Telling Your Steward Leadership Story: Who's the Hero?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2Knowing how to tell our story can change the way others respond to us - and may help bring resolution. Steward Leaders, often in the position as Agents or Helpers in a story, often have to be careful about how we tell the story, depending on our audience.


As we saw in the diagram in our recent post on Character Roles, conflict consists of the interactions of three characters or sets of characters: the Agent, the Helpers, and the Opponents.




Our audience wants to be able to relate to the hero of the story - whoever that is. Often, it is the Agent; other times, the hero really is one or more of the Helpers. The Opponents are the ones often instigating the conflict, preventing the Owner from getting the Resources to the beneficiaries.


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Becoming the hero of our own story can often come across to our audience as egotistical or narcissistic if we aren't careful. More often than not, it does not come across as steward leadership. While there are a few contexts where this works, most of the time, our best opportunity is to help our audience see themselves as the hero of the story.


Listen, for instance, to the difference in tone between the two descriptions of the same situation, by the same person:


Conversation 1:


"You all were stuck. You didn't have the resources to solve your problem. So we came in and fixed it for you. Now your problem is solved, and you're better off for having worked with us." (Could we even append, "Now aren't we great?")


Conversation 2:


"You had a job to do. It was essential that you get it done. You needed a way to do it that satisfied your stakeholders and didn't disrupt other operations too much. Now, you've had amazing success. We're glad to have had the opportunity to come alongside you to be a part of the good work you do."


While these conversations are generic, my guess is one sounds better than the other, even if still a bit clichéd. Conversation 1 puts the speaker in the position of hero in the story; Conversation 2 puts the audience in the hero position. Obviously, tone, nuance, and specifics will help make either conversation sound better in context. Nevertheless, Conversation 2 has the bone structure to connect better to the audience in general.


(Related: How does your organization fascinate others?)


What do you think the response would be to Conversation 1? To Conversation 2?

How do you tell your story?


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Topics: stewardship, steward leadership, organizational story

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

Stewardship Summit 2015 is Here!

Posted by Mark L. Vincent

matthew-thomas-2This week, my Design Group International colleague Mark L. Vincent and I are at the Stewardship Summit in Orlando, FL. I have the opportunity to present on developing a theology of generosity from Acts 4:32-35.

Papers from the first previous Summit are available here:

Papers from the 1st Stewardship Summit


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Topics: stewardship, Stewardship summit

Stewardship Confusion #2: Indirect Conversations Vs. Discussing Money

Posted by Matthew Thomas

At the end of May, we described the five stewardship confusions. On our 24 June 2014 post, we looked at the First Stewardship Confusion, the confusion between fundraising and stewardship. Today, we will look in depth at the second one:

Confusing lack of direct conversation about money with an inability to discuss financial matters.

Here is an example of a conversation we often have:

Leader: You know, talking about money with this group is going to be pretty hard. I don’t know if it’s possible.

Us: How do people talk about it already?

Leader: Well I don’t think anyone would state directly how much money they make a year if you asked them.

Us: Probably not. Perhaps they discuss money in other ways?

Leader: They certainly discuss the budget when it comes out each year. I think the meeting minutes usually state something like “Vigorous discussion followed.”

But yeah, they discuss the vacations they take, complain about the cost of home maintenance, and their kids’ college costs, wondering about retirement, and so on. And of course people discuss the cars other people drive and the clothes they wear – but usually not directly with the people under discussion.

matthew-thomas-2There are three basic issues going on in this conversation:

  1. The Leader doesn’t think it is possible to discuss money, since people don’t like to talk about it.
  2. People express money issues in a variety of ways, and discuss them quite a bit indirectly.
  3. The primary history of direct conversation about money appears to have been contentious, but the Leader doesn’t state that directly.

In order to overcome this confusion, steward leaders have a few options to look at things from new angles. Here are some things we have found:

  1. Most people get paid around twice a month – some get paid every two weeks, or a little more than twice a month. Most people think about money from a few days before they get paid to a couple of days after. In other words, from about the time it begins to run a bit short to the time most of the bills get paid.
  2. It is true that most people don’t like to talk about money directly with others outside their household. However, many people talk about it indirectly – verbally and through their actions.
  3. A household’s financial position changes its perspective and shapes its assumptions.
  4. Many organizations don’t talk about money unless they are asking for it and that on a periodic basis; most of their constituents think about it frequently.
  5. Poor financial practices in households in an organization’s constituency will negatively affect the organization’s capacity for financial health.
  6. Working with donors’ and constituents’ areas of felt needs, alongside teaching on theology of finances when not directly asking for funds, can build organizational capacity to discuss finances in a non-defensive manner that can build toward greater generosity.
  7. Some churches begin to open the door to financial conversations by hosting Financial Peace, Good Sense, Crown Financial Concepts or other personal finance seminars or classes. They then create space in their worship service or in their publications for people to share their success stories.
  8. The average household in the US holds $7,089 in credit card debt ($15,191 for indebted households, averaging to the lower number for everyone all together, with 46-47% of households indebted). Add to this the average mortgage of $154,365 and student loan debt of $33,607.[1] This contributes to financial guilt and shame in many households, as well as reducing their capacity to give. Steward leaders often have to address this issue before generosity can improve organizationally.
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[1] accessed 24 April 2014.

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Topics: stewardship, Matthew Thomas, Speaking About Money, Five Stewardship Confusions

Links for Organizational Leaders - 20 August 2013

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Here are some articles that would be of interest to those in nonprofit leadership and pastoral ministry.

Fights in Family Business: how family dynamics play out in businesses. Churches run by a few families should also take note.

Rethinking Small Church: when small church is working, and when it's a sign of dysfunction.

What would happen if the church tithed? A dramatic look at the depth of potential resources for churches and other charitable organizations.

Who New CEOs Fire First: a study on who gets let go first, and why.

Increasing numbers of twenty-somethings are neither in work nor school. Here is a project attempting to wrestle with those issues. Check out Project Rise here.

Seth Godin's take on recent changes to Permission Marketing. For background on Permission Marketing, check out this page. Marketers, evangelists and, frankly, anyone trying to get their message out should read this, if they haven't already.

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Topics: tithe, church, family business, stewardship, permission marketing, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Leadership, Design Group International