Steward Leadership: Who are the owners?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2Recently, we have been talking about Steward Leaders and their relationship to owners and finances. These posts have led some to ask, "Who are the owners? On whose behalf does steward leadership manage resources and produce results?"


Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! In a traditional small business or closely-held corporate environment, this is usually quite clear: the leader works on behalf of the equity shareholders, the owners of the company. In a healthy enterprise, the Steward Leader manages on behalf of the owners as a whole, speaking together.


In a corporation with a board, the board itself is a steward of the larger collection of shareholders. This makes even C-level management an under-steward of this core stewardship entity.


Outside of the business and corporate sectors, getting at the enterprise's owners can get a bit more tricky. We see the following four classes of enterprise, with their owners:


  1. FourOrgTypeswithComplexOwenershipGovernmental entities: In democracies, the franchised general public are the collective owners of the municipality, park district, state, county or other entity. The elected officials are the stewards on behalf of the general public as owners. The trick is, of course, that the people are also usually the primary beneficiaries of the stewards' work, and, at many levels, its customers. Teasing out the differences is often fraught and complex.
  2. Community and cause non-profits: Once again, in democracies, the general public are the collective owners of the non-profit - although in this case, voting rights aren't directly relevant, since the nonprofits aren't elected, nor typically granted police powers. The cause is intended to benefit the general public through its efforts. The active participants steward the nonprofits resources on behalf of the public for the common good.
  3. Membership organizations: the owners are typically the members, with the other structures designed to support the
  4. Churches, religious and ministry organizations: These often define ownership either in their members (or a subset thereof), or in their God. Often, they define it both ways. This leads to some particular complexities for these organizations. (These complexities are outside the scope of this blog, but we'd be glad to help if this is your situation.)


Knowing on whose behalf the steward leaders operate helps with strategic process - particularly measuring and reporting the right things to the right people. When steward leaders know who they really work for, making sure those owners' needs and goals are met can become more straightforward.


Design Group International offers an E-book entitled, "Wheel Forward or Spiral Downward: Making a choice for strategic design." In it, readers examine six questions to get at creating and maintaining positive organizational momentum. Check it out for free by clicking the button below.


Wheel or Spiral? Which is your organization?


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Topics: business ownership, church, church decision making, Ownership, leadership and communication, steward leadership

Organizational Governance: Ownership of Membership Organizations

Posted by Matthew Thomas

I often work with a type of organization called a Membership Organization. Membership organizations are, simply put, made up of a group of individual people or organizations that, when taken together, constitute the whole of the organization. Two examples: 1) an association of churches wherein autonomous churches voluntarily join together to form an organization that can act on behalf of the whole is a membership organization of churches; 2) a local business organization made up of dues-paying members who participate in the activities of the business organization, is a membership organization of business people.

In either case, the owners of the organization can be clear: the owners are the members of the organization. Any other governing structure – boards, committees, and the like – operate on behalf of these members, to whom they must answer at a meeting of the members. The members, as owners, set the purpose and goals of the organization, and grant the organization certain powers to work on their behalf.

Membership organizations often run into two major difficulties: the members begin to act as consumers, rather than owners, and as such end up micromanaging the organization; or an individual member will try to impose their will, values or interests onto the board or staff apart from the other members acting in aggregate.

These two dysfunctions can embed deeply into the life of membership organizations, and will often require outside assistance to break the patterns that these dysfunctions establish. Design Group International offers assistance in organizational design and leadership to help organizations untie their knots of dysfunction and move toward health. Click the link below to contact us to let us know how we might help your organization!

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Topics: Membership Organizations, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Governance, Design Group International, Ownership

Organizational Governance: Who Owns Your Organization?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Who owns your organization?  This is one of the most important questions an organization, its staff and its board must answer.  If you are a regular, for-profit business, the owners are pretty clear: they are the shareholders or the sole proprietor of your organization. If you are a local government, a non-profit, or church, the answer is somewhat less clear.

This question is essential, nonetheless, even if it is difficult: an organization is obligated to produce the results its owner or owners (in aggregate) ask of it, or it is not fulfilling its purpose. That the question is difficult does not mean that the question is impossible.

So, getting at the question:

To whom is your organization obligated?

To whom does it answer (ultimately)?

On whose behalf does your organization work?

These questions can begin your process of determining ownership.

Design Group International assists organizations in determining who their owners are so that they may fulfill the purposes their owners intend with integrity. Click on the link below to contact us about how we might help your organization!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Organizational Governance, Design Group International, Ownership