When you’re hiring for a leadership position one of the most elusive qualities is actual leadership. You can usually assess a person’s skills and experience level with some accuracy by using a variety of interview techniques, references, or auditions. Leadership is always harder to get a grip on.
After interviewing and assessing literally hundreds of potential leaders, I’ve learned to think of leadership primarily as an act of stewardship, a sense of responsibility for the organization and the people around you.
The psychology of stewardship is a hot topic in management studies. According to a recent article by Morela Hernandez (citations are hers) called “Toward an Understanding of the Psychology of Stewardship“ from the Academy of Management Review, stewardship behaviors are defined as:
…a type of prosocial action, intended to have a positive effect on other people (Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder, 2005). Because individuals need not hold a position of power or authority to have a covenantal relationship with the organization, stewardship behaviors can be enacted across all levels of the organization. Indeed, Davis et al. (1997) noted that personal power, which is developed outside of formal roles and over time, is more characteristic of stewardship than institutional power, which is derived from formal position in the organization (cf. Gibson, Ivancevich, & Donnelly, 1991).
Therefore leadership is about making the best decisions under pressure with “an ongoing sense of obligation or duty to others based on the intention to uphold the covenantal relationship” (Hernandez, 2012). The act of leadership is, at its root, a selfless act.
So what qualities are indicators of stewardship? Here are five.
1. Self-awareness: As human beings, we’re so eager to prove our worth, that it’s rare to actually notice how our actions are affecting the people in our vicinity. Paying attention can dramatically change the way people respond to you. Emotional intelligence takes the practice of awareness a step further; true leaders control their emotions and manage the emotional turbulence around them.
2. Values communication: Clear precise communication should be a given in today’s info-heavy work environment. But the ability to communicate your core values is the bellweather of great leaders. The first step is knowing what you stand for and then becoming comfortable acting it rather than saying it. That’s when your presence becomes a powerful tool.
3. Power of influence: Most companies work along flexible and ever-shifting lines of authority. Learning how to influence others to adopt your point of view is crucial. It’s less about coercion than building consensus, and knowing when to apply pressure and when to let up.
4. Courage: People respond to independent thinkers who are confident enough to risk being unpopular. It’s very common in organizations to try to make everyone happy. Stand out and show your fearlessness by taking a stand.
5. Resilience: Stewardship is not case of avoiding mishaps or disasters, but guiding people through them when they occur. Learn to not get too caught up in the emotional highs and lows of management, and instead stay focused on the action you can take to help everybody move on.
Over to you. What qualities do you look for in a leader?