Stepping forward with steward-style leadership: Kai Peters, CEO at Ashridge Business School

Written by
Changeboard Team

04 Jun 2014

04 Jun 2014 • by Changeboard Team

What is stewardship?

Stewardship is a form of leadership that focuses on others, the community and society at large. Steward leaders have the desire and the skills to develop organisations that are sustainable in every sense of the word.

With the aim of providing a road map for developing this leadership style, we carried out in-depth interviews with global industry leaders and MBA students. The results highlight the fact that senior leaders can move into a stewardship mindset when they have gained extensive experience and their careers have matured, often in the second half of their life cycle. Meanwhile, many executives remain focused on their personal self-interests. Non-rational resources, such as dreams, insights, creative and spiritual experiences and emotions, are also important in developing sustainable leaders.

The stewardship approach

Steward leaders are motivated by justice and dignity and can see the bigger picture. Their emphasis is on delivering results with others – and they are skilled at bringing networks and resources together in pursuit of a common aim.

There are, of course, leaders who already take this stewardship approach – but our research has shown that they are at the more mature end of the age spectrum. This tendency to become less self-interested and to engage constructively with others is a natural part of ageing. But if we are to develop truly sustainable organisations, we need to see this stewardship approach develop much earlier in people’s careers and lifetimes.

What does a steward leader look like?

The stewardship model in business, until now, has remained relatively undeveloped. In our research, we identified the following nine dimensions of a steward leader:

  1. Personal mastery: Confidence and certainty in your own abilities and priorities. This is necessary to inspire the trust in others to help stewardship become a reality.
  2. Personal vision: Clarity of vision and commitment through action is essential for a leader to play to his or her strengths. The vision must involve focusing on what he or she wants to create for him or herself and the world around them.
  3. Mentoring: This refers to responding to the needs of others and seeking to establish a values base in them. It is also crucial to know that self-care is needed to stay the course and remain resilient.
  4. Valuing diversity: In an increasingly multicultural society, stewards must purposefully seek out and value different inputs and people.
  5. Shared vision: A clear idea of, and commitment to, a just and sustainable society.
  6. Risk-taking & experimentation: Leaders must be courageous and open to new ideas.
  7. Vulnerability & maturity: A fundamental shift in self-awareness and behaviour is needed to show empathy, compassion and actively listen. Steward leaders are authentic, value uncertainty and are open to learning from others.
  8. Raising awareness: Championing stewardship, sustainability and the common good is essential. Steward leaders must advocate good corporate governance through raising awareness of a sustainable civil society.
  9. Delivering results: Achieving concrete and measurable results is central to stewardship and leaders should demonstrate commitment to others via delivery. The steward leader is committed to delivering results responsibly in partnership with empowered others, within a purposeful community.