Stewardship by Peter Block (quotes from the book):
For today’s world, it translates into creating accountable and committed workplaces without resorting to increased control or compliance as governing strategies.
It calls us to organize workplaces based on relatedness and collaboration as an alternative to the bell-curve ideology of competitiveness that is used to rationalize patriarchy (meaning dominance hierarchy).
Stewardship relies on trust, familiarity and continuity to do its work.
We need to care more about meaning and impact than we do safety, and rules.
Focus on relationships, reciprocity and participation.
Stewardship is the choice for service. Service is a stance that relationships are critical. Relationships are built through partnership, rather than patriarchy. Partnership is built on empowerment, not dependency.
Our difficulty with partnerships is that parenting — and its stronger cousin, patriarchy — is so deeply ingrained in our muscle memory and armature that we don’t even realize we are doing it. Powerful leadership is not about being a good parent.
In deciding how to govern, one critical choice is between patriarchy and partnership. Patriarchy expresses the belief that it is those at the top who are responsible for the success of the organization and the well-being of its members. A measure of patriarchy is how frequently we use images of parenting to describe how bosses should manage employees in organizations. To create workplaces that provide meaning and are economically sound and strong in the marketplace, we need to face the implications of having chosen patriarchy for the governance system inside our organizations. The governance system we have inherited and continue to sustain is based on sovereignty and a form of intimate colonialism. These are strong terms, but they are essentially accurate. We govern our organizations by valuing, above all else, consistency, control, and predictability. These become the means of dominance by which colonialism and sovereignty are enacted. It is not that we directly seek dominance, but our beliefs about getting work done have that effect.
Our search for great bosses comes not from a desire to be watched and directed but rather from our belief that clear authority relationships are the antidote to crisis and ultimately the answer to chaos. Empowerment embodies the belief that the answer to the latest crisis lies within each of us, and therefore we will all buckle up for adventure.
The wish for leadership is in part our wish to rediscover hope and, interestingly enough, to have someone else provide it for us. We hold on to the belief that hope resides in those with power.
Stewardship also asks us to forsake caretaking, an even harder habit to give up. We do not serve other adults when we take responsibility for their well-being.
And in letting caretaking and control go, we hold on to the spiritual meaning of stewardship: to honor what has been given to us, to use power with a sense of grace, and to pursue purposes that transcend.
Patriarchy also creates the bureaucratic mind-set, the choice for a low-risk operation that demands policy and procedure in the name of consistency. This is the second cost of patriarchy; it is incapable of creating a unique response to the world.
Governance structures and strategies aimed at control, consistency, and predictability form the operating reality for most of our institutions — with power, privilege, and rewards concentrated at the top. What is intriguing, though, is that even though we see the costs of patriarchy and spend half of our lives complaining about those above us in the hierarchy, we still think leadership is necessary to organize effort and get work done.
This is why partnership is so critical to stewardship. It balances responsibility and is a clear alternative to parenting. “How would partners handle this?” and “What policy or structure would we create if this were a partnership?”
Partnership means to be connected to another in a way that the power between us is roughly balanced. Stewardship brings accountability into each act of governance and requires a balance of power between parties to be credible.
Partnership does not mean that you always get what you want. It means you may lose your argument, but you never lose your voice. Partners each have emotional responsibility for their own present and their own future.
Patriarchy creates a parent-child relationship between bosses and workers, and parents and children don’t expect to tell the truth to each other. In a partnership, not telling the truth to each other is an act of betrayal. One of the benefits of redistributing power is that people feel less vulnerable and are more honest.
People at higher levels do have a specialized responsibility, but it is not so much for control as it is for clarity. Clarity of requirements. Clarity about value-added ways of attending to a specific market. Clarity about the playing field and the way the institution connects with the larger world. The top has the primary job of making sure we are in the right business and that we are maintaining our license to operate from all the constituencies that count. Also, the top, seeing the whole picture, has the right to decide what to focus on and to name the conversation that moves things forward.
In expressing our opinion, we expect immunity from other people’s opposition or anger. I was in an elevator with some middle managers following a general management meeting. In the meeting, the president had disagreed with one of them and was pretty outspoken about it. The manager in the elevator said, “I’ll never speak up and get punished like that again.” I thought, “You weren’t punished; he was simply irritated. No blood, no arms taken, no careers aborted. Someone in power just got angry.” Calling others’ anger punishment is a form of manipulation.
It stems from our choosing the mind-set that tells us that we have within ourselves the authority to act and to speak and to serve clients and those around us. We do not need permission to feel or to take what matters into our own hands.
Empowerment carries with it an obligation: that we commit ourselves. It requires an emotional investment. To act now, to live with consequences, with failure. To give up our wish for safety. To connect with people in the same room, in real time. Taking responsibility is at the heart of claiming our freedom. The commitment has to be to the community within our workplace, not just to our own interests or our own career. Our answer to the question “Are you here to build a career or to build an organization?” has to be clear and without hesitation: we are here first to build something larger than ourselves — in this case, an organization.
Tied to the way we manifest our belief in consistency, control, and predictability in our own actions, even as we distrust our own feelings, our own intuition, our deeper knowing, even our own spirituality. For example, we generally agree that we want to eliminate bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is a form of patriarchy, with people being overly cautious, choosing safety over risk, being more interested in self than in service, exercising control for its own sake.
It is not that we have created the patriarchy around us. Or the working conditions, or even the dominant culture. What we have done is colluded with it. We cannot mature inside a culture without having internalized aspects of it. Our ability to change our political environment begins with the understanding of how we have helped create it. Our consciousness is where the revolution begins. Fifty percent of the work we need to do is on ourselves. The other 50 percent is to focus outward and use ideas like stewardship to redesign the practices, policies, and structures that institutionalize what we wish to become.
The obligation of accepting a position of power is to be, above all else, a good human being. Not to be a good leader, not so much to maintain order and fight back chaos, not to know what is best for others — these are the qualities of being a good parent. If you are a boss, the people working for you definitely have expectations of you to be a good parent to them, but this is not stewardship. Stewardship is the willingness to work on ourselves first, to stay in intimate contact with those around us, to own our doubts and limitations and make them part of our dialogue with others. Our humanness is defined more by our vulnerability than by our strengths.
Creating our own practices is the basis of ownership and responsibility. Stewardship has us become skillful in articulating its principles and then insisting that people construct the house in which they live. The house must be situated within certain boundaries, but there are many choices on how to construct it.
Control is maintained by team and peer agreements. We negotiate performance contracts with our peers and with bosses and employees as the means of ensuring that commitments get fulfilled. These contracts are between partners, so the expectations go both ways, with equal demands. The intent is to eliminate coercion as the basis for getting results. These performance contracts are not tied to pay or punishment, though they may be tied to termination in extreme cases.
Full disclosure and full information are the rule, so that people understand the consequences c of the decisions they are making. Full disclosure also means to openly discuss bad news and difficult issues. No protecting or positioning allowed. The more sensitive the issue, the more it needs discussing, especially in groups. We express our trust in our institution by the amount of information we allow to become public. The military notion of telling people only on a need-to-know basis is how patriarchy maintains its grip. Full disclosure also requires that people do their own communicating. If our goal is to tell the truth, we do not need professionals to tell us how to get our message across.
What is so difficult to see and yet so powerful is that at the moment we look to others to protect and take care of us, we also hand over to them some semblance of sovereignty and control over what we do. This is where bosses get their patriarchal rights. We ask bosses to be our guardians. Guardianship under the law gives you legal rights to make decisions about another’s life. Similarly, when we decide to protect and take care of others who work for us or with us, we are claiming sovereignty, even in our generosity. That is why caretaking of adults is no gift. When we claim sovereignty, we release the other from any requirement of ownership or emotional accountability.
To claim stewardship, to claim our freedom as an act of service, is a destabilizing act. This unsteadiness is in the nature of renegotiating social contracts, and it is going to happen because the safety-control-compliance compact doesn’t work. To paraphrase Marion Woodman, a famous Jungian author, the only question is whether we are going to work it out in this job or the next one, this marriage or the next one.
THE STARTING POINT for the change effort is full disclosure. On the surface, giving people complete information sounds pretty straightforward. Not so. If knowledge is power, then patriarchal governance is very selective about what gets reported, when, and to whom. Being careful about what we communicate probably stems as much from the wish to protect as the wish to control. What people don’t know won’t hurt them. No news is good news. The ancient habit of shooting the messenger is somewhere in the collective memory of each of us. All rationalizations. Full disclosure is a critical dividing line between parenting and partnership. The things a parent would never tell a child have to be told to a partner. Children will never tell parents what they rejoice in telling their friends. Holding back information or shading reality from a parental boss …well, that goes with the territory. Truth untold to a partner is betrayal.