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In Search of Stewardship

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I recently browsed through the business section of my local bookstore (yes, we still have one!) searching for books on stewardship as a business leadership principle—and found only one (Stewardship by Peter Block). I continued to search online and was surprised at the scarcity of materials available on the subject. There are a variety of books on stewardship from a spiritual perspective and a few related to wealth management; but what does the scarcity of books related business stewardship say about our current concepts of leadership?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the word steward traces its origins back to the Old English word “stigweard,” meaning “house guardian.” By the late 14th century, a steward was “one who manages affairs of an estate on behalf of his employer.” The current Merriam Webster Dictionary defines stewardship as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

In his book titled Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest, Peter Block defines the word as “the choice to preside over the orderly distribution of power… it is the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service, rather than control, of those around us.”

From a business leadership perspective, I’ve come to define a steward as someone who is a trustee of the organizational mission and a shepherd of its resources—the most valuable being its human capital.

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