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Stewardship Principles

The raison d’Ítre of some businesses and top leaders appears to be capital generation and accumulation—a constantly improving bottom line. However, for most inner leaders and their stakeholders, profitability is not enough. Like any tool, the bottom line is only as effective as the person who uses it ( Douglas and Wykowksi, 1992). Making money per se doesn’t capture their spirit, motivate them to excel, or sustain them in troublesome times. Stakeholders need something more to spur them on to provoke the best of themselves. By identifying and articulating shared values and principles indigenous to stewardship structures, inner leaders drive a work community beyond the bottom line, positively affecting both work and life—short- and long-term— satisfaction. In doing this through stewardship work communities, inner leaders capture the spirit, values, and principles of their stakeholder work community in the formal structure, as well as in its values construct.

Summarizing the idea and practice of stewardship work communities existing in the literature, one can identify several elements of the task of the inner leader as steward. The following principles of inner leadership match closely other elements of this model discussed throughout his book.


A core principle of stewardship is ethics. Profit and ethics often clash in contemporary corporate culture, but they do not have to and shouldn’t. When improving the bottom line is successfully done, it is always ethical. When inner leaders do the right thing, all stakeholders benefit—profit—from the experience. Mid-level leaders make decisions not only because they are profitable to stakeholder and the work community but because they are also the right things to do.


Part of the ethical stewardship community is a set of common values, standards, policies, and actions that function as guidelines. They help define corporate identity (Deal and Kennedy, 1988) and the character of the joint enterprise. Inner leaders establish core values like integrity, fairness, unity, satisfaction, and respect for the individual (Fairholm, 1991) as the basis of their relationships with their volunteer stakeholders. They endeavor to embrace and live these values at every level—from the formation of the work community itself to standards-setting and policy-formulation to the practical aspects of their relationships both internally and corporation wide. If problems occur, they can usually be traced to a deviation from these shared values (Beckett, 1999).


Stewardship concepts are reflected in the corporate vision statement. A strong sense of stewardship relationships and practices comes from developing a common vision and value system and then using it as the criterion for group actions, from making judgments (Covey, 1997) to assessing results.


A stewardship orientation unites the inner leader and stakeholders in the common enterprise in otherwise not possible ways. In a stewardship community, inner leaders can commit members to a common set of relationships so that each has a role in helping to meet preset goals using agreed-upon principles and the shared vision. Each is accountable to all other members (Covey, 1997).

Decision Making

Stewardships preserve member independence via procedures that maximize the exercise of shared decision making. In this way each steward is protected against unjust or dominating leaders. And inner leaders gain committed colleagues in what becomes, by their decisions, the common enterprise. The strength of the work community is derived from the choice-making built into the culture.


Like all others, inner leaders struggle in today’s workplace to create and maintain a strong sense of shared ownership in the corporation and its work. The solution is stewardship. As the business world forges ahead with mergers, acquisitions, and alliances, the connections between ownership and stewardship overlap. Ownership is an expression of independence—each steward taking personal responsibility for the whole. On the other hand, stewardship is a clear expression of interdependence, which is the nature of the new psychological contract about work now emerging in the workplace. Inner leaders have always known what many top leaders are just learning—that leader and led are interdependent; neither can succeed without the other. Stewards go beyond ownership to equitable, interdependent stewardship (Ramsey, 1994).

Free Choice

Emile Durkheim wrote “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are un-enforceable” (Quoted by Covey, 1997). The capacity to make free-will choices is integral to the idea of stewardship. The expectation that stewards can be free to make most of their own choices in the work community is fully American. Many of the most important choices people make—that make life happy or sad—are not individual choices but work-community choices. Inner leaders build a stewardship community as they let members make choices about whom to partner with, what products or services to buy from internal or external suppliers, how to spend discretionary funds and time, and how to serve their customers.


Stewardship assumes that work-community members represent or are part of someone or something else—that their freedom of choice is bounded by respect for coworkers and the demands of the common enterprise. The in-the-middle leader’s task is to ensure that stakeholder choices are constrained by shared visions and values and common standards of behavior and conduct (Bjerke, 1999). The more stewardship values reign, the less dependent the work community is on the strengths and weaknesses of individual members. Stewardship is an expectation of production in proportion to what is given. It involves accounting, but essentially postulates unrestrained support of the steward until the time of accounting.


The stewardship team is based on decentralization. How inner leaders lead is as important as what they do. Stewardship communities eliminate status distinctions. All community members—stewards—are equal. All have equal opportunity for administering their part of the stewardship. All have equal access to available rewards for a smoothly functioning stewardship. They are equal in social status. The steward–leader is also a steward and subject to the same limitations and advantages as other stewards. The tasks of leadership do not lessen the sense of equality. Every steward has a single voice in stewardship councils and a single vote in the power of consent.


The age-old concept of stewardship is very consistent with the new psychological contract emerging in the workplace, since everyone becomes accountable for everybody else. Inner leaders represent the stakeholders who are most relevant in their particular area of responsibility. They are not representing just themselves; they are representing the shared vision, mission, and value systems that everyone has participated in developing (Covey, 1997).

The stewardship character of inner leadership is not a simple, easy approach. At its core, inner leadership is a long-term, transformational approach to life and to work. It is a way of behaving that has the potential for creating fundamental and positive change (Spears, 1998). Stewardship emphasizes the trust between the inner leader and stakeholders in order to blend long-term socioeconomic, human, and environmental growth (Petrick, Scherer, Brodzinski, Quinn, and Ainina, 1999).

Measuring Stewardship Success

Building self-managed stewardship communities asks inner leaders to pay attention to benchmarking, learning, balancing of uneven team performance, and costs. Success can be measured by the following criteria:

  • Fiscal health —a primary measure of survivability.

  • Customer satisfaction —the measure of the relevance and quality of services offered by the work community to meet client needs and standards.

  • Empowered community —the measure of the group’s operational capacity to perform.

  • Transformation —the capacity for the work community and its members to change on an ongoing basis. (Spencer, 1995)

Each of these is accelerated in a stewardship work community

Applying Stewardship Ideas

Stewardship principles have always been part of the underlying skeleton of leadership in the middle of the corporation. Inner leaders can accomplish more of their personal agendas when they have a well-trained, competent, and sophisticated community of workers who see themselves as connected in important—structural and psychic—ways (Crosby, 1996). Inner leaders with a team of almost-leaders, who can make independent choices to move forward the common work, can accomplish more than top leaders, who often rely on coercive authority mechanisms.

However, few researchers have done more than identify the concept of stewardship or recommend its application. They have done little to instruct the fledgling inner leader in the mechanics of leading stewards in a stewardship community. Successful inner leaders rely on a set of competencies useful in selecting, developing, and guiding them and all stakeholders as they form a stewardship structure from their work community (Dunn, 2000). According to Dunn, the following are among those most obvious in this connection:

Agree on key expectations. Stewardship is based on common assumptions and practices that inner leaders set in the initial stages of community creation.

Identifying needed competencies. Inner leaders then translate their expectations into a framework of task competencies and skill-sets necessary to accomplish their part of overall corporate goals.

Articulating the task competencies. Generalizing needed competencies and approaches broadly in the work community asks inner leaders to inform, train, and commit followers in work tasks, as well as stewardship attitudes that they also model in their routine behavior.

Setting performance expectations. Inner leaders establish standards for steward performance, including behavioral descriptions of acceptable and proficient performance.

Integrating performance expectations into an accountability measurement system.

Inner leaders incorporate a kind of performance sanctions and appraisal system as part of the stewardship.

Act in terms of the work community’s best long-term interests. Inner leaders know that instant gratification often promotes poor stewardship health (Levinson, 1997). Thus, they focus stewards on long-term rather than short-term goals.

Individual development. Inner leaders must also ensure that stakeholder competencies are incorporated into individual development planning for the work community.

Reinforcing the behaviors. Inner leaders reinforce desired behaviors and encourage sharing of successes as stewards learn and then implement these actions.

Rewarding excellent performance. Awards, bonuses, and other rewards recognize proficiency in and commitment to stewardship competencies and skills.

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