Real Leaders Are Stewards

One summer while in college, I was invited to house sit for a wealthy family for a week while they were on vacation. It was the perfect set up in that I didn’t have to take care of any pets – just water the plants, get the mail, and keep a watch over it. Before my stay-cation (it had a heated pool, gigantic home theatre, and stocked refrigerator), I would joke about the parties I would be having at the house with the homeowners. The family knew I must have been joking, because they saw the glimmers of fear, respect, and honor in being entrusted with this awesome responsibility. So, I wasn’t going to let them down.

In fact, not only did I not have any parties, but I also kept everything clean – all the time! I promptly cleaned, dried, and put away the dishes, swept the floor each night, and only ate in the kitchen (over the sink). I even noticed that one of the bathroom toilets wasn’t working properly and fixed it myself after watching a couple YouTube videos. And, at the end of the week, I even went to the grocery store and refilled the refrigerator. My mantra throughout the week was, “leave things better than you found it”.

Although I have been working for a public school district for more than a week, I feel that same honor and obligation to leave each day “better than I found it”. While much has been written on servant leadership, I contend that Real Leaders Need to Possess Steward Leadership. Some may say that servant leadership and steward leadership are synonymous, there are key distinctions that separate the two. While both possess a serving capacity as a core premise, there are three distinctions of a steward which real leaders need to know, up front.

#1 – Real leaders who are stewards know, up front, that everything is temporary.  

At the same time that I was honored to be asked to watch over that house, I knew it was only going to be for a week. I wasn’t assuming the role forever, and I wasn’t asked to be a new member of the family. I was only asked to provide help for a limited amount of time.

While our role as an education leader will span across a few decades, we ultimately need to realize that the needs for the school and community will outlast us. In the midst of celebrating another school year, it is sobering to witness our graduates leave our schools for their next part in life. And, in the midst of preparing for another school year in the fall, we will only have 13 more years to invest in our in-coming kindergarten students. We can’t forget that students grow up and leave; our part in their lives is short. Buildings decay, and new ones are built.  Staff retire, and new ones are hired.  Real leaders who are stewards know, up front, their role is finite.

#2 – Real leaders who are stewards know, up front, they answer to someone else. 

During the week that I was looking after the house, there was a door-to-door salesman at the door. Although my typical style is to not answer the door or be short with them to get them off the front porch, I knew I was representing the actual homeowners.  So, I answered the door with with courtesy.  I listened and took the information telling his I would take it in to consideration. I knew it wasn’t up to me to make the decision, it would be the homeowners. And, I wanted to have all the facts ready.

No matter your position or the hierarchy on a piece of paper, we have all been entrusted to teach kids and answer to them, to their parents, and the community. In each leadership role, real leaders feel the huge weight and responsibility of being entrusted to care for, nurture, protect, and guide each student and adult. Real leaders who are stewards know, up front, their obligation to others.

#3 – Real leaders who are stewards know, up front, they are one piece in the big picture.

Before the homeowners left for vacation, they left a piece of paper by the phone in case of emergency during their vacation. The paper was a photocopy that was distributed more than a dozen other people who needed to know they were on vacation. It was amazing to see all of the other names on the list serving in a capacity to support the family. Although I was overseeing the house for the week, there were many other names listed above mine who oversaw the companies (yes, plural). It’s not that my job was any less by seeing other names, it just reminded me that there were others besides me in keeping things together.

In our leadership roles, it’s important to see the big picture in order to be effective in our roles.  We are all important, and we have to keep in mind the connectedness that needs to occur to accomplish our goals.  Real leaders who are stewards know, up front, their is a bigger picture beyond what we see.


The more time I spend as a educational leader, the more I am humbled and honored to be entrusted with a great responsibility inleading others. I marvel at the complexity of education and our roles and obligations to lead student growth for all students. And, the more I increase in my understanding of leadership, the more I realize my growth as a real leader to be a steward.


  1. Thank you for sharing this overview of steward leadership. Currently, I’m struggling with my role in administration. A former supervisor stated I am struggling because I internalized the daily issues with students, parents, and faculty. Wanting to “leave things better than you found it” is a more accurate description of what is daily goal and most days a source of internal angst this year. I appreciate you writing this reflection on leadership that should resonate with us all especially this time of the year.

    1. Thanks for sharing this feedback. The notion of stewardship and empathy-building go hand-in-hand. I see that feedback as positive in that you care and want to help others! That should be commended!

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