As inner leaders bring their personal sense of self—their spiritual identify—to the workplace, a new idea of the individual-in-the-work community emerges. This newly revived (but always a part of true leadership) idea was classically called stewardship, and recently nominated ownership (Stern and Borcia, 2000). The contemporary behavior theory idea of ownership is shifting to classical stewardship (McMillen, 1994). Ownership connotes possession, control, and proprietorship. Experts recommend that leaders nurture feelings of ownership in coworkers as a way to foster more complete follower commitment to work community goal attainment. And it works—sometimes.
A more dependable leadership technique—one used by inner leaders—to secure follower commitment and compliance is to form the work community along stewardship structural lines. Seeing the work community as a stewardship asks both leaders and led to hold work assets in trust for all stakeholders—coworkers, clients, customers, suppliers, the larger community. In a stewardship orientation, the focus is on viewing membership in the community, the work, the workers, and the community itself as an almost “sacred office,” one held temporarily and about which the leader—and followers— owe deference.
In a stewardship work community, the inner leader’s power is shared with each steward to help accomplish the work-community members’—not just the steward-leader’s own—ends. Stewardship is a collective idea suggesting that leadership is most successfully demonstrated by sharing (holding) power with others in the work community. In this way, the workplace becomes one, united, a true community.
A stewardship is, in one of its dimensions, a structural form of corporate community. Elements of a stewardship structure are seen today in the self-managed team or worker councils. These teams are one of the basic building blocks of stewardship work communities—along with the leader, a common purpose, and unifying values. In its authentic form, a stewardship community may be composed of several such teams. Self-managed teams are based on the assumption that a successful work community links individual workers in ways that elicit a high level of group commitment (or creativity, or loyalty, or integrity) that is greater than the sum of each individual’s contribution. The self-managing stewardship community encompasses systems that enable their effective operation. They include structures for productive work, individual and team accountability, and recognition (Spencer, 1995). Through these teams, inner leaders can tap follower capacities to enhance the quality of service provided to each other and to their customers.
Stewardship is based on free moral choice. The steward has the freedom of self-governance. Every steward has the same rights and is subject to identical limitations in the exercise of self-direction. This sharing of power preserves harmony and good will. The leader is also a steward subject to the same limitations and advantages as other stewards. The stewardship structure ensures that every steward has a single voice when sitting in council with other stewards and a full vote in the process of generating unit consensus. Stewardships preserve oneness by procedures that enhance common consent. In this way each steward is protected against unjust or dominating leaders.
A steward role asks inner leader and those led to risk losing hierarchal distinctions and privilege in the pursuit of mutual growth and work-community improvement. Being a steward means living fully a set of values and creating a work community where members personally reclaim the institution as their own. Stewardship operates at the whole-person—spiritual—level of existence and interrelationship. It combines seemingly antithetical ideas of teamwork and individual free choice.
The stewardship unit, the community, is critical. As members come to identify with their stewardship community, they are participating at a level beyond consensus and compromise. At this level, a member does not merely accept another member’s position. Rather, the position becomes an integral part of the community that all members accept, support, and foster. Stewardship asks inner leaders to facilitate relationships using shared values, habits, and practices that assure respect for others’ rights.