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: leadership, becoming a steward leader, financial confusion, stewardship, steward leaders, steward leader, leader, steward leadership, Four Financial Confusions,, Financial Health,

Introducing the Five Stewardship Confusions

Posted by Matthew Thomas

I recently had the opportunity to present a workshop on Five Stewardship Confusions and the Four Financial Confusions to a group of congregational leaders. We have written some on the Four Financial Confusions before: Mark’s original summary post is here, and by clicking the button below you can get the free e-book on the topic.

4 Financial Confusions Get the free e-book

matthew-thomas-2The Five Stewardship Confusions is new material developed from the work of Mark L. Vincent and others that addresses some of the issues that get leaders of congregations and ministries stuck. The Five Confusions are:

  1. Confusing Stewardship with Fundraising
  2. Confusing a lack of direct conversation about money with the inability to discuss financial matters
  3. Confusing giving to your organization’s vision and impact with giving to the budget
  4. Confusing tithing with generosity as the goal of stewardship
  5. Confusing regular giving with the full giving capacity of a donor

Over the next few months, we will look at each one of these in turn.

In the mean time, if you are interested in exploring how these confusions impact your organization, we would be glad to talk with you. Click the button below and we can discuss options for working through these confusions in your context.

It begins with design.

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, organizational design, Four Financial Confusions,, Five Stewardship Confusions,

Reflections from #CLA14 for Organizational Leaders

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present a workshop called “Overcoming Four Financial Confusions” at the Christian Leadership Alliance Kingdom Outcomes conference #CLA14.This annual conference offers great speakers, powerful training and continuing education experiences, and broad opportunities for networking with many Christian nonprofit and church leaders. If you are a Christian nonprofit or church leader looking to network with other leaders and learn from a variety of experts in fields that strengthen your leadership, CLA’s conference is the place for you. Check out their website here for more information on the conference they have planned for next year in Dallas, TX.

In our workshop two weeks ago, the material I presented covered the “4 Financial Confusions Infecting Nonprofit Leaders” e-book by Design Group International CEO Mark L Vincent. (You can get your free copy of the e-book by clicking on the button below. The original series of articles is here.)

4 Financial Confusions Get the free e-book

The feedback from the 100+ people at the workshop indicated that the Four Financial Confusions are alive and well in executives of churches and nonprofits, no matter the size. A number of CFOs from a variety of ministries were in attendance, and indicated that while, of course, they understood these confusions, often times their CEOs, Pastors, and boards did not, and this creates organizational tensionabout how to move  forward. Several of the CFOs expressed that their organizational leaders often accuse them of a lack of faith because of their preference for using their accounting expertise to manage ministry’s finances. Having sat in both seats – as an executive and as a CFO, I have lived that tension from both sides, and I can certainly relate.

matthew-thomas-2In larger churches and faith-based non-profits, executive and financial roles, responsibilities and procedures are often well developed – by necessity, to maintain their optimal size. Nevertheless, the tension about the role of the financial leader vis-à-vis the rest of the executive team often still exists. Sometimes this is a personality conflict between the types of personality underlying visionary leaders and the typical accounting types; but many times it goes deeper than that: often it is truly a difference in theology of finances between the CFO and their financial staff on the one hand, and the CEO and the rest of the organization on the other. This tension is one we hope to address in future resources and articles.

In small- and medium-sized churches and non-profits, this tension exists alongside the additional complications of less role differentiation and often less developed financial procedure and process. These added complications often make it even more difficult to find the clarity to move their mission forward than for larger nonprofits.

For those organizations, we would like to offer two additional resources. The first is our Financial Roles Map, a resource developed a year or so ago that can help enterprises of all sizes determine the roles they need to fill – even if several must be filled by the same person to start with. It is available below.

Financial Roles Get the map!

The second is a brand-new resource, the Four Financial Confusions Workbook, that helps leaders working through the Four Financial Confusions material with examples and exercises to gain clarity around how they might move forward organizationally. It contains basic curriculum material tuned toward group process that works alongside the Four Financial Confusions e-book. We would like to provide it to our readers free, for a limited time. Click the button below to get your copy!

Get the Four Financial Confusions Workbook

Together, the three resources presented in this article can give you the capacity to strengthen your mission by clarifying your perspective on money and its management. We hope these resources are useful as you continue the valuable work you do.

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Topics: financial management confusion, financial confusion, Financial Leadership, Matthew Thomas, financial confusion of nonprofit leaders, Four Financial Confusions,