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THE URGENCY OF STEWARDSHIP

“Humility is not a denial of your skills or competencies. It is the opposite of self-aggrandisement. It is the ability to acknowledge that we all still have so much to learn.”

- Melinda Gates




We follow our passions, or our opportunities – both, if we’re fortunate – to pursue positions we believe will be the most aligned with who we are, or who we want to be in the world.


Then, when we excel, or simply endure, someone in authority might decide we are right, or maybe just in the right place at the right time, to be given managerial responsibility.


A “LEADER” IS BORN. AND A PRECEDENT EMBEDDED.


We appoint our line managers, team leaders and department heads largely by default, rather than by design.


We thrust people into positions of power and influence long before they are ready, and long before they have grasped the immense weight that their actions and behaviours now carry.

And, all too often, we realise the dire consequences of this broken model when it is too late, when often-irreparable damage has been done to those in their care.


And so, the conditions are created for a perfect storm of managerial maleficence.


Over the past few weeks, I have been privileged to witness the most magnificent example of leadership that inspires, empowers, and elevates.

But also, the most abhorrent, egotistical behaviour masquerading as leadership.


Both have left me with a renewed sense of urgency about the important work of cultivating, deliberately and purposefully, the calibre of leaders we need.

Men and women who understand the tremendous privilege of followership.

Who are immune to the crass brass rings of corporate elitism and power-mongering.

Who know that empathy, humility and respect say far more about you than rudeness and arrogance ever will.

But mostly, leaders who know that we are mere custodians of the organisations we manage, and the people we lead.

Custodians who have been entrusted with a sacred responsibility to leave people, places and spaces, better than we found them.


“To be a steward leader is to never lose sight of our inherent interconnectedness, recognising that the well-being of our organisations, our communities, and our planet hinges not on the one, but on the whole.”

- Kennedy Bungane


Tragically, South Africa has produced our fair share of corporate leadership failures over the past decade. Invariably, these marque failures have had one thing in common: a rampant and unchecked cult of self.


SELF-AGGRANDISEMENT.

SELF-ENRICHMENT.

SELF-DEIFICATION.

Qualities that are the very antithesis of steward leadership.


Recently, South Africa saw a tremendous display of stewardship. The CEO pledge of July 2023 is an acknowledgement of what African Bank CEO Kennedy Bungane so clearly grasps: We are in this together. Your success is my success. Your challenges are my responsibility.

Whether rescuing our economy, rebuilding our social compact, or creating the sustainable organisations that will deliver growth and job creation, leadership has never been more important.

LEADERSHIP MATTERS.

It matters in the big gestures, as evidenced by the CEO pledge, but it also matters in the micro-moments.


It matters in the way we treat people. The way we afford them the respect to which every person, from the lowest to the highest earner, is entitled, and the degree to which we are prepared to celebrate and create space for dissenting voices.

It matters in the way we invest in others’ success, and empower them to become the very best versions of themselves, knowing that our success and well-being hinge not on the one, but on the whole.


It matters in the way we speak, and the way we are willing to listen.

It matters in the way we lead, and the way we are willing to follow.

It matters in how we wield our power, and whether we choose not to.

A title, and the trinkets of prestige that come with it, do not make you a leader. They position you to liberate potential in others. To empower, inspire and accelerate others’ growth. And to help people be the most actualised versions of themselves.


Only then, when you have leveraged these advantages to leave your people better than you found them, do you become a leader.


HOW MANY CORPORATE LEADERS FULLY UNDERSTAND THE WEIGHT OF THIS RESPONSIBILITY?

NOT ENOUGH, I WOULD VENTURE. NOT NEARLY ENOUGH.


The work of growing a new generation of steward leaders who will leave our organisations better than they found them, has never been more important.



© Natalie Maroun

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