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Chapter 24: Method 21: Developing Stewardship Structures

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). The contemporary behavior theory idea of ownership is shifting to classical stewardship (McMillen). 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.

Defining Stewardship

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). Through these teams, inner leaders can tap follower capacities to enhance the quality of service provided to each other and to their customers.

Features of Stewardship Work Communities

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.

Methods Of Practicing Stewardship Leadership

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). 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) and the character of the joint enterprise. Inner leaders establish core values like integrity, fairness, unity, satisfaction, and respect for the individual (Fairholm) 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).


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) 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).

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).

Free Choice

Emile Durkheim wrote "When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are un-enforceable" (Quoted by Covey). 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). 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).

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). 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).

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:

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). 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). 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). 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.

Discussion Issues And Questions


  1. The contemporary work community idea of "ownership" is shifting to classical stewardship.

  2. In a stewardship, the focus is on viewing membership in the community, the work, the workers, and the community itself almost as a "sacred office," one held temporarily and about which the leader - and followers - owe deference.

  3. Stewardship is an idea suggesting that leadership is most successfully demonstrated by collectively sharing power with others in the workplace which becomes one, united, true community.

  4. In a stewardship, 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.

  5. Leaders in a stewardship lose the hierarchal distinction and privileges of being "in charge."

  6. A stewardship community lets members make free choices about whom to partner with, what products or services to produce, whom to buy from (internal or external suppliers), how to spend discretionary funds and time, and how to best serve their customers.

  7. Stewardship ideas incorporate principles such as ethics, vision, shared decision making, ownership, values, standards, policies, freedom of choice, production in proportion to what is given, decentralization, and accountability.

  8. Stewardship is based on common assumptions and practices that inner leaders set initially and then translate into a framework of task competencies and skill sets necessary to accomplish overall corporate goals.

  9. Stewardship techniques include efforts by inner leaders to inform, train, and commit followers in work tasks, as well as in their stewardship roles.

  10. Awards, bonuses, and other rewards recognize proficiency in and commitment to stewardship competencies and skills.


  1. Do I structure the office to control what is happening or to allow what needs to happen to happen?

  2. Do I include the chance for others to lead the work community as I structure work?

  3. Do the hierarchies I create focus on maintaining and keeping power or broadly sharing and distributing power?

  4. Do coworkers share a stewardship perspective and work within stewardship structures?

Stewardship Learning Activities

Activity 1: Coalition Building

Instructions. Building a collaborative work culture is all-important in forming a stewardship community. Stewardship is based on the success inner leaders have in persuading diverse, often conflicting, stakeholders to agree on a common agenda and a common pattern of behavioral interaction.

Dynamic stewardship organizations use closely knit coalitions to achieve desired results. These coalitions are, by definition, made up of people from different functions, levels, backgrounds, and biases; and the members may have agendas and commitments that, initially at least, are at odds with one another. While these differences make such stewardship structures one of the best sources of innovation and breakthrough, they can also be, and often are, the source of dysfunction and failure. The challenge in building a stewardship coalition is to insure the former result (Bennis).

The first step in building a coalition is to decide who should participate. The individuals and groups that get involved should, potentially, support what you are trying to do. They should also represent the range of characteristics and attributes you need to ensure that you achieve your goal.

  1. Think about your present work community - team, unit, division. Evaluate each member individually against the following characteristics needed in any stewardship work community.

    Characteristics of Key People in Coalitions















    Business Units




    Special Experience







  2. What attributes does each individual coworker possess that would qualify him or her to be immediately effective in helping to form a stewardship structure in your work community? ( Note: It is not essential that each person possess all of these characteristics, only that the work community collectively possess these capacities for success.)

  3. Evaluate your present status:

    • Who among your followers will be most helpful in initial stages of development?

    • Who will be least helpful?

    • Where are the most significant gaps in needed capacities in your work community?

    • What steps might you take to fill these gaps? Training? New hires? Other?

  4. What is your assessment for the current readiness of your work community for stewardship?

  5. Prepare an outline plan to implement a stewardship structure in your work community considering this evaluation and other information you have about the details of your present work situation.

  6. Consider sharing this plan with your colleagues and your boss.

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