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The STEW of Steward Leadership By Mark L. Vincent

 A stew is either a mess or good to eat. One has to look at the context to know what it is. Even more, a fine meal becomes toxic over or under-rationing the ingredients or not inserting them properly.

The STEW of a steward leader is much the same. The context in which they serve, the person they choose to be, and the way they carry out their role are the ingredients with which they work. The leader occupies the intersection where these ingredients’ proper mix and timing occur, making the stew good or awful.

So much of stew-making is out of a leader’s control. The context might be able to be shaped over time, but not immediately and probably not radically. Many other forces outside the leadership purview exert their influence where the leader has little to none.

Even if it could be shaped, the leader inherits the context as it is, not as they might have preferred it to be. Who decides to follow and in what ways are also outside the leader’s control, at least directly. Even though they can easily reduce the number or loyalty of followers by doing nothing or by acting callously, even though they can reduce obstacles and increase rewards for following, the choice of whether to follow remains with the follower.

Leaders cannot control everything about themselves and their context either. One cannot suddenly have a more commanding voice, a higher math aptitude, or a greater number of birthdays. They can increase their skills, but they cannot be other than who they are, even when functioning at superhuman capacity.

What the leader is in the most control of is themselves in relationship to their context, and they are part of that context where they lead. This means the characters and the behaviors they bring to the context matter greatly. So does their capacity to adapt. I would add that the length of their purview also matters. By this I mean a cultivated ability to see how a long term vision is affected by actions in the near term. And by long-term, I mean casting a vision that extends beyond one’s own career to one’s successors and beyond.

Those who study leadership might become critical at this point, stating that this description of a steward leader is not much different than a servant leader or a transformational leader. Some even challenge anyone who promotes steward leadership as a specific leadership approach to offer more proof that this is any different than what is being written about elsewhere.

Steward leadership does not try to disintegrate or abandon previously demonstrated leadership theory. Instead, it builds upon it, extends it, and offers a wider doorway into claiming a leadership identity:


Servant leadership tends to emphasize the character of a leader. Transformational leadership tends to emphasize the behaviors of a leader. Many feel these are complementary rather than conflicting points of view. Because steward leadership treats them as complementary, leaders and students of steward leadership will find that servant and transformational understandings continue. Steward leadership builds upon them by providing a more articulate underlying purpose (my leadership role and the organization I serve is given to me in trust) and a more compelling end (I am accountable for and must return this trust at the end of my service).


Servant leadership tends to measure the sincerity, authenticity, and integrity of the leader. Has the leader put others first? Transformational leadership tends to measure the vitality of the organization. Has the leader been able to get people what they need for them and their organization to succeed as they have defined it? Steward leadership extends both of these–the measure of integrity specifically includes relationships with all stakeholders, including subsequent generations, and even more, the master who employs; and the measure of vitality specifically includes increased capacity and quality of life for all these same stakeholders.


Neither servant nor transformational approaches deny that one can claim a leadership identity–a vocation, if you will. Both offer some level of encouragement to do so. A leader who understands this knows that their identity is not just what they are at the moment but who they are, whether they have a formal leadership role or not. Such a person will likely be just as effective a follower as a leader. The character and actions of leadership are so fundamentally engrained in them that they contribute however they can. They can not do it.  The steward leader claims this vocation. They are working for their master in whatever context they are.

The STEW of a steward leader is to claim the role of helping and caring in the middle of a unique context, thinking about the long-term as they do and choosing actions at the moment that face the right direction.  The steward leader does so, knowing they might not be the one who enjoys the feast they prepared for the benefit of others.

And still, they are satisfied.

How do you describe your leadership style?


Dr. Mark L. Vincent is the Founder of Design Group International and the Society for Process Consulting. He hosts the Third Turn Podcast and facilitates Maestro-level leaders. Discover the Maestro-level cohort that is waiting for you! Click the banner below to learn more!


What is Christian Leadership Alliance?

Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.

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