Steward leaders tend to desire accountability within their organizations – including for themselves. One question that often arises is who holds whom accountable, and who initiates accountability within the organization.
To whom are steward leaders accountable? In the strictest sense, they are accountable to the owner or owners of the enterprise, and are accountable to that ownership through any intermediate leaders between the particular steward leader and the owner or owners themselves. For most enterprises, ownership is clear: they are the equity shareholders in the company. In the case of larger companies with many shareholders, a board of directors represents these shareholders’ interests on the company’s behalf.
In a non-profit, ownership is often less clear, but must be defined as well. If the non-profit is operating on behalf of a “general public,” it is that “general public” that owns the organization. In a church, with some variations on particular polity, the ultimate “owner” of the church is God, whether that be expressed at the congregational, synod, associational, diocesan, or other ecclesiastical level.
In this model, the owners initiate accountability through their representatives, and those representatives hold accountable those who work for them. The steward leader who desires accountability, and is not the owner, must receive it from those who are one step closer to the owners than they are, if not the owners themselves.
If a leader does not have that option for accountability, he or she might initiate a group to which they can offer the kind of reporting and obtain the kind of permission usually conducted by formal accountability. This is, in some ways, the best kind of steward leadership possible in certain contexts that struggle with accountability. However, this will not be real accountability as long as the leader has the initiative and is not bound by the group’s decisions. It will give some level of transparency, to be sure, but it will not be true accountability unless the leader is bound to accept the group’s decisions – both yes and no, and the group has the authority to inquire and obtain reporting about any subject germane to the leader’s work, on the group’s terms.
There is value in having a group of key stakeholders with whom the leader maintains some basic level of transparency, and there is certainly nothing wrong with any leader having a job-relevant advisory group. However, neither is true accountability. True accountability, in the sense we are discussing,
- Is at the initiative of the owners or their representatives,
- Is limited in scope to the organization’s purpose,
- Has yes and no authority within its scope,
- Sets limits and direction.
What kinds of accountability structures does your organization have?
This post is part of a series on accountability in organizations. See the previous posts here: