Leadership styles can be quite controversial, especially among leaders. Pop culture and the internet era have brought about a flood of information, books, videos, and forums through which leadership styles and theories are debated, taught, promoted, and compared. In Christian circles of leaders, it seems the most talked about leadership style in recent years is “servant” leadership. The idea of a leader being someone who serves those they lead is not bad. Some have even gone so far as to declare that Jesus was a servant leader, so therefore we all should be servant leaders. The implication is that there is no other/better way to lead than servant leadership.
This kind of thinking that there is only one right way to lead is dangerous. We need to be careful to avoid falling in to the trap of only having one tool in our toolbox as leaders. As the old saying goes, to a person who only owns a hammer, everything in the world looks like a nail. There is real value in having multiple tools at our disposal. Leadership styles are like tools. We might have our favorite or preferred/default one we grab, but sometimes another one might be better for the job.
Another leadership style, which has been around for a long time, is that of “steward” leadership. The Bible even has examples of this kind of leadership. Think of the role Joseph played in the house of Pharoah. Or the parable of the talents, that clearly talks about people stewarding what was given to them by their master. It is also not a stretch to say that Jesus himself was a steward leader, on behalf of the Father.
So what is a steward leader? Steward leaders can be seen in the business world, the non-profit world, and certainly in our churches as well. Here are five things that mark a steward leader.
1) They recognize they work on behalf of another. A steward has been entrusted with a role, resources, authority, and power to act on behalf of the one for whom they work. They recognize that what they are in charge of is not their own. This can foster a sense of humility and help prevent pride from taking over.
2) They recognize they are accountable. A steward is held accountable for what they do with their role, resources, authority, and power. This includes how they manage people, which is the area where servant leadership interplays with this style. They cannot simply decide things on a whim with no concern for consequence or accountability. Rather, they keep in mind that they will have to give an account for their actions and results. This accountability could be to a Board of Directors, an Elder Board, to an owner of a company, or to a larger group of shareholders/stakeholders.
3) They work toward long-term goals. Knowing the desires, values, and objectives of the one they work for allows a steward leader to remain focused on long-term objectives and goals. Their actions focus on what is best in the long run while managing short-term needs and objectives that can and will lead to those long term results.
4) They recognize their role as a steward is time bound. They do not see their roles as permanent, but rather theirs for a season and as long as it is for the good of the owner or master for whom they work. This means they are prepared (or are preparing to) let go of their role and hand it over to another steward of the master’s choosing. While in the role they are given, they give their all to it but hold it loosely enough to be able to transition out when the time comes.
5) They develop other steward leaders around them. Through their positive example, others also learn to be good stewards. Some of this learning is through overt methods, while other aspects may simply be observed. Steward leaders are often very intentional about developing other leaders around them, knowing that they will not always be the one in that position.
Steward leadership is one style, a tool in the toolbox of leaders. It has areas of crossover or similarity with other styles of leadership. It has its usefulness, but it, as with any concept or style of leadership, will have its critics. While the specifics of the role of steward may change depending on the situation, the overall concept of being entrusted with something that we are to care for, build, and look after on behalf of another can be helpful for us in many different ways. Ultimately we have been given a lot by God. He entrusted us with many blessings, skills, and opportunities. How will we steward those for Him? What can you do today to be a better steward leader?