My blogging volume is off a bit due to client engagements and teaching activities (a good problem), but I had to take a timeout this afternoon and share some thoughts from a recent discussion.  A very thoughtful manager summed up his perspective on his role in the organization as that of a Temporary Steward. 

With his permission, and I am paraphrasing: “It’s not our business, it’s not our company, but we have a responsibility to those that will inevitably take over from us to leave the business in the best possible condition.”  Thoughtful comments and an interesting way to look at things.

While I suppose you could interpret the Temporary Steward label as a means of rationalizing subpar performance or lack of engagement, for this manager, it was just the opposite.  It was clear from our discussion, that he cares very deeply about the organization’s success, about its future state given the changing world that we live in, and importantly, about the people that work in the organization. 

From my own perspective, I like the concept of thinking about our tenure as finite.  It creates a sense of urgency and it helps us focus on priorities.  I’ve observed too many corporate managers that lost track of the fact that they are not guaranteed a job or even that their company will be there next week.  Once you start acting like you own the bricks and mortar and the chair and desk that you sit at and even the people that work for you, your judgment clouds, your motivation weakens and your intentions become suspect. 

The Tenets of the Temporary Steward
  • I’m responsible for contributing more everyday than I take out of the organization.
  • I’m accountable to future leaders, managers and employees to do my best to ensure that there is an organization in place for them to contribute to, earn from and to grow.
  • I recognize that I am here on the good graces of customers and stakeholders, and I will seek to create value for them every day.
  • If I manage people, I’m responsible for doing the heavy lifting and difficult work of providing constant feedback, supporting individual development and eliminating those that can’t perform or that don’t match our values.
  • I’m responsible for watching what is going on in the world around us and for helping pick a path to march down.  I’m also responsible for recognizing when we’ve chosen the wrong path and helping us change course.
  • I won’t take myself so seriously that it causes me to strike out in anger, play politics or spend unproductive time complaining. 
  • I’ll work hard to recognize when it is my time for my stewardship to end, and I’ll look back on the successes and failures as learning experiences.  I’ll leave the regrets for someone else, because as a Temporary Steward, I’ll know that I left everything that I had on the playing field.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Don’t take yourself so seriously that you start believing that you transcend the organization.  Start focusing on what you can do to create value today that will ensure that there is a future for your organization.  And remember that  you will not pass this way or live this day again.  Leave things better than you found them.