Steward Leadership - IEDP
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Steward Leadership

"A form of leadership which focuses on others, the community, and society at large rather than the self"


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The field of leadership is covered with different leadership style terms from the classic ‘heroic’ to more fashionably modern ‘agile’. This book focuses on a relative newcomer to the scene ‘Steward Leadership’ which first appeared in accounting related research in the mid-1970’s but has only much more recently appeared as an acknowledged term.

However, as with all leadership styles it is rooted in ancient observed behaviours, as the authors note "many of the world’s spiritual traditions have upheld the principles of stewardship for centuries" – and the majority of stewardship research has been anchored to Christian institutions thus far. This serves as a significant foundation for further exploration, as the role of non-religious spirituality is increasingly being seen as a key element in individual’s motivations and thus an important part of what leaders need to influence. To get the best out of people extrinsic reward is no longer sufficient for many, intrinsic satisfaction needs to be met as well.

The authors define Steward Leadership as ‘a form of leadership which focuses on others, the community,  and society at large rather than the self’ and go on to observe that "Many senior leaders … appear to move into a steward leadership mindset when their careers have matured…."  Steward leadership is closely related to servant leadership, but whereas servant leadership theory is defined around the identity of the leader as an individual and how he/she behaves, steward leadership’s focus is on the organization and wider society. With this perspective, when the spiritual links are removed, the theory is closer to that of a benign feudal or paternalistic approach to management, which, as with religious leadership, is clearly rooted in centuries of community activity.

The authors break Stewardship down into nine components that they correlate to their impact on community building and responsible behaviour and trust. The nine components being:

  • Personal Mastery
  • Personal Vision
  • Mentoring
  • Valuing Diversity
  • Shared Vision
  • Risk-taking and Experimentation
  • Vulnerability and Maturity
  • Raising Awareness
  • Delivering Results

The importance of community and shared vision is neatly explained in terms of physical science “when all vectors in a force field have the same direction the resultant force is of maximum magnitude. If the vectors diverge or act in opposite directions, the resultant magnitude is smaller than each of the individual vectors, and, at the extreme could be equal to zero”. This shared vision component ‘provides an inner, often invisible governance system  which allows individuals and the organization to stay on course in turbulent times’. This shared vision then extends to distributing the risk-taking and experimentation: ‘the traditional view of leadership places the onus of organizational performance solely on the shoulders of those who are in positions of leadership…the true mark of a steward leader, however, is her or his ability to engender trust in the members of the organization and empower them to operate with flexibility to achieve the goals of the organization.

Under-pinning all this in the framework is the ‘vulnerability and maturity’ component. ‘The simple truth is that people need one another to exist…It takes maturity, gratitude and humility to open yourself to the concept of inter-connectedness and relationships’ and ‘Being mature enough to be ‘less’ (vulnerable) paradoxically leads to individual empowerment’.

This book offers a commendably brief introduction to Steward Leadership, it is less than 100 pages in length, and in the course of this also highlights the range of other leadership styles, with some wry case studies (their protagonist Tom tries out a variety of leadership models, starting with trait-based leadership ‘…he has decided to fake it until he makes it. He has always admired Bill Gates and so starts  off by purchasing  a Bill Gates wardrobe designed to get him in the mood, a task that turns out to be fairly easy.’) Having introduced the concept of Steward Leadership the book provides an Assessment Test and concludes with an exploration of leadership maturity.

The addition of Steward Leadership to the gamut of alternative leadership approaches is an interesting and valuable one as it chimes with developments in understanding on how communities and organizations work. Adapting it from its current largely non-profit applications to the commercial world may take a while – and will require further work.

Further Information:

Steward Leadership: A Maturational Perspective, published by UCT Press, July 2013 (Available through

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