I recall listening to a lecture on the ethical steward in leadership by the late Howard Hendricks, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He spoke of his participation in a symposium at the Center for Creative Leadership, where it was determined the number one need in business leadership is ethics. In this particular lecture, Hendricks challenged the audience to put morals and ethics at the forefront of any training directed toward leaders, especially when developing models for ethics instruction in business education.
Core Values: Trust and IntegrityEthical behaviour is quickly becoming a top value young leaders look for in an organization and in other leaders. People find it difficult to follow leaders who violate trust and lack integrity. Trust is inextricably tied to integrity; without one, the other does not exist. Essentially, leaders must act out the stated values of the organization; actions must match values. If a leader’s actions betray core values, integrity and trust diminish until employees no longer buy into the leader or the organization.
Slippery Slope of Self-InterestUnethical behaviour often finds its roots in selfishness, entitlement, and greed. As an enormous deterrent to leading with the mind-set of a steward, concern for self is also a major contributor to faulty decision-making resulting in unethical behaviour. Inflated attitudes of ownership, rights, privileges, and entitlement can result in corrupted, destructive, and sometimes abusive leadership characteristics. When a leader begins to pursue self-interest, self-comfort, self-security, and self-enrichment, that leader is headed for pitfalls that will ensnare him, causing him to abuse his position and reduce his effectiveness to inspire followers and maintain stakeholder confidence.
Adopt a Steward Mind-setIf we hope to avoid self-serving leadership that brings harm to organizations and their constituents, we must RETHINK ownership, rights, and entitlements. Responding to organizational demands, personnel development, accountability to stakeholders, and responsibility to the greater community within which the organization operates gives leaders vast opportunities to act as trustees or stewards. Naturally, this will demand a business leader who understands stewardship. This business leader must not view money, possessions, time, influence, and relationships through the lens of personal entitlements.
Move from an Attitude of Ownership to StewardshipContemporary leadership models available to business people are steeped in the conviction that owners and stakeholders have rights to the business that often conflict with what might benefit customers, employees, the community at large, and even what might be best for the health of the business. Leading as a steward will help business professionals balance the perceived rights of owners, stakeholders, employees, and the community by realizing the entire organization and process of business is entrusted to their care as a steward, not as the rightful owner.
Ethical behaviour outwardly demonstrates a person’s inner desires, thoughts, and identity. Therefore, a leader’s ethical character reflects his core identity as steward. Leaders can successfully move from an attitude of ownership to stewardship by:
- moving their focus from self to others
- channeling their power for the benefit of followers and stakeholders