Career Objective: Becoming a Steward

If you’re in management, here’s a job to which you might aspire: being a steward. There are all sorts of historical references that come to mind. A steward was a household servant that served food to masters in the castle. Later, a steward (or more frequently considered, a stewardess, another dated term) referred to the job of taking care of passengers' needs on a ship, train, or plane.

I don’t mean any of that. A steward is someone who owns the responsibility to take care of something that belongs to someone else.

I once heard Arthur Lipper say that he didn’t want a manager to treat the organization’s money as he would his own. He preferred to see managers become the stewards of someone else’s money. He was referring to investors’ money, reflecting the mindset of shareholder supremacy. [Don’t get me started… my next posting will be about the importance of financial returns – within perspective of everything else the business must do.] I may disagree with his focus, but not the principle.

Stewardship is a higher responsibility than acting as if the asset were your own. Someone gave you something valuable of theirs to protect and nurture. As a manager, you have responsibility for, among many things, customer satisfaction (a low bar… how about customer delight?), safeguarding information, workplace safety, employee well-being, societal impacts, and yes, financial results, all (in most instances) where you do not have controlling ownership.

Kinda puts into perspective why financial firms must be so meticulous about trust and custody accounts, and why your selection of a babysitter may be the most important decision of your life (or should be).

When you become a steward, you’re becoming a servant leader, the top rung of the leadership hierarchy. With or without a title, you’ve become what every manager wants to be.

For managers, it’s not about how well you fared. It’s about how well the things entrusted to you fared.