Values Reflections Show a Variety of Opportunities

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2.jpgOver the past few weeks, I have been having a lot of conversations with people about a wide variety of business and organizational opportunities. Today, as I thought about those conversations, I am amazed at how our values drive us to so many opportunities and possibilities.

A few examples:

  • I spent much of this past weekend in the company of the alumni of my high school alma mater, many of whom have gone on to do some pretty amazing things. Many of them explicitly express the desire to "make the world a better place." This has led some into journalism, medicine, engineering, and economics; others into humanities and social advocacy. Over the past year, this same desire blossomed into creating an alumni association for the school, for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  • I discussed succession planning with a business owner, and saw his passion for his field coming out as we discussed how best to hand off his business so that it could still impact the community positively after he has stepped out of it.
  • I heard from several people seeking to fulfill their vocation, and wondering whether process consulting was the way to go about that. 
  • A higher education institution has a vision for its community - not just people in its degree programs. This vision is poised for significant impact!

Our values might all sound similar on the surface - for instance, community impact. Nevertheless, our organizational and leadership context sends us down diverse paths. Refining and focusing our vision, mission, values and principles is an essential part of organizational and leadership health. 

(Related: Leadership - Doing Good while Doing Well)

But it doesn't stop there: that refinement of vision, mission, values and principles translates into strategic themes, specific initiative projects and the metrics of success. When we can do that successfully, the opportunities are incredibly varied. When we do that, we can transform our organizations (and ourselves as leaders) for a vibrant future.




The TAD software from AdaQuest provides a software framework to assess current organizational state, support strategic planning, and then implement the plan through high-level initiatives and specific projects. TAD strengthens the consultative process by giving the organization the means to carry projects forward without having to embed consultants quite so deeply in day-to-day operations.

How can I find out more?

As a TAD-Certified Consultant and member of the TAD Partner program, I can walk you through a demonstration of the software and work with you to see if TAD would be a good fit for your organization or project. Feel free to call 1.877.771.3330 x20 or e-mail me . If you would like to see more about the software directly from adaQuest, visit

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Topics: core values, leadership, Matthew Thomas, Act, TAD, Think, Deliver

Steward Leadership and the Pursuit of Justice

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2.jpgAs leaders who want to "do good while doing well," we realize that "doing the right thing" is inherent to our organizational life. As we have spoken of virtue lately - whether in a general sense, or with the specifics of temperance and prudence - our focus is how virtue can make us better leaders. Virtue provides us an aspirational sense of self, not merely sets of rules or best practices that help us avoid embarrassment, lawsuits, or criminal charges.


Within the context of virtue, justice provides us with more than just the sense that we obeyed the law and that we conducted ourselves ethically. Those are, of course, basic components to justice - as long as the law is itself just, and our ethics not mere self-justification of our common practice.


  • Justice as virtue means that we do right by people on an individual basis.
  • Justice as virtue means that we also do right by people on an organizational basis - how our company treats its customers, shareholders - honestly, anyone it comes in contact with, whether individuals or other organizations.
  • Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! Justice as virtue means that our company's cause for being has at its core a desire to make the world a better place. As we make the world a better place, we make it a better place for all people - not just some at the expense of others. The produces we sell, the services we provide, the causes we champion - justice says that we keep our eye on the betterment of all.


Justice, then, requires that our organizational life have more than mere profit motivation. Steward leadership means that profitability and sustainability factor in to virtuous justice organizationally; without profitability and sustainability, the expectation would be bankruptcy - whereby we cry for mercy that we cannot meet our just obligations. These things are not inherently in opposition. Nevertheless, how profit (or surplus, in the case of non-profits) is obtained is as much a question of virtue as whether an enterprise is sustainable.


(Related: 6 Reasons Why Changing Your Mission Statement Didn't Work)


Justice helps us as steward leaders measure our interactions with others and the quality of what we produce. Therefore, as virtue, it guides us toward greater steward leadership of ourselves and our organizations.


I'm curious to see how you apply justice 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 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, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, virtue, prudence, temperance, justice

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: Power and Character

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2.jpgAs I was growing up, people often told me that character was "what you do when nobody's looking." The typical examples were stealing something trifling, cheating at a game, or bullying a kid when the adults weren't around. Since these are things we know that some adults still struggle with, it's true that this demonstrates a degree of character.


Nevertheless, these days, I think it's more than that: today, I would say that character is what we do when we have power. Do we play to people's base fears and prejudices, or do we create space for learning and cooperation? How do we treat those who are less powerful than we - even those who are powerless? Do we recognize the advantages and privileges our power gives us, and use that awareness to leverage them on behalf of others? Or do we subject others to scrutiny that we would not want to have put on ourselves, were the shoe on the other foot?


Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! When we find ourselves with the power to hire and fire, we hold great power over a person's - and often a family's - well-being. If we have the authority to arrest, detain, use lethal force, prosecute, or pronounce sentence, we hold even the power of life and death over others. Something as merely human and common as parenting involves a power relationship - one under constant refinement, negotiation, and growth. Thus, merely crossing the threshold into legal adulthood itself holds a degree of power.


Voting - as well as abstention from voting - whether in political elections or in the boardroom, is commonly top of mind as an expression of power, but it is not anywhere near the most common. I see three as much more common:


  • There is a power relationship between those traveling by automobile or truck and those traveling by most other means on the same road. (As a distance runner, I am keenly aware of who loses in an encounter with a motorized vehicle.)
  • Holding financial assets, often alongside higher incomes, grants significant power to act and to control.
  • Appearance is another: the freedom to carry oneself as one pleases, and act as one pleases, based in physical attractiveness, style of dress, grooming habits, or race/ethnicity/gender, is power that is not available to all in any society.


These power relationships are expressed far more often than voting (or abstention).


(Related: Doing Good While Doing Well)


As steward leaders of organizations, we probably already realize all of this. And self-awareness of our power, and the privileges it grants us, takes us a long way toward using power with character and integrity. So what do we do with our power? The fact that most of us do not become petty tyrants at home, in business, in office, and in our communities speaks to the stuff we are made of. I have seen many handle power well. Here are some marks of those who hold power with character:


  1. Courtesy. Falling into the "just because we can doesn't mean we should" category, courtesy acknowledges both our own power and another's dignity. It builds relationships and holds power in reserve.
  2. Attentiveness. Listening goes a long way. I have often heard it said that the first thing to go when someone gets power is their hearing. This is particularly the case when we have to listen to someone outside the "in-group", the inner circle, or even from an opposition party or enemy. Maintaining the ability to listen and nuance response expresses character with power.
  3. Acknowledgement. Having the humility to both acknowledge our own mistakes and champion the contributions of our team (and even of those who opposed us but whom we want to work with) reinforces courtesy and attentiveness to begin to truly lead, instead of merely controlling and manipulating.


So "What you do when you're alone" still fits the definition of character as the use of power, because secrecy holds power itself. But it isn't the whole story: power is where we really see what we are made of. In a news cycle full of the sound bites from leaders and candidates and memes on social media of who wants to do what to whom makes us more reflective. What kind of people do we want to be?


E-mail Matt Thomas


Design Group International has a resource for those in the action-reflection cycle. Check out the Tao of Action Reflection today!

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process


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Topics: leadership, steward leaders, steward leader, steward leadership

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!



Get a Financial Health Assessment!

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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,

Leadership: "Doing Good While Doing Well"

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2If you're anything like me, when you started off in life as a young adult, you wanted to change the world - or at least make the world a little better of a place to be. At the same time, you wanted to do fulfilling work, in an area of interest and skill, and make a decent living doing it. This constellation of three things:

  • Making the world (or community, country, etc.) better
  • Doing interesting, fulfilling work
  • Making a decent living doing it

This is what I and others call "Doing good while doing well."

The overlap of the three of these can be illustrated thus: 

DoingGoodDoingWellAs you can see, the intersection of all three of these together is where we can "Do Good while Doing Well." Many people who prioritize making the world better feel stuck either in boring, righteous survival - where they make a living doing what is going to make the world a better place, but they don't find the work interesting or fulfilling. Others, and this is probably the majority, feel stuck in the "Noble Poverty" of doing something fulfilling and interesting that makes the world a better place, but are constantly living on the edge. Those who priortize making the world a better place but can neither make a living doing it nor find the work they do fulfilling are mired in duty.

Those who prioritize making a living over all else find themselves slipping into greed; while those who still want to make the world better find themselves in survival and boredom. Those who priortize making a living while doing fulfilling, interesting work tend to end up self-oriented. 

Those who prioritize doing interesting, fulfilling work over anything else typically can't move past the dream phase, and may shift dramatically into some form of survival once outside support dries up. They also can fall in to self-orientation if they neglect making the world better or noble poverty if they can't find a way to make a living while making the world better. 

6 Steps to Finding the Work You Love. Read more from Walter Sawatzky

(My colleague, Walter, has written about vocation here.)

It is important for leadership in our enteprises that we are self-reflective and look for where we may fall in these overlapping circles. Of course, many of us did this kind of self-reflection years ago, and just need to check in every once in a while to see if we are on track.

We also know that those who work with us, those for whom we work, and those who work for us all struggle with this at some level or another. As steward leaders, we can help them to look at the work they do and help them find fulfillment, living, and greater purpose. And that helps us not only do good while doing well, it helps others to do the same. 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! One final note: much of the debate we have constantly in the news and politics about disparities between wealthy and poor, education reform (particularly the debate swirling about the role, cost and value of higher education), immigration, money in politics, effectiveness of nonprofits, the salaries of executives, and so on, all these find many of their roots in differing assumptions as to people's motivation and priorities and their ability to actually "do good while doing well." Some truly believe that the only place for people who want to better the world is to live in noble poverty; others, wanting to see the ultimate in personal fulfillment, leave people blown about in dreams but with little to show for it. Still others assume greed is the dominant motivation for most people. All of this swirls together, without being seen, under the surface of many of these debates. Were we to begin to discuss the underlying assumptions, we might find a greater amount of common ground upon which to make decisions that will affect us and those who come after us. 




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Topics: leadership, steward leaders, steward leader, vocation, steward leadership, vocation vs career, career vs vocation, jobs careers and callings,, doing good while doing well

Making Decisions as Organizational Leaders

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2Several news outlets recently published excerpts from a Q&A session with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. In the Q&A, he explained why he wears the same gray t-shirt every day. As the Telegraph states:

Mr Zuckerberg said he owns multiple versions of the same T-shirt, as clothing, along with breakfast, is a "silly" decision he doesn't want to spend too long making. He is also too busy looking after the world's largest social network.

"I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. (Article here.)

This sounds very similar to the now-famous Michael Lewis interview of US President Barack Obama where he describes how he only wears blue or gray suits in order to reduce unnecessary decisions, since he has to make so many more important decisions, and decisions can be fatiguing (and distracting: the one time he wore a tan suit, the Internet nearly exploded).

A_Leaders_Primary_ResponsibilityAs leaders, more than anything else, our job is to make decisions. Making decisions takes emotional and mental time and energy. Spending time and energy on making the right decisions, the truly important decisions, can propel us forward. The trick is that decisions themselves have a cost (as explained in this now three-year-old article from the New York Times), and so spending time making lots of little (less important) decisions reduces one's capacity to make the bigger ones. This can tip us to one side or the other of the Tao of Action-Reflection: by causing us to decide without thinking, or to paralyze ourselves into inaction. 

Now, I'm still the type of person who likes to make some of these more minor decisions about daily attire myself, but I know that we have to limit our decisions to what will best impact our goals. Therefore, many organizational leaders:

1. Routinize minor decisions, so they don't pull from the energy we need for the important ones.

2. Set aside time to plan, so we aren't making so many decisions in the moment.

3. Make the most important decisions when we are fresh.

4. Pace decisions so we can pause and refresh periodically.

5. Reduce outside stress so we have more focused energy. 

6. Delegate decisions outside of their core responsibility to others.

Which of those six do you find the most effective? The most difficult? What would you add? We would like to hear about your experiences.

Tao of action-reflection, primer on process


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Topics: leadership, Barak Obama, Matthew Thomas, organizational decision making, decisions, Zuckerberg

Steward Leadership: Accountability and Initiative

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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.

matthew-thomas-2To 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?


Free Governance Consultation



This post is part of a series on accountability in organizations. See the previous posts here:

Organizational Health: The Struggle with Accountability

Non-Profit Governance: The Independence of the Board of Directors


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Topics: governance, leadership, steward leaders, steward leader, steward leadership