Steward Leadership Through Temperance

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2.jpgTwo weeks ago, we reflected on what it means to be good stewards of anger. We concluded that virtue - a term we rarely hear these days - can inform our response to anger - whether our own or others'.


In Republic IV.427, Plato lists four civic virtues: prudence (or wisdom), courage (or bravery), temperance, and justice. Today, we are going to reflect on temperance as key to leadership. Temperance is a funny word with strong association to the movement in the 1920s United States to ban beverage alcohol; perhaps another word is better now (moderation or self-control come to mind); for now, though, we use it, if only to provoke reflection through unfamiliarity.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! My 17-month-old son received a cardboard book about emotions as a Christmas gift this year. It describes how someone feels in different situations and then names those feelings. None of the emotions are judged; they are defined by example. Naming his emotions will help him in the first steps toward self-awareness. Eventually, he will be able to manage these emotions as they arise and respond to them. They will feel right in certain contexts, even as his response to those feelings changes.


Conventional wisdom says that what feels right is what we should do. This is commonly the philosophy of early adulthood as we explore new relationships, the freedoms of our newly-minted majority, and discover what delights, entertains, and attracts us.


(Related: Leadership - confidence, presence and curiosity)


Temperance takes a more seasoned approach to life. Temperance assumes that our desires and pleasures, while good, require some moderation. Some of that moderation is intensity, some is timing, some is boundary-setting. Temperance assumes that, as leaders, it is in our best interest to cultivate our will: our ability to choose what we do and when - and not merely to react. This tunes up our responses to reflect what we really want outside of the immediate moment, so that whether we tend toward reflection or tend toward going with our gut, there is a bit of space - a beat in time, perhaps - between our feelings and our actions.


We all know that reactivity is not leadership; it is the slave of circumstance and situation. Temperance works with our will so that our emotions, desires, and pleasures do not drive us to reactivity in ourselves - and even allow us to lead our own selves, not just others. Temperance allows us to express our emotions and desires in context and pursue pleasures to the degree they align with our overall values. This makes us whole, balanced people - an attractive leadership attribute.


(Related: Doing good while doing well)


As leaders we often have to make decisions in a split second. We don't necessarily have time to step back, close the doors, and reflect for a time. Temperance, and the disciplines that build it, gives us a much better chance of making good decisions. It's the worst feeling in the world to realize we made a decision out of anger, over-exuberance, fear, avoidance, or even greed, when we see the consequences burdening our present and future. Practicing the virtue of temperance gives us the space, even in the moment of emotion or desire, to make the right split-second decision that we won't regret (at least as much) down the road. Temperance gives both logic and emotion their place, but then allows both to defer to the will. This helps us to steward our organizations well.


I'm curious to see how you apply temperance as you lead your organization.

How do you manage the use of virtue? If you wouldn't mind, e-mail me  and let me know how you see anger, and virtue at work.


We'd also like to provide you with a resource describing the balance of decision-making process: more reflective, or more active? Which way do you tend?


Tao of action-reflection, primer on process


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Topics: leadership, steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, leader, leaders, virtue, temperance

Leadership: Confidence, Presence, and Curiosity

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2.jpgAs leaders, we have a lot on our minds all the time. We have a lot to do, and often the thing we are most concerned about isn't the thing we are doing now. I mean, who hasn't had meetings back-to-back where our focus ends up being on the second (or third) meeting rather than on the one we're in?


The problem is that when we are focused on the next thing, we're not really present to those who are with us right then. There are, of course, many ways to be absent, or semi-absent, from those we are physically proximate to - like checking our smartphone, our watch (or even smart watch), staring out the window, watching a television, and so on. At least for me, though, all of that pales in comparison to what's going on in my own head. I can think about three things at once between someone's sentences.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Most of us want to be more present to those we lead, and more present to those we care about. The trick is, once we notice we are being absent or semi-absent, we often start thinking about how we're absent, rather than jumping back to presence. It's kind of like the "don't think about a big, juicy hamburger" experiment. Who among us didn't just think of a big, juicy hamburger when we read that?


So what to do?


At the suggestion of my colleague and Executive Coach Phil Bergey, I have begun practicing curiosity on purpose. And I've found that it really helps as a self-check for how present I am to those I am conversing with. Here's the idea: if I'm so absorbed in what's running through my own head that I can't find anything about the person in front of me that makes me curious, then I'm not really present, or not really listening, or really just don't care.


Some of this could be because I'm too busy talking to hear what the other person is saying - or so ready with my next line that I can't hear theirs. Some of this comes down to the natural insecurity of all conversations - will we be understood? What will their response be? Can I accomplish what I came here for? This is all especially true when there is a power imbalance: a leader, a subordinate, a sales/customer conversation, and so on. For me to be really present, the natural insecurity must give way to the confidence that comes from being able to ask something new.


(Related: The story we tell with cost and value.


When my curiosity is really running, I'm listening for what the other person is saying, and seeing what genuinely sparks - not just what's on a script. It's led to some really interesting and fruitful conversations. I'm a naturally curious person: I like learning. Curiosity helps me learn who people are, what they need, and how they might need it delivered. This helps me for client-orientation in business, and helps as I build friendships and strengthen family ties.


What about you? 


How can we help?   Connect with Matt Thomas!

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Topics: client centered, leadership, Matthew Thomas, leader, client-centeredness, curious, curiosity

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,