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Defining Characteristics By Kent R. Wilson

Christian Leadership AllianceToday we explore the five defining characteristics of a steward leader.

By Kent R. Wilson, PhD ~

In your role as a steward leader in a nonprofit organization, you lead with a different mindset than an owner-operator. You know that you are there to lead the organization to accomplish its mission for the benefit of the stakeholders: the donors, constituents, and community. You are able to personally benefit from the results of your good leadership, but your first concern is the value you are bringing to the “owners” as a result of your leadership. Leading like a steward involves a number of unique attributes, behaviors, and perspectives:

A steward leader knows the mind of the owner

When an owner, stockholder, stakeholder, or community entrusts an enterprise into the hands of a steward leader, they expect the steward to manage the business or organization as if they were running it themselves. One of the early distinguishing characteristics of the classical steward was said to be “The steward knows what the owner knows.” The steward needs to know the owner’s desires and goals for the resources and then manage accordingly.

A steward leader is accountable

Since the steward leads and manages resources on behalf of others, the steward is accountable to the owner, stockholders, or stakeholders for how he or she has managed the enterprise. In the modern corporation, financial accounting is one of the main ways that stewards account for their stewardship. In the nonprofit organization, accountability is measured through the accomplishments of the mission and outcomes as well as fiduciary accountability.

A steward leader serves

Classical stewards were generally slaves, albeit the highest ranking slave. In our modern society, the steward leader is owned by no one, but he or she is still a servant of the owner(s) and leads with an attitude of service and altruism for the benefit of others.

A steward leader stewards a wide range of resources

Enterprise stewards do more than just try to make businesses grow. They also steward and grow their own personal skills and abilities, the company’s brand and reputation, the work environment and culture, the skills and abilities of others, etc. It’s a highly responsible position with wide-ranging resources and responsibilities.

A steward leader develops stewardship in others

Finally, steward leaders don’t try to do it alone. They develop stewardship in the employees so that together everyone can manage the resources of the enterprise with the same mindset and goals. Steward leadership is one of the oldest, and most contemporary, leadership models around.

How would you describe a steward leader?


Kent Wilson (PhD) is a leadership coach and nonprofit leadership specialist. After running nonprofit organizations for 30 years, he now serves as program coordinator for CLA’s Leader2Leader peer advisory program. He is also co-founder of the Steward Leader Initiative, and frequently trains boards in steward-governance.

Be a faithful steward and take advantage of early registration savings for Christian Leadership Alliance’s annual Outcomes Conference April 4-6, 2017. CLA members who register four at one time earn a fifth registration free!

Visit the conference website to learn more!

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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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