Steward Leadership: Responses to Complexity

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2We can have a lot of different responses when we are faced with inherent complexity. Depending on the situation, steward leadership requires one or more of them. Here are six responses we find people using most frequently:

  • Eliminate nonessentialsLike what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  • Classify and categorize
  • Ignore the complexity and "go with the gut"
  • Become paralyzed
  • Analyze and examine
  • Adapt and learn a new approach

Leaders who want to do good while doing well use these at different times, depending on the situation. (Perhaps they don't use paralysis as often as others - instead, it's time to stop and think.)

What is your most natural response to complexity?

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Topics: becoming a steward leader, Matthew Thomas, steward leadership

Steward Leadership: Two ways to delegate

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2Stewarding an organization involves delegating to others. We see two primary ways steward leaders delegate: prescriptively and proscriptively.

 

Prescriptive delegation involves making a list of do's and don'ts and then making sure the person we delegated to gets them done.

 

Proscriptive delegation involves setting goals and the outside boundaries of what is permissible and allowing the other person to exercise judgment and discretion within the boundaries we set in order to meet the goals.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Each style has its risks and benefits. Nevertheless, we see that proscriptive delegation, when executed well, provides for increased organizational capacity, while prescriptive delegation tends to stifle innovation.

 

Agile enterprises tend to be proscriptive with their leaders, giving them boundaries to continue to push the enterprise forward. They gain agility as leaders make decisions to propel the enterprise toward its goals - something a prescriptive model cannot do, since the capacity to make decisions is out of their hands in that case. In general, steward leadership tends to push decisions as far down into the organization as possible. 

 

What is your delegation style? Which do you prefer?

 

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Topics: becoming a steward leader, steward leadership

Steward Leadership: Calling in the Right People

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2Over the years, I have done a lot of home repair and remodeling projects. Over the past decade, I have repaired or remodeled most everything on our 90-year-old house. Most of those projects involved me learning something new.

 

My attitude has been that in most cases I can do whatever needs to be done, do it well, and make it look good, even though it involves learning something new. I find it exciting to expand my skill set and practice new things as I build something to last. I like designing something to solve a problem I have discovered (or sometimes even created for myself). This value of doing quality work - and not just having it look good - while learning and designing along the way is something I discovered in myself as project after project evolved.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Nevertheless, I have found that there are times when  the quality approach, with new solutions designed in along the way, require things of me that I cannot do. Either because of time, or safety, or specific skills, there are projects that I do not take on, because I know it is better to call someone else in to get it done right.

 

Knowing when to make the right call to bring someone new in to get a job done is both a matter of practicality and a skill developed over time. Sometimes it's a matter of hiring an employee; other times, a contractor; still other times a vendor or supplier. For steward leaders, this call is not typically about looking someone up in the phone book. (Incidentally, who uses a phone book's yellow pages any more, really?)

 

Steward leadership of our organizations means we often must reflect on our values and goals as we find the right people to help us accomplish our mission. If our goals are doing good while doing well, acting with excellence in innovation, we will find that this process involves discovery of those values in others as we develop our working arrangements with them. Those "good fit" relationships help us to accomplish more toward our purpose than just the task at hand - and do so with excellence.

 

When do you call in others to assist?

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Topics: becoming a steward leader, steward leadership

Steward Leadership: When Excellent is the enemy of good enough

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2As steward leaders, we always want to discharge our responsibilities with excellence. We are serious about the fact that we are operating for the greater good on behalf of others, not just ourselves. And this drives us to want to make sure everything is done well, completely, and consistently.

Nevertheless, there are times when "excellent" - or "best" - is the enemy of "good enough." Our natural tendency, laid upon us by phrases like "good is the enemy of great," and "anything worth doing is worth doing well," and "leave it better than when you arrived," is to write excellence all over our work.

Two examples:

1. In deliberative bodies, like the US Congress and state assemblies, broad, sweeping reforms are rarely possible, even with significant majorities. Nevertheless, in many cases, some reform is still seen as better than no reform at all. If members press only for the absolute best and most, they might end up with nothing. In this case, "best" could be the enemy of "good enough" - for now.

Financial Roles Get the map! 2. When preparing to sell a home or car, there are always questions as to what repairs and cosmetic improvements need to happen to make the sale. There is almost always more that could be fixed. Moreover, there is a quality of work, particularly with painting a home, that may not be helpful if the expectation is that the new owners will just paint over it. The time and effort to make it exactly right, or the best paint job ever, will be wasted on something that will be replaced after sale. Efforts would be better spent elsewhere.

In these cases, we can still act with integrity to do what is best or excellent within the constraints and conditions we experience. Stewarding time, resources, relationships, and our own bodies shows us that excellence could mean, for the legislator, passing the best bill under the circumstances; for the homeowner, making the most of the time and effort to execute the sale. Excellent becomes the enemy of good enough when we take a part of the project and make it the whole, or lose perspective of the constraints within which we are working. Desiring to do good while doing well often means we keep a larger picture of excellence more than a single component or partial perspective. Steward leadership often means helping others keep that perspective, as well.

Wheel or Spiral? Which is your organization?

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Topics: becoming a steward leader, steward leadership

Steward Leadership of Financial Pinch Points

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2I have worked in a number of settings recently where it appears that the different aspects of the enterprise's operations are in competition with one another for resources. For instance, a service organization constantly wrestled with balancing the needs to pay staff against the expenses of running programs and maintaining a facility. As part of its mission was to reach out beyond itself in support of other organizations, the funds needed to do this also competed with the staff, programs, and facilities. Each part of the organization felt the financial pinch.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! We have discovered that many service-oriented enterprises (across sectors and industries) wrestle with these balances between staffing, programs, facilities, and outreach. Balancing these four areas is part of active steward leadership, and steward leaders face this acutely in their role as managers on behalf of owners. Pinch points like these can hurt the entire organization when the different parts are set in competition. We are often called in to work to resolve the organizational pain this causes.

In these settings, we find the balance easier to maintain if the following is true:

  1. FivewaystofindFinancialBalanceLeaders budget forward from income, rather than backward from current expenses.
  2. This planning leaves room for margin so as to be able to maintain core operations despite fluctuations in cash flow.
  3. Plans tie programs and facilities together as a cost since most programs require facilities to house them. (Travel costs are also included here.)
  4. Growing organizations (or those intending to grow) maintain at least 15% in outreach funds against the other two areas.
  5. Leaders recognize that staffing will almost always be a greater portion of the remainder (vs. facilities and programs), even in volunteer-oriented organizations. However, if the program / facility portion is less than 10% overall, the organization may either be over-staffed or have under-developed programs and potentially deferred maintenance on facilities.

When we conduct our financial health assessments, we find that the balance between these areas can fundamentally shape the organization's outcomes. Steward leaders who want to meet the ownership goals for their enterprise continually look toward the capacity of their enterprise to meet them. Keeping these areas all in balance can improve both short- and long-term outcomes and impact.

 

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Topics: becoming a steward leader, financial confusion, Financial Leadership, steward leadership, Financial Health

Steward Leadership as Owner-Centeredness

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2Often, when I hear someone speak of "good stewardship of resources," I find that it is really code-speak for a cost-centered approach to finances or personnel. It's a euphemism for "it costs too much."

Many leaders see stewardship as managing scarce, non-renewable resources in a way that doesn't do too much damage to the environment, the people around us, our organization, or the bottom line. Seeing stewardship as damage control creates a focus on costs, often above all else.

The issue is that good stewardship isn't about cost-centeredness. It's not even technically about return on investment, either, although that is closer to the mark.

Good stewardship is about focusing on achieving the owner's (or owners') goals, within the means constraints the owner(s) have provided. Only then can ROI and cost figure in.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! A focus on costs often diverts stewards from the owners' real goals, and could prevent steward leaders from achieving the owners' outcomes. It tends to stifle creativity as direct cost control prevents alternative ways to achieving goals that still fit within the owners' constraints. 

SixSteward-OwnerQuestionsSteward leadership invites creativity on both sides of the ledger: if something has a high cost, is there a way to engage in a model that either offsets that cost or leverages that cost to accomplish something bigger? Or is it truly just resources being thrown away?

See why cost-centeredness leads to a fundamental confusion about budgets, here. 

Steward leaders value creativity because this best reflects the level of trust and freedom to make decisions with which the owners have invested them. Owner-centeredness allows these leaders to rise above cost accounting (which is often a short-term issue) and move to a more balanced, creative approach.

I find it helps for me to think through the following questions:

  1. What are the owner's (or owners') goals?
  2. What are the stated constraints?
  3. How can I use what they have given me to accomplish these goals?
  4. If at first I think they haven't given me enough, are there creative ways to leverage what I have to do more?
  5. How does this specific item (project, initiative, etc.) fit into the larger picture?
  6. How do I maximize the results the owner or owners seek?

The answers to these help me design healthy financial practices and systems into the work I do, so that we can meet the long-term ownership goals, rather than just focus on specific item costs. Next time you are thinking through a budget, a new initiative, or a project plan, try these questions out. See how they change the conversation!

 

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Topics: becoming a steward leader, financial confusion, stewardship, steward leadership, Financial Health