Leading as stewardship

Stewardship: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care [Example: stewardship of natural resources](MerriamWebster.com)
The responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving. [Example: “New regulatory changes will result in better stewardship of lands that are critical for open space and wildlife habitat.”]  (Dictionary.com).
As I was thinking about our leadership competency of stewardship, I found these dictionary definitions.  Both were illustrated with examples from nature. But how do they relate to leadership in higher education?
In my leadership role I’m not responsible for establishing a budget. I don’t make choices that impact how MnSCU affects the environment. But I do make choices about how I spend my own and other people’s time. I choose to devote more or less energy to the projects that are on my plate. I choose actions that help create an environment that promotes collaboration and learning.  How I make these choices is my way of demonstrating stewardship.

I recently participated in the public forums for the vacant MnSCU Chief Diversity Officer position. In different ways, the candidates each talked about how resource decisions can show whether an issue, such as diversity, is a central to an organization’s priorities or is an afterthought. They asked whether diversity is something we as a system consider worth caring for. If so, then they wanted to see it reflected in our stewardship of financial and human resources.

Here’s my proposed definition of leading as stewardship:

If a leader is demonstrating stewardship, then an outside observer can see how resources are allocated and identify the organizational values that informed the choice.

As we start the fall semester, I’m going to pay attention to my choices and challenge myself to be a steward of the things that are important to our system. What could stewardship look like for you?

Dee Anne Bonebright

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