Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest

by Peter Block

Our Main Take-Away:

Stewardship is a time-tested volume of insight and wisdom that challenges the reader to examine the prevailing methods of leadership present in most businesses and organizations. The 2nd edition of Stewardship maintains the author’s original premise of rethinking the role of corporate authoritarian leadership and replacing it with a model service to those that are being led. The value of this book is in the challenge that it poses to the reader to scrutinize and appraise their beliefs regarding the role of leaders and effective leadership in organizations of all shapes and sizes.

Reasons to Read:

The opportunity to be challenged in one’s thinking, rather than being instructed, is the primary reason to read Stewardship by Peter Block. He boldly proposes a new structure for leadership within the business world and long-standing institutions, which is highlighted by a shared model of leadership which he maintains will allow the creativity and productiveness of each employee to be better realized.

The suggestion by the author that the leadership of organizations, if they are genuinely interested in “unleashing” the potential of the organization they serve, should locate the power of decision making at the lowest possible level, and “steward” the activities and functions of the organization rather than mandate them with an authoritarian approach. Since Block’s challenge to the established corporate culture first emerged over 25 years ago, a revised edition of the book further clarifies the reasons he calls for such reforms.

The concept of turning “employees into partners” who are directly involved in the future and decision making of the organization is illustrated by Block’s call for the removal of “layers of management”. He contends that by placing the decisions most closely to where the work occurs and having those decisions championed by leadership, a new level of productivity and collaborative work environment can be created. He advocates for managers to relinquish many of the “perks and privileges” that they currently enjoy for the opportunity to reward employees based authentically upon the experience and outcomes that customers receive.

The value of this book, from a leadership perspective, is its focus on team member engagement and potential improvement in productivity. The questions that the author attempts to resolve, center around the structures that perpetuate division and mistrust. The need for leaders to be well versed in emotional intelligence, as well as being deeply invested in the growth and development of team members is clearly expressed. The value of a “high trust culture”, and the positive impacts it can have on the overall effectiveness of an organization is something that wise leaders will find both informative and helpful.

Amazon Summary:

One of the most provocative and revolutionary books written on leadership, business, and organizational design, Stewardship remains just as relevant, even twenty years later, to transforming our organizations for the common good of the wider community.

We still face the challenge of fostering ownership and accountability throughout our organizations. Despite all the evidence calling for profound change, most organizations still rely on patriarchy and control as their core form of governance. The result is that they stifle initiative and spirit and alienate people from the work they do. This in the face of an increasing need to find ways to be responsive to customers and the wider community.

Peter Block insists that what is required is a dramatic shift in how we distribute power, privilege, and the control of money. “Stewardship,” he writes, “means giving people at the bottom and the boundaries of the organization choice over how to serve a customer, a citizen, a community. It is the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us.”

Block has revised and updated the book throughout, including a new introduction addressing what has changed—and what hasn’t—in the twenty years since the book was published and a new chapter on applying stewardship to the common good of the wider community. He covers both the theory of stewardship (in particular how it ameliorates the shortcomings of traditional leadership) and the practice (how it transforms every function and department for the better). And he offers tactical advice as well on gearing up to implement these reforms.

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