Steward leadership: Characteristics of the steward leader in Christian nonprofit organizations
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I: RESEARCH FOUND ATIONS
1 . Literature Review: Contemporary Theories of Stewardship and Leadership in
2 . Research Methodology
I I: A PRELIMINARY TYPOLOGY OF STEWARD LEADE R
CHARACTERISTICS BASED ON CLASSICAL AND BIBLICA L MODELS
3 . History and Typology of the Classical Steward
4 . History and Typology of the Biblical Steward
5 . A Preliminary Typology of Historic Steward Leader Characteristics
I I I: FIELD RESEARCH OF CONTEMPORARY NONPROFIT STEWARD LE ADER CHARACTERISTICS
6. Quantitative Survey Research Analysis
7. Qualitative In - Depth Interview Research Analysis
8. Conclusion: The Primary Characteristics of the Steward Leader
Appendix A: Christian Nonprofit Leader Surve y
Appendix B: Interview Guide
Appendix C: Interview Coding Guide
© Kent R. Wilson
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs. Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907.
Executive Direc tor
International Critical Commentary Series
Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae .
Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1989.
King James Version
New International Commentary on the New Testament
New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series
The New International Version
New Testament Commentary Series
Old Testament Library Series
Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Series
Old Testament Commentaries Series
© Kent R. Wilson
Looking back, I realize that my lifelong interest in the nonprofit sector began with the faithful example of my grandfather ( Lucas )
and my father ( Donald ).
E ach displayed a steward‘s heart towards others and volunteered on many nonprofit boards. Their example engrained in me that serving others and giving back is a normal part of life. I am also grateful for many other mentors who walked with me through years of developing leadership: notably Alex S trauch, Paul Sapp, and Lauren Libby.
The late David Molyneaux at the University of Aberdeen embraced my ideas and was an advocate from our very first email introduction. His consistent encouragement and Scottish hospitality made the transition back into a cademia a joy for this mid - life student. Trevor Salmon, Andrew Clarke, Chris Brittain, and Clare Roberts each served unique roles on my supervisory committee, and I am grateful for their sacrifice of time , their meticulous feedback, and their generous wisd om.
I am most indebted to m y wife Debbie , who
the fanatical idea of going back to school after almost 25 years .
steadfastly maintained a cheerleader‘s
through years of glazed deep - in - thought looks and late head - down - in - study nigh ts.
© Kent R. Wilson
The nonprofit sector is a major employer of both paid and volunteer workers in the United States and United Kingdom. For example, in the U.S. alone there were more than 1.6 million tax - exempt organizations
in 2008, which together accou nted for 14 million paid and volunteer workers (10.5% of the workforce) and nearly $2.6 trillion in total assets (Wing, Pollak, and Blackwood 2008). Nonprofit employment is scattered across a wide variety of fields, from information and scientific services ,
to religion and civic affairs. The bulk of this employment is in human services, and within that broad category, in health services
(Salamon and Sokolowski 2006, 8) .
Nonprofits have the confidence of the general public ,
who are almost three times more li kely to believe
the nonprofit sector can do a
job provid ing
social services for
than government agencies. 1
It is also a sect or that has significant leadership challenges. Nearly two - thirds of nonprofit executive leaders are in the ro le for the first time, and 51% of nonprofit executives have been in their role for 4
years or less (Peters ,
Wolfred , and Allison
Multiple studies of the nonprofit sector have also raised disturbing trends in the turnover rate of nonprofit executives
and rising rates in leadership transition due to aging, 2
which has led Halpern (2006, 3) to conclude: ―Recent national demographic trends present another pressing issue the nonprofit sector must face, especially as it relates to leadership transition and leadership development.‖ The nonprofit sector has unique leadership challenges that strongly suggest
the need for a specialized approach to
Some of the leadership challenges include missional focus, fund raising, volunteeri sm, multiple stakeholders, social objectives, and distinctive performance criteria . But nonprofit l eadership research and resources focused on non - church leadership are relatively recent and only surface with any significance after the 1980s . 3
In an August 2009 Pew Forum, 65% of U.S. citizens
polled stated that religious and nonreligious nonprofit organizations did a better job at helping the needy compared to 25% who believed that
did a better job .
For example, both Peters, Wolfred, and Allison (2001) and the follow - up
Bell, Moyers, and Wolfred (2006) found that three quarters of nonprofit executives plan on leaving their jobs within the next five years.
Resources that are specifica lly written for pastors and leaders of churches date back well over a century and are specific to the issues and challenges that church leaders face in ecclesial leadership.
© Kent R. Wilson
sources on nonprofit management
are far more frequent and predate literature specifically focused on nonprofit leadership. Nonprofit leadership research and development is a field in need of greater emphasis, prompting
Wolfred , and Allison
to conc lude:
T here are ample reasons to invest in nonprofit leadership development. The sector will always need talented leaders. Yet there is a convergence of factors — expectations for performance, senior - level retirement and turnover, competition for talent, inc reasing service ,
and management demands — that have highlighted the importance of developing leadership within the sector.
This dissertation, and the years of research preceding it, is the author‘s contribution to some of these challenges in nonprofit organizational leadership and to knowledge. Nonprofit organizational leadership is a broad field, and significant studies do exist that contribute understanding to a select group of challenges that nonprofit executives face. Such challenges include differe nces between nonprofit and for - profit organizational leadership, nonprofit management skills, the primary roles of nonprofit leadership, and an executive leader‘s relationship to the board of directors and stakeholders. However, in spite of the number of r esources that have come out in the last thirty years on nonprofit leadership, the field is still woefully under - researched and under - reported compared to what is available in general business leadership studies.
Of all the potential subjects the author co uld have selected for original research in the field of nonprofit leadership, the author has chosen a subject that has been a personal challenge for over thirty years in his own nonprofit leadership experience, and a frequent topic of conversation with oth er nonprofit colleagues. It is an aspect of nonprofit organizational leadership that the author will attempt to prove that goes to the heart of the distinction between leading the for - profit corporation versus the nonprofit organization (NPO). Though there
are countless varieties of for - profit and NPOs which impact the nature of executive leadership, in the nonprofit world there is one factor that has a significant impact on executive leadership that is true of all
executive leader s manage organiz ational resources that
they do not
and cannot own. Compared to the regular world of business ,
where ownership is clearly delineated, in the nonprofit world organizational ownership is much more ambiguous and spread among groups who are considered to be ―im plicit owners‖ such as stakeholders, the community, or government at
© Kent R. Wilson
large. In the nonprofit world, every
executive leader is responsible to manage the assets and activities of the organization on behalf of the ambiguous ―implicit owners.‖ Nonprofit execut ive leaders are trustees or stewards of the organization along with members of the board of directors who share in this ambiguity. 4
The author is also motivated to research nonprofit leadership because for over thirty years he has been immersed in Christi an - oriented NPOs, which constitute a major segment of the U.S. nonprofit community. 5
Within the Christian nonprofit community, t three
factors provide additional challenge to the nonprofit executive. The first is the Christian community‘s general recognitio n that God ultimately ―owns‖ or claims sovereignty over all that exists — including the NPO — and is the ultimate ―owner‖ to whom the nonprofit executive must be accountable to. Second, the Christian community generally recognizes that all
followers of the fai th are called to be stewards of God‘s world and tasked with the responsibility to manag e
God‘s world and its resources on his behalf. Thirdly, the modern history of stewardship in the Christian church has created a limited social context
of stewardship tha t still shape s modern Christian thought . Stewardship is mostly related to charity (the practice of benevolent giving), economics, or global concerns, but rarely is it associated with nonprofit leadership or organizational management.
Therefore, the Christi an nonprofit organizational leader has divine relationship and accountability added to his or her relationship with human implicit owners. The leader also is responsible to manage other employees who believe that they too are stewards of God‘s resources an d are accountable to God, transcending or equaling their accountability to the executive leader.
But the Christian NPO leader is not taught how to personally lead like a steward.
Therefore, the author has chosen as the general area of study the challenge related to leading the Christian NPO as a trustee or steward. More specifically, the author will research the primary characteristics of leadership that is focused around the role of the steward within the Christian NPO . Among the many models and theories of leadership proposed in contemporary research, the steward leadership
model that conceptualized the
will use trustee
synonymously, recognizing that both term s can sometimes convey different legal definitions.
According to the latest published figures
by the National Center for Charitable Statistics (2010) , religious organizations account for 22% of all U.S. NPOs and is the single largest category, but this f igure only takes into account purely religious NPOs and doesn‘t account for those that fall into other categories that are also religious in nature (e.g., health organizations). No figures are available regarding the percentage of Christian NPOs.
© Kent R. Wilson
leader‘s role around stewardship was first articulated by Clinton (1989) , but little has developed subsequently in this approach to leadership ,
and few re searchers have applied it to the chall enges of nonprofit leadership. If an understanding of the characteristics and behaviors of leadership focused around the role o f stewardship exists
in contemporary leaders, the author postulates that it exists at least
among Christian nonprofit leaders who potentially have the strongest theological foundation, opportunity, and community support to develop an understanding of steward leadership. Therefore, the author proposes t he following thesis f or
this research : A pri mary typology of distinctive leadership characteristics exists among senior managers of Christian nonprofit organizations who visualize and demonstrate their role as stewards . The purpose of this research will be to develop a typology of characteristics of
steward leaders and to analyze whether these characteristics exist in contemporary nonprofit Christian leaders and managers . It will do so b y applying multiple research methods, resulting in a behavioral description of steward leadership.
There are two p rimary research questions that will drive the direction of this study. Both questions were deduced from many potential research questions that will surface from the review of literature (chapter 1 ), and both will focus the direction of the research accordi ng to the previous thesis, purpose, and boundaries of research:
What do contemporary leaders of Christian nonprofit organizations perceive are the primary characteristics of leadership that is focused around the role of the steward, and how do these charac teristics compare with historically defined characteristics of stewards?
What is the extent of awareness and implementation of steward leader characteristics among leaders of Christian nonprofit organizations ?
The research methodology that will be used in
this research will be a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches, using survey to canvas opinions from a larger number of subjects followed by in - depth interviews with ten subjects to add nuance and texture to their opinions on stewardship a nd steward leadership. The research will conclude with the articulation of a typology of characteristics of steward leaders
and final comments concerning future research direction.
© Kent R. Wilson
Having briefly reviewed the nature of the thesis, its subject, and researc h setting, the remainder of this introduction will now provide a more detailed context for understanding the background, setting, methodology, and significance of this study. The chapter will first review the origin of the idea for the research as revealed
in the author‘s personal history and commitment to the research. It will review the context and setting for the study, clarify important terms ,
review the nature of related fields of study. Attention will then be drawn to a brief review of the researc h methodology chosen along with the choice of subjects and sources accessed. The significance and aims of the research will finally be cover ed, concluding with a review of the structure and style of this dissertation.
Origin of the Idea
has s pent the last 30 years
of his working life
in the nonprofit world, primarily among Christian - oriented nonprofits. He has worked for a children‘s camp, a church, a foundation, and a nonprofit publishing company, and almost all eventually in the capacity of executive director. He also has served on the board of directors of six NPOs, half of those in the capacity as Chairman. He holds a masters degree in biblical studies from an evangelical seminary and has mentored and coached nonprofit leaders for the past twenty years.
However, in spite of such an immersive background in the world of Christian NPOs and nonprofit leadership, the author‘s primary exposure to professional leadership development has been dependent on reading general business and leadership boo ks, attending occasional leadership seminars, and studying nonprofit management books by a handful of practitioners. Like the experience of most nonprofit leaders, the for - profit world has provided the majority of the models and resources in leadership for
the author. Those for - profit models provide a wealth of knowledge and exposure to organizational leadership and management, but the author became increasingly aware of significant differences in the for - profit and nonprofit worlds of leadership. His own e xperience persuaded him that the nonprofit leader‘s motivation to produce excellent results had a different basis than for
© Kent R. Wilson
his for - profit counterparts. He also had to learn the unique nuances of accountability to his board and to organizational stakeholder s. Having sat in both the executive director‘s chair and the board chair, the most significant challenge that the author experienced was the implication of leading the organization, its people and resources, as a trustee or steward, and never an owner. He also was challenged by leading employees and volunteers who also viewed themselves (or needed to view themselves) as stewards as well.
Through most of his 30 years of nonprofit leadership, the author labored to develop an understanding and approach to lea dership that conformed to this image of being a steward leader
as an emergent concept . There were almost no books or resources to read, and no seminars to attend, that highlighted the stewarding role that nonprofit leaders performed. 6
As a result, the auth or talked to other peers and tried to develop principles of steward leadership on his own in each organization he led. He read dozens of books on general stewardship by Christian authors, but found only one at the time that barely applied stewardship to th e growing presence of NPOs in the Christian community. 7
As a trained Bible exegete and evangelical Christian, the author‘s bias towards an understanding of the role of the steward and stewardship was largely based on the parables of Jesus in the New Testam ent. The author also was influenced both positively and negatively by examples of other nonprofit leaders under whom he served. Those that led effectively and articulated stewardship concepts in their leadership encouraged the author to emulate their style
and approach. Those that led as though they owned the organization and ignored the interests of the board and stakeholders, increasingly concerned
the author that they were violating fundamental principles of nonprofit leadership. He increasingly spoke ab out the role of stewardship to his staff, particularly at the 100 - employee nonprofit publishing company that he served through various senior leadership roles for 21 years (11 of those years as Executive Director). That organization was fertile ground for testing both his developing concepts of steward leadership and how to encourage stewardship behaviors in other employees. The majority of this current research was conducted while still serving as the executive leader of that organization. Wanting addition al independent research to develop
The fir st full - length source published on stewardship in the NPO was Brinkerhoff (2004).
Jeavons ( Bottom Line
© Kent R. Wilson
the field of steward leadership , t he author became convinced that he could lead a portion of that
the stewardship role that nonprofit leaders perform.
The final impetus to launch this research came when the a uthor read a copy of Block‘s 1993 milestone book on stewardship and leadership. That book thrust the issue of steward leadership in the forefront, but for the author it was primarily viewed as a missed opportunity. Block‘s book never addresses leadership i n the nonprofit sector, and it equates steward leadership with the redistribution of power, purpose, and wealth. His book does provide useful emphases on servanthood, rethinking the structure of the workplace, and democratizing empowerment. But in the view
of this author, Block misses the essence of stewardship, which is to manage the resources of others to accomplish their desires or goals. That experience set in motion the author‘s commitment to contribute to the dialogue through research of his own.
The process that the author followed to narrow the subject and scope of the research was a progressive refinement based on research exigencies, academic advice, personal expertise, and constraints of time. As the research advanced throu gh different stages of proposal, feedback, refinement, and ongoing research, the subject of steward leadership was bounded by a number of factors that each provided specificity and achievability to the research. First of all, the research was limited to th e study of leadership in Christian - oriented NPOs . Studying steward leadership in the broader nonprofit community — and even in publicly - traded companies — is certainly feasible since all share the same challenge of trusteeship and non - ownership. But the author
has open access to the Christian nonprofit community and it forms a viable, relatively homogeneous community to study. Second, the research was focused on English - speaking leaders
of Christian NPOs throughout the world. The author expanded his network to include leaders in as many countries outside of the U.S. as possible, but the author‘s extensive network within the U.S. and the limited constraints of time created a natural majority of U.S. based organizations.
© Kent R. Wilson
Third, participants in the study were limi ted only to senior management , which included the Executive Director, President, CEO, Vice President, and other similar levels. The top level of organizational management was chosen to engage the maximum number of issues related to leadership, accountabili ty, and control. Fourth, the research focused only on leaders who visualize themselves as stewards or trustees
of the organizational resources. Although the research began with a survey of the broader community of Christian NPO leaders with no prior limita tion of their understanding of steward leadership principles, out of that larger universe a smaller number of leaders were selected who identified themselves as leading with the mindset of a steward.
Last of all, out of many different sub - topics of stewar d leadership that could be investigated, the author narrowed the scope of study to investigating the characteristics of steward leadership
in these organizations. By characteristics, the author means the distinctive features and attributes of the leader re spective to his or her leadership role, which may include descriptions of principles, behaviors, values, and/or skills. The author initially considered us ing the
of steward leadership but rejected that word
because of biases on the part of some
trait theories of leadership. 8
comes closer to the author‘s intentions for research, but once again the term does not convey the breadth of description the author is hoping to identify to ground the theory of steward leadership. Th e author is seeking to investigate factors in steward leadership that describe not just the leader, but also the leader in relationship to followers, stakeholders, context, and outcomes. The term characteristics
captures that intention best.
There are man y other potential spheres of business and culture where the existence of steward leadership could be researched, but most simply have to be left for future research. The following potential areas were eliminated from the scope of this study early on in the
process to ensure achievability and deducibility of the final research.
Potential research topics not
included in this research:
Other expressions of stewards hip, such as environmental, personal, or political stewardship
See chapter 1
for a review and critique of the trait approach to leadership. The author holds the position that trait approaches to leadership
are valid if applied in conjunction with other situational and relational approaches. Trait theories of leadership are frequently
criticized for their failure to delimit a definitive list of leadership traits, to take situations or leadership context int o account, its subjective approach to trait identification, and the inherent fixed nature of psychologically based traits (Northouse 2007, 25 - 26).
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A comprehensive historical review
of the steward and stewardship in pre - twentieth century sources 9
Steward leadership in other non - Christian and non - religious NPOs
Steward leadership in ecclesial organizations such as churches (which comprise a significant portion of Christian NPOs but al so involve many unique leadership challenges).
The scope of this research is also understood by reviewing related studies and topics that will be included in the research context. One
subject area included in this research will be a review of
theories of NPOs , governance, and management . Although an investigation into nonprofit organizational distinctives and theories could be quite extensive, the researcher will primarily focus on those that compare the distinctive features of f or - p rofit and NPOs, and com pare C hristian with
n onreligious NPOs.
Second , a review of the various theories of stewardship
and stewardship accountability
in NPOs will be included in this research. The s tewardship t heory of l eadership and g overnance
will be specifically reviewed beca use of its strategic importance as an alternative theory to the more common agency theory of governance. Theories of Christian s tewardship
will also be reviewed because of their foundational basis for many Christian leaders‘ assumptions about stewardship a nd their role as stewards.
group of related subjects that significantly define s
the research context are various theories of nonprofit leadership . After reviewing general theories of nonprofit leadership, a review of two specific theories or model s of leadership that are closely related to the subject at hand will follow: s piritual l eadership
and s ervant l eadership . These models will set the stage for a final review of published research concerning the model of steward leadership.
Lastly, a study of the historical context of the steward will comprise an entire section of this dissertation. Research will review the historical steward and the steward’s characteristics
as revealed in source documents concerning the Greco - Roman and biblical steward. A study of the steward in many other historical periods could also have been conducted, but these two periods contain the greatest wealth of information and provide
The Greco - Roman and biblical periods will
be included in the scope of this study because both offer signifi cant background into the cultural and theological milieu of Christian stewardship.
© Kent R. Wilson
the necessary basis for formulating a preliminary typology of historic steward leader charact eristics.
It would also help clarify the research context by defining some of the important terms and phrases that will frequently be used throughout this dissertation. All of the definitions that follow are the author‘s own and are proposed as a starting
point for this research.
Nonprofit organization : The term will be consistently used to speak of
non - governmental organization chartered and generally given government sanction to accomplish a common
good for its members or the community . This specific t erm (and its corresponding spelling) is chosen
by the author
out of the myriad of complementary terms — not - for - profit, voluntary, independent, charitable, non - governmental ,
or third - sector organization — primarily for its majority adoption by academics and pr actitioners alike and for its scope which generally encompasses nuances of the other terms.
The author recognizes the primary weakness of the term in that NPOs can and should strive to generate a profit, but as a term it still conveys the simplest and most
universal reference to organizations that operate for other than profit - making purposes.
Stewardship : This term is formally defined as ―the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one‘s care‖ (Merriam - Webster 1999). 10
However, the auth or believes that this definition needs additional development to fully express what stewardship means, and thus offers the following operating definition of stewardship: T he management of the property or resources belonging to another in order to achieve t he owner’s objectives . This definition follows the classic understanding of the role of the steward and his or her lack of resource ownership. It also emphasizes the importance of the knowing the objectives of the resources owner which will be demonstrated