Two decades after its initial publication, author and consultant Peter Block has released a second edition of his book, Stewardship.
This edition is revised and expanded. It includes a new introduction focused on changes since the first edition. There is also a new chapter “applying stewardship to the common good of the wider community.”
Not having read the first edition of Stewardship, I’m not able to comment in-depth on the changes.
Nonetheless, having studied the second edition, I come away with admiration and in fundamental agreement with Block’s approach and analysis.
Block presents stewardship as “a choice.” From the start he’s urging readers to recognize our capacity to decide, our responsibility for our thoughts and actions.
He defines the choice of stewardship as having two parts: first, to “act in service of the long run,” and second, to “act in service to those with little power.”
Block believes that this choice “translates into creating accountable and committed workplaces without resorting to increased control or compliance as governing strategies.” He contrasts this to the short-term, command-and-control approach in “patriarchal” leadership.
Focus on the Workplace
Block’s book is aimed at organizations as they operate in the real world. Stewardship is down-to-earth. Its strength is its many anecdotal examples of how companies and NGOs and government agencies can be transformed by moving away from outdated yet familiar, longstanding approaches to governance and operations
Stewardship could be understood as presenting a Serve to Lead approach to the workplace, to organizational management (or the other way around).
Distinctions and Dualities
Block appears in some situations to accept the terms of the world he would improve, or, perhaps, transform.
Thus, he declares, “The alternative to leadership is stewardship.” Serve to Lead, by contrast, would suggest that leadership, properly understood as service, advances the interests of all stakeholders.
Block states, “Stewardship questions the belief that accountability and control go hand in hand.” Serve to Lead suggests that greater accountability, for greater results, can only be achieved if control is lessened. The role of management changes to provide encouragement and enforce accountability, working back from results as valued by the ultimate customer.
Block’s fundamental argument, from which all else is derived, is that, “Ultimately the choice we make is between service and self-interest.”
In so thinking, Block, like many others to be sure, elects to conflate “self-interest” with selfishness or self-centeredness.
Serve to Lead would suggest that self-interest, properly understood, can only be about serving others. No work or life built primarily or exclusively on selfish or self-centered approaches will be effective. Life and work are each built around relationships—all the more in the new world of the 21st century. Relationships cannot be effective if they serve only one party, or if they fail to have mutuality and reciprocity, from the point of view of all the participants.
In this sense, service and self-interest are linked, not in opposition.
Given that so much of what Stewardship and Serve to Lead each advocate is consistent, pointing out such distinctions might be dismissed as mere caviling. Fair enough. The differences might not matter in most situations. Nonetheless they could matter when one is crafting an approach to leadership, or evaluating the leadership or management of others.
Getting to How
Block’s relentless focus on the practical drives the book toward “The Answer to ‘How?’”
Block points out that searching for the answers to the “how” must come from within. Waiting for others to supply answers that will work for you is unlikely to succeed.
His recommended questions are good ones:
—What will it take for me to claim my own freedom and create an organization of my own choosing?
—When will I finally choose adventure and accept the fact that there is no safe path—that my underlying security comes from counting on my own actions or from some higher power, neither of which will be discovered via an engineering solution?
—Who in my work and personal life truly has my best interests at heart?
Peter Block’s Stewardship is justly regarded as an important contribution to contemporary management thought and practice. It can add value for anyone seeking to advance their own service and leadership.
It’s highly recommended for 21st century leaders in all fields.
Peter Block | Stewardship