward Journey suits me just fine. It gives me a chance to write about topics that I care about. It has honed by storytelling skills, helped me stay current with social media and, as I drew in some loyal followers, taught me discipline and the responsibility of producing something that matters to other people.

Still, I thought it might be fun to share with you my ideas for some of those other blogs, the ones that never saw the light of day.

  • DC PR Pro – My original intention was to quickly follow The Wayward Journey with a professional blog that I tentatively called DC PR Pro. This blog would be about the practice of public relations in the D.C. area. I even registered the name and created a test site. I may yet bring the DC PR Pro to life, but for now it sits on the cloud, waiting…
  • Credit Union All-Stars. This was an ambitious one. I had just left NAFCU and had credit unions on the brain. I envisioned a blog that would feature the opinions of various luminaries in our industry on a rotating basis. A kind of Huffington Post for credit unions. It would develop a huge following and generate lots of revenue for yours truly. Well, you can see how far that got.
  • Tiny Titans of Industry. I’ve always had a soft spot for small businesses, going back to my days at the National Restaurant Association. So this blog was to be an unabashed tribute to small business people, with profiles and lots of tips on starting a business and keeping it going.
  • I’m Your Handyman. I practically rebuilt my old house in West Springfield, from gutting the kitchen to remodeling the bathrooms, and everything in between. So each week, I would blog about a project around the house, complete with video.
  • Early in the Morning (our Song Shall Rise to Thee). This was to be the inspirational blog. I envisioned rising early each morning to write a fresh devotional, perhaps accompanied by a beautiful photograph. Only one problem: I don’t rise that early, and when I do, I’m definitely not inspired…except to make a pot of coffee.
  • The Art Blog. I once did a lot of photography, especially when I first got out of school and worked on some community newspapers. This blog was going to rekindle my love for images. I would either take or select an image of the week.

Looking back on these ideas, I have to shake my head. Blogging was just one part of what I planned for myself as embarked on my new, indie life in late 2011. I had visions of starting numerous business projects. Volunteering more. Even reading books. Can you imagine, actually reading a whole book from start to finish? The audacity of it!

Mostly what I think I’ve learned these past three years is that there are always possibilities, and it’s good to have ideas, lots of ideas. It keeps you fresh. But at some point, you have to pare down and focus on doing one or two things well rather than many things halfway. You have to choose your medium.

The Wayward Journey is like a favorite jacket. It’s the one I’ll always pull out of the closet to go on walks. It’s a bit worn, but it’s comfortable and I love to put things in its pockets—scraps of paper with ideas, receipts, a smooth rock I’ve found, reminders of places that I’ve been.

Sure, I have other jackets and lots of sweaters. And I occasionally wear those, too. So I may yet launch another blog, but I think I will always be on…The Wayward Journey.

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From ‘good eats’ to fine dining…

coffee with creamLooking for a good restaurant to go to this weekend? Then this post is for you.

I had a chance to be part of a local blogging team that is promoting our fair city of Washington in preparation for the Public Relations Society of America’s 2014 International Conference, Oct. 12-14, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

My post is on D.C.’s dining hot spots near the hotel and elsewhere around town.

Many thanks to Sheri Singer for organizing and editing our blog series. You might enjoy her post on “D.C. Fun Facts.” And thanks to the entire PRSA-NCC host committee!

Here are a few excerpts from my post, but you’ll need to go to the ComPRension website to get the list of “good eats.” Bon appétit!

It used to be the Washington dining scene was known mostly for its downtown “power-lunch” spots, formal dinner parties along Embassy Row or the dives on Capitol Hill for starving congressional staffers.

Then a funny thing happened in our nation’s capital. Ambitious young chefs started moving in and opening interesting new eateries. Ethnic neighborhoods blossomed, and there was suddenly a vibrant restaurant scene. Add in D.C.’s Southern roots and an emphasis on farm-fresh ingredients, and you have a gastronomical mixing bowl.

Today D.C. ranks #8 in “America’s Best Restaurant Cities” by Esquire magazine. In fact, the TV show Top Chef taped a season in D.C. And many D.C. area chefs have participated in the 12 seasons of Top Chef competitions, including Bryan Voltaggio, Mike Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn, and Carla Hall–a host on  ABC’s The Chew.

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Why limitations can lead to greater creativity

Guitars

Six strings, 12 notes…what more do you need?

My guitar teacher, Matt, likes to remind me that there are only 12 notes in music—A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G and G#. Millions of songs and compositions, from hip-hop to classical, and they all are built on those same 12 notes.

He often will say that having fewer choices actually helps musicians focus and be more creative. He likens it to Italian cooking, where you have pasta, sauce and cheese, but those ingredients can be combined in many different ways. Too many ingredients, he says, gives you too many choices.

It seems counterintuitive, but you can increase your creativity by decreasing your options. Innovation often comes when there are constraints on our time, budget or resources.

So if you are struggling to come up with a new idea or an innovative business solution, maybe your thinking is too open-ended. The sky’s the limit sounds good in theory, but in practice we need boundaries and parameters.

You’ve probably admired artists who work in just one medium or use a certain technique or style. Those limitations seem to bring out their talent.

Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was once challenged by his editor to write a children’s book using fewer than 50 different words. Guess which famous Dr. Seuss book was the result of that challenge? If you’re thinking Green Eggs and Ham, you’re right!

An even more extreme example attributed to Ernest Hemingway can’t be verified, but it’s still a great story. Hemingway was supposedly having lunch one day with some fellow authors when he boasted that he could write a complete story using just six words. The other writers scoffed, but he bet them $10 each that he could do it. After they put their money on the table, he wrote these words on a napkin: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” Needless to say, he collected his money.

Why does less freedom often lead to greater creativity? One reason is that constraints force us to look for unconventional ways around our limitations, and that gets our creative juices flowing. On the other hand, too much freedom tends to make us uncreative.

So try these little tricks if your well has gone dry:

Self-imposed deadlines. Writers know all about deadlines, and often that is what finally spurs them to finish a project that has been languishing. You can do the same thing to yourself by setting a timer or giving your team what seems like a totally unrealistic deadline. You’d be surprised how much you can get done and how creative the results are.

Low-budget. Lack of money is generally considered a negative, but a small budget can force you to innovate. Think about successful low-budget films that were made at a fraction of what they eventually grossed such as Rocky, Halloween, Napoleon Dynamite, Juno or Slumdog Millionaire. Remember The Blair Witch Project? It had a budget of only $60,000, but it grossed nearly $250 million!

Word limits. I’ve already given examples from Dr. Seuss and Hemingway, but consider the rules for haiku or that Twitter limits you to 140 characters. These limitations force you to be clever and can be applied to other content and design projects.

Extreme focus. Rather than trying to multi-task, go to the other extreme. Remove all distractions and force yourself to concentrate on only one, single thing for a half-hour or so.

Better brainstorming. Instead of a blank slate, give yourself a reference point, even if it’s not where you want to end up. One good example is to consider pitches that already have some traction. You can debate their merits, and in the process come up with better ideas.

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The ‘secrets’ to great leadership really aren’t secret

Lincoln

Photo of Lincoln from freerangephoto.com.

What makes a great leader?

I’ve been posing that question to credit union CEOs for an article I’m writing for NAFCU’s magazine. Without spilling too many beans, let me share with you some “secrets” I’ve learned about great leadership. I think you’ll see, though, that they really aren’t secrets at all. They’re tried and true ideas that you can apply to your own life and business, whether you work for a small firm, large enterprise or just want to improve yourself.

Don’t stop learning

The leaders I talked to were passionate about continual improvement and education. Leadership isn’t always “natural,” as much as we might like to think it blooms full force without any training or preparation. Leadership is a long process of learning, doing and improving, and then learning some more.

Learning comes in many forms and need not be an advanced degree. It can be attending seminars or earning a professional designation. As you become more senior, it might involve mentoring others, speaking at conferences or contributing articles to a journal.

Continual improvement means asking a lot of questions, not being afraid to admit you’re wrong and making needed changes in yourself and your organization. As one CEO told me, when you learn, you are thinking outside your normal way of seeing things. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and see things from a new perspective.

Networking

Every CEO I interviewed talked about the importance of networking. Of course, this is one of the wonderful aspects of credit unions—it’s such a giving and sharing industry that you really have no excuse not to talk to your peers to get ideas and advice. But networking is not unique to credit unions. I’ve found that same eagerness to share among PR professionals, especially with the Independent Public Relations Alliance that I belong to. I’m amazed at how generous my fellow practitioners are in sharing resources and information. I highly recommend joining the professional organization that represents your industry.

People skills

If I could leave you with just one takeaway from my interviews, it would be this: Effective leadership is all about building relationships. Knowledge gets you started, but it is the ability to build relationships that moves you ahead. Every CEO I talked to put people skills at the top of his or her “must-have” list for a leader.

To be sure, it’s a balancing act. In a highly regulated industry like financial services, technical skills and operations experience still matter. That part you have to get right. But leaders don’t necessarily have to possess all that technical expertise themselves. That’s where delegation, trust and team building come in.

Vision

The CEOs I spoke to were quick to describe where they want to take their credit union. They had a vision. It seems to me that one of the clearest distinctions between leaders and followers is that leaders know what the future looks like, and they can motivate their teams to get there. It’s that passion and being able to drive your organization towards a goal that makes all the difference.

Communication

How could any self-respecting communicator write about leadership without mentioning the importance of communication? Without effective communication, you simply cannot lead. Period.

Managing and Leading Well

And speaking of managing and leading well…I had the privilege earlier this year of being involved in a book project for NAFCU. I’m pleased to say that Managing and Leading Well by Dan Berger and Anthony Demangone is out, and it’s getting rave reviews. To find out more about the book and see Dan and Anthony talk about leadership on the “CU Broadcast,” check out the link here.

Posted in Leadership, Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Never send to know for whom the bell tolls

GraveMy brother Craig died 13 years ago at the end of August, two weeks before 9/11. It was a season of grief and sorrow as one fateful event spilled into another. All those feelings jumbled together—personal tragedy coupled with national tragedy, and no explanation for either.

Craig was 40 and vice president of research and development for a software firm in Atlanta. He was the genius behind his company’s chief product, a computer program he designed that allowed chip manufacturers to view their work in 3D.

He was at the top of his game, or so it seemed. But a few months after his sudden passing, just as we were getting over the shock, the coroner’s report arrived. Cause of death: cocaine poisoning. More grief and pain, and now stirred into the mix: guilt, anger and shame.

The explanation that we were first given, that he suffered a heart attack, stuck as my “official” explanation whenever friends or colleagues asked how he died.

It was a long, long time before I could tell anyone that my brother died of a drug overdose. It was a full six years before I really came to terms with his death. To my friends at Annandale United Methodist Church, if you saw a man standing in the cemetery one afternoon in late October 2007, that was me talking to my brother who is buried there. Tears came streaming down my face as I drove back to the office. I guess that visit was more cathartic than I realized.

My mom took Craig’s death the hardest. I think she sensed more than any of us that he was having difficulty. An anti-depressant was found in his apartment, along with dozens of empty beer cans. Some past behaviors began to take on new light.

Up until then, I had no first-hand experience with mental illness or addiction. When you come from a family of high achievers hardwired for success, these kinds of things aren’t supposed to be part of your makeup. They are viewed as signs of weakness that need to be stamped out, defeated through self-discipline and willpower. Like when you get hit hard in sports, and the coach tells you to walk it off and get back in the game.

I’ve since come to know better.

I can’t say that Craig occupies my mind every day, but I believe his spirit lives on in the volunteer work I do and in a greater sensitivity I now have towards addiction and those who suffer from it. And when someone famous like Philip Seymour Hoffman dies of an overdose or Robin Williams commits suicide, a little bit of the protective scab I’ve formed gets pulled off, drawing fresh blood, new hurt.

How many more brilliant stars like Hoffman and Williams must fall from the sky? How long must those with mental illness and addiction feel marginalized or inadequate or outright failures because of a disease they didn’t do anything to deserve and cannot shake off no matter how hard they try?

Robin Williams touched so many lives that maybe this time the dialogue will last a little longer. A few more attitudes will change, and our collective awareness will be raised a notch.

The poet John Donne reminded us that we’re all connected, and therefore diminished, by the passing of another. His words seemed all the more fitting to me when Williams died:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

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Are you a good steward or a bad steward?

Bicycle help

Being a good steward means helping others achieve their goals.

Remember the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, asks Dorothy if she is a good witch or a bad witch? It’s right after Dorothy’s house lands in Oz, killing the Wicked Witch of the East in the process.

Dorothy proclaims that she’s not a witch at all, but it turns out she has much more power than she realizes. Enough to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West and return home to Kansas.

So I ask you, are you a good steward or a bad steward? And do you realize the power you have to do good—or harm—in your organization?

You might think that’s an odd question, but stewardship is the best word I can think of to describe the responsibility we have to care for the institutions we work for or derive value from, whether it’s an employer, school, church, club or civic group.

If you’re a leader, you need to learn to cultivate stewardship—and you need to be able to distinguish the difference between good stewards and bad stewards.

A steward is one who manages the property or affairs of another. It’s an Old English word that means guardian or keeper of the house or hall, but it has its roots in ancient Greece where servants were entrusted by their masters to run the affairs of the household. This is in keeping with the Christian interpretation of stewardship, which teaches that we are called upon to take care of what belongs to our Master, who has created everything on our behalf. While we are entrusted with the Earth and all that is on it, we do not own it. We are only its caretaker and in the end will be held accountable for how well we treat the planet and its inhabitants.

Businesses that practice stewardship have adopted a similar ethos of sustainability, future-focused performance, and a sense of purpose and responsibility that puts the well-being of employees, consumers and community above short-term financial gain.

Every organization has its stewards. They volunteer their time and talent for the betterment of the organization. They live the institution’s values, carry on its traditions, preserve its history and instill its culture. They are the teachers, the doers, the fixers, the organizers, the counselors and the peacekeepers.

Here are some characteristics that identify good stewards:

  • Good stewards are committed to selfless service. They have no desire for power. They do not need to be in charge or exert control over others. They are responsible and accountable without any prompting or prodding.
  • Good stewards believe in sustainability. They understand that they are building value not for themselves but for their customers, members, shareholders or future generations.
  • Good stewards practice inclusiveness. They welcome all into the fold. No one is turned away. They always find a way to bring new blood into the organization.
  • Good stewards embrace innovation and change. They understand that while the organization’s principles are unchanging, the means to achieving them are not. They welcome new ideas and fresh perspectives.
  • Good stewards are team players, and they’re quick to give others credit. They work together to reach goals.
  • Good stewards believe in communication and being transparent. They gladly seek advice and feedback from their stakeholders.
  • Good stewards always acknowledge and thank the master they serve.

But sometimes stewards lose their way or get led astray. Here are signs that your stewards need redirecting:

  • Bad stewards perpetuate the status quo only for the sake of preserving it. They resist change and are afraid of innovation.
  • Bad stewards cultivate exclusivity. They may not mean to, but they shut out new volunteers. They stick to themselves and fail to welcome newcomers.
  • Bad stewards don’t share information. They make decisions unilaterally because they know best.
  • Bad stewards develop an ownership mentality. They want to control every situation.
  • Bad stewards let selfishness creep into the organization. They seek to preserve their department or committee at the expense of others.
  • Bad stewards have lost sight of the organization’s founding principles, substituting instead what is expedient or best meets their needs.
  • Bad stewards are no longer accountable. They have amassed too much power to be challenged. They are beholden to no one.

Stewardship makes organizations work. Good stewardship propels us forward, but bad stewardship stymies growth and can lead to an organization’s decline. Make sure you’ve got the good stuff, and plenty of it.

It’s too bad we can’t throw a bucket of water on the bad stewards and watch them melt away like the Wicked Witch of the West. But that is the challenge of leadership, bringing bad stewards back into the fold (if possible) or weeding them out if they are beyond saving. That’s not always easy, but you’d be surprised what a powerful force for change good stewardship can be.

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