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.