Reflections on Leadership: Stewardship - Life Applications
One of the pillars of PSL’s Leadership culture is the principle of stewardship. At first glance it appears to have a mostly financial focus – The effective application of resources to achieve the mission of the organization. This is consistent with Webster’s definition of stewardship: “The conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.
But like many words in common use, the definition of stewardship has been changing over time, and has evolved to into something much larger. Stewardship is now described as “An ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.”
Using this expanded definition, it is easy to see that every person is involved in some form of stewardship. Environmentalists talk about stewardship of the earth’s resources. Owners of older homes refer to themselves as being stewards of a property that has historical significance.
As parents, we are stewards of our families. (I have been reminded that as parents we do not own our children, but have been given the opportunity to nurture them for a time and prepare them to be responsible adults). We are all responsible for how we use life’s most precious resource - time. Stewardship may engage each person in a slightly different way, but it applies to everyone.
Over the years I have spent a good deal of time thinking about the many aspects of stewardship, and would like to share a few observations that make sense to me:
Stewardship has deep, spiritual roots. My earliest recollection of stewardship is connected to my faith experience. In my religious teaching, I learned from the first chapter of the book of Genesis, that human beings were given dominion over the earth – not domination. The resources of the earth and everything we possess in this life are considered gifts from God and humankind holds them in trust for the Creator of all things. As such we are responsible to a higher authority for how we use these resources during our lifetime. At the very least, this realization should make every one of us an environmentalist at heart.
Stewardship recognizes the benefits received from preceding generations. It has been said that we have all been warmed by fires we did not start, and have drunk from wells we did not dig. Stewardship acknowledges a debt of gratitude to others whose sacrifice and hard work have made the life we presently enjoy a possibility. These messages are often eloquently expressed on Memorial Day as we reflect on the cost of living in a free society. But the work of preceding generations can be found all around us in bridges, roads, schools, churches, family, art and music. Nearly everything of value that “belongs to us” has been constructed on the foundation provided by those who came before us.
Stewardship takes the long view. Just as we have received the benefit of the work of previous generations, the decisions we make in life leave behind a legacy for future generations. Stewardship asks the question – if everyone behaved in this way, what would the world look like in the future? The world is not just about the here and now – it is about the world we leave behind for those who will follow us. All of our decisions must be made with future generations in mind.
Stewardship is about letting go. In his book Stewardship, Peter Block emphasizes the need for leaders to move from control to partnership. He calls it “choosing partnership over patriarchy”. This change is not as easy as it sounds, as the consumer demand for quality, consistency, and predictability remain. Holding on to control and power, while attractive in the short run, is not sustainable over time.The truth of this concept is illustrated in the role of being a parent. In many ways the task of parenting is all about letting go. Success in raising children into adults comes down to teaching values and fostering independence and growth. The idea of engaging others in partnership is even more critical in the work environment as leaders compete for the hearts and minds of their team members.
Stewardship embraces accountability for the things we do and the missed opportunities to do better things with the resources available to us. This idea was clearly articulated by Jesus in Matthew chapter 25. In this parable a property owner leaves on a journey, and in his absence, gives instructions to three of his servants. Each one is given a different amount of money (interestingly referred to as Talents – a measure of weights applied to precious metals), but they are given the freedom to invest it as they see fit. The servants are fully aware that the master will return and hold them accountable for the stewardship of what he has entrusted to them. Two of the servants invest wisely, and are praised and rewarded when the master returns. The third, being deathly afraid of risk, hides the money in the ground. The master deals harshly with this servant, calling him wasteful and lazy, ultimately taking his money back, and casting the servant out. The message conveyed by Jesus is that doing nothing is poor stewardship. Stewardship calls us to take prudent risks with the resources we have been given.
Stewardship fosters a spirit of generosity. Central to the concept of stewardship is the realization that we have temporary access to and control over our worldly possessions. As I was growing up my parents always told me that I should be generous in helping less fortunate people because it is impossible to take any earthly possessions with me when my life is over. In the words of my Mom, “There are no pockets in a shroud”.
Finally, Stewardship acknowledges the temporary nature of life. This is especially important when it comes to the stewardship of something we all possess in limited quantities – time. Because the clock is always ticking, time can and does slip by almost completely without notice. One of the biggest questions in life is whether the stewardship of our time reflects our personal and professional values.
For people of faith there is an additional dimension to the stewardship of time. Not only is our time on earth precious and short, but we are accountable to God for how we use our time. Most of all, we recognize that all human beings are temporary occupants in a temporary world. In Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews, the apostle Paul lists the heroes of the faith, calling them “foreigners and strangers on earth” on a journey to a “better country – a heavenly one” where time will no longer be a scarce commodity. The realization that our daily journey is on the “Homeward Road” provides a valuable framework for stewardship of the time we have been given.
About Steve Proctor
As the now-retired CEO of Presbyterian Senior Living, Mr. Proctor was employed by PSL from 1971 - 2019. He is a Registered Nurse and Licensed Nursing Home Administrator with a BS degree in business administration from Elizabethtown College. He also holds a master’s degree in gerontology from the University of North Texas. Before becoming CEO, Mr. Proctor was Chief Operating Officer for 16 years. In addition, he has served as a Board member and is a Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Profit Homes for the Aging (“PANPHA”). In November of 1995, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (“AAHSA”), now known as LeadingAge, recognized Mr. Proctor’s proven leadership and accomplishments by electing him to serve as Chair of its national board of directors. He served as Chair-elect in 1996 and 1997, as Chair in 1998 and 1999, and as past-Chair in 2000 and 2001. He has also served as chair of the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
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