Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care – including power.
In the workplace, power is of two kinds.
The first kind is positional power. It’s the authority one derives from the organizational hierarchy and company rules. Positional power includes the formal power to give rewards and punishments.
The second type of power is personal power. It comes from being seen by followers as knowledgeable or likable. An expert, or an individual viewed as a wise counselor, might have no direct reports or other positional power but, at the same time, could have great personal power.
Servant-leaders don’t ignore either type of power, run from power or pretend they don’t have power when they do. They recognize that the ability to accomplish good things is a function of the power available to do so. At the same time, they are good stewards of that power.
Why is this important?
Because people generally trust – and willingly follow – leaders who treat power as something to be used wisely in service to others.
And people generally distrust – and need to be coerced into following – leaders who wield power recklessly in service to themselves.
Here are 5 ways servant-leaders are good stewards of power in the workplace.
- Servant-leaders play down power structures. Generally speaking, they don’t get too fixated on job titles, org charts and rules of compliance. Servant-leaders try to use persuasion, not orders, to get things done. They tend to trust people to do the right thing and don’t like useless bureaucracy.
- Servant-leaders are generous with knowledge and expertise. The expression “knowledge is power” is apt. Some people hoard knowledge and are stingy with their expertise in hopes of expanding their base of power. On the contrary, servant-leaders share power by sharing knowledge and expertise.
- Servant-leaders are prudent with carrots. Servant-leaders know that money is an extrinsic reward and not as good as motivator as an intrinsic reward – the joy and meaning that comes from being part of a great team with a great mission. So, servant-leaders tend not to over-rely on money as a motivator.
- Servant-leaders are prudent with sticks. They tend to see failure as an opportunity for learning, not punishment. Do servant-leaders ever fire people? Yes, of course, but only in the best interest of the team and the mission. When doing so, servant-leaders act fairly and openly, often feeling pain in the process.
- Servant-leaders eliminate indispensability by developing people. A person who is considered indispensable has great and sometimes corrupting power. Servant-leaders avoid the consequences of this indispensability – including their own – by developing people who can step up whenever needed.
What do you think? Are there other ways you have seen servant-leaders be good stewards of power in the workplace? What would you add to the list?