To Be A Good Leader, You Need The Right Dosage Of Ownership And Stewardship

By Sarah LimLim Lay Hsuan|10-05-2018 | 4 Min Read

In a society which often determines a person’s value and sense of identity by the amount of possessions and titles that a person owns, introducing the concept of 'ownership' may be closer to home than we think.

For example, owning an item or a position enables us to have a perspective of power, control and a feeling of independence.

Whether it’s simply owning a fleet of luxury cars or you’ve been bestowed with titles of the highest order, people generally treat you differently when you’re in a prominent position.

Culturally, we place huge importance on being able to possess some form of credibility and reputation, which give us sense of pride – good or bad – depending on how you choose to channel it.

In the business context, for a company to remain progressive and innovative, the organisation would need not only its core leadership team to have a sense of 'ownership' of the company, but across its employees, too.

However, can employees truly ‘own’ that piece in their heart and soul?

Let’s consider an alternative.

Stewardship. A word that’s hardly in our vocabulary.

'Stewardship' may not be a very popular term here as it’s often associated with the feeling that you have less control because there’s no official ownership on your part.

Instead, you have to give account to someone in a higher position of authority – the real owner.

The truth is, we don’t actually own a lot of things in life, simply because we don’t have much control over many things, even life itself.

Both 'ownership' and “stewardship” are built on principles of accountability and a sense of responsibility. Yet the differences are quite distinct.

Check out the following.


In his book Stewardship, author Peter Block defines it in the business context as “The willingness to be accountable for the wellbeing of the larger organisation by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us. Stated simply, it is accountability without control or compliance.”

Choosing one over the other? 

The challenge we face today at work and perhaps even at a national level is that our understanding of ownership and stewardship is elementary.

People find it easier to claim ownership over things that benefit them: projects and positions that elevate their status and reputation.

However, when it comes to dealing with harder issues, we often assume the role of what we understand a ‘steward’ to be, in the hope that we can absolve ourselves from the responsibility of finding viable solutions to a problem.

That’s because we are only 'stewards', and someone else is more responsible for solving the problem. This would be a perfect example of “selfish ownership” and “bad stewardship”.

It’s no wonder that even though the concept of “ownership” is widely known, the blame-game culture is still rampant in corporate governance and sound practices.

Striking a balance is key 

Good stewardship requires a balance of humility and confidence.

It calls us to embrace an understanding that we are only caretakers, and our role – whatever it might be – is temporary.

Yet, we must have confidence in ourselves, knowing that the task at hand is important because the outcome affects others.

If you wanted to argue that its application is situational, you could say that it’s only required for tasks where the outcome of your actions affect someone else other than yourself. But if you really think about it, it covers a wide aspect: your family, your company, your country, the environment, etc.



Tying it together 

A combination of selfless ownership and good stewardship need to co-exist for any organisation or nation to thrive.

How do you interchange between these two? Simply remember that when it comes to work that is entrusted to you, be a good and faithful steward.

Find every possible way, with the little or great authority given to you, to grow and nurture it so that it paves the way for the next generation to reap the fruits of your labour.

After all, you’re here on this Earth for a purpose. Let this purpose tied to your assignment drive you forward to build something for the greater good of mankind, instead of building your little kingdoms of material wealth, fame or reputation.

When it comes to recognition, be the last to claim it, if it comes at all. That’s good stewardship.

And when it comes to problems that crop up along the way, be the first one to own and rectify it. That’s good ownership.

Therefore, take ownership of the responsibility and the outcome – no matter what it might be, because you understand that you have been given the privilege to be a good steward of this task.

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. 

– Winston Churchill

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Sarah loves the art of good storytelling in all kinds of ways and wants to make a difference wherever she goes. When she’s not at her desk, you’ll find her behind the lens, exploring a new country, or just in her front yard - trying to keep her plants alive.
Lay Hsuan was part of the content curation team for Leaderonomics.com, playing the role of a content gatekeeper as well as ensuring the integrity of stories that came in. She was an occasional writer for the team and was previously the caretaker for Leaderonomics social media channels. She is still happiest when you leave comments on the website, or subscribe to Leader's Digest, or share Leaderonomics content on social media.
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