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Leading and Following By Dr. Marybeth Leavell

Leading and Following as a Steward

While leading and following may seem like opposite roles, in the context of stewardship, they are closely intertwined and complementary aspects of the same overarching responsibility. Let’s explore the essence of stewardship and how following and leading complement each other in the practice of this transformative model.

The Steward Leader as Follower

At the heart of steward leadership is recognizing that leaders are stewards entrusted with the care and well-being of their organizations, resources, relationships, and responsibilities. It goes beyond the conventional notions of authority and control and emphasizes collaboration, innovation, and cultivating a shared vision for sustainability. Steward leaders recognize that effective leadership requires both the humility to follow and the courage to lead. Within steward leadership, followership is not passive obedience but an active role in seeking and following God’s direction. Rooted in faith and devotion, steward leaders draw inspiration from God to guide their actions, decisions, and interactions with others. Steward leaders humbly acknowledge their limitations and seek divine guidance in their leadership roles.

Followers of Steward Leaders

Steward leaders lead by example, demonstrating integrity, honesty, and transparency in all their interactions. At the same time, they hold themselves accountable to their followers, inviting feedback and criticism and acknowledging their fallibility. In essence, while following and leading may involve different actions and responsibilities, steward leadership combines to anchor leadership in the principles of righteousness, humility, and compassion. These qualities of the steward leader as a role model inspire others to join them and pursue these higher purposes within the organizational culture. One goal of the steward leader is to grow more steward leaders by embracing followership,

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

~1 Cor. 11:1, NIV

As a result, organizations can better cultivate a culture of collaboration, innovation, and sustainability.


As leaders provide direction and guidance within their organization, they do so with the understanding that their primary role is to empower and support their team members in achieving shared goals. In this way, leaders “follow” the needs and aspirations of their followers, seeking to meet them with empathy and compassion. Followers are not mere subordinates but active partners in shaping the organization’s trajectory. Followers respond to the leader as a role model of best “leading by following” and learning to do the same within their areas of responsibility. Steward leaders empower their followers by fostering an environment of trust, respect, and open communication. They recognize each individual’s unique talents, perspectives, and contributions and encourage collaboration and teamwork. They create platforms for sharing knowledge, expertise, and best practices by facilitating collaboration across departments and teams. Leaders and followers work together as partners in this dynamic, leveraging their strengths to encourage innovation, problem-solving, and organizational success.


Steward leaders prioritize the well-being and flourishing of those under their care, recognizing every individual’s inherent dignity and worth as creations of a loving and merciful God. Steward leaders embrace continuous learning and growth, recognizing that leadership is a personal and collective development journey. They are receptive to feedback, willing to learn from their followers, and open to new ideas and perspectives. In this way, leaders “follow” the wisdom and insights of their team members, acknowledging that leadership is a shared responsibility that requires ongoing adaptation and growth. To create an environment where followers feel empowered to take risks and experiment with innovative ideas, steward leaders prioritize building trust and safety. Followers are encouraged to continuously seek improvement and innovation by promoting a growth mindset focused on stewardship.


Steward leadership and organizational sustainability are closely interconnected concepts emphasizing responsible and ethical leadership practices to ensure an organization’s long-term health, resilience, and success. Steward leaders communicate a compelling vision for sustainability that resonates with followers’ values and aspirations. By articulating the purpose behind sustainability efforts, leaders inspire followers to support and contribute to sustainability goals actively. Because steward leaders lead by example, they model sustainable behaviors and values for followers to emulate and serve as role models for followers to reinforce the importance of sustainability in organizational culture.


The role of followership in effective steward leadership cannot be overstated. Following God’s guidance is necessary to lead effectively, and working with other followers as essential partners in the stewardship journey is key to organizational success. All followers, regardless of job title or role, contribute their talents, insights, and dedication to advancing the mission and vision of the organization. By integrating steward leadership principles into followership behaviors, leaders can empower individuals throughout the organization to play an active role in advancing the development of a culture where stewardship is deeply embedded and God is glorified as the owner of all.


Dr. Mary Leavell is a Columbia International University adjunct faculty member/methodologist. She is an experienced educational consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.

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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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