Another “Giant” Bites the Dust: The Stewardship of Leadership
Another “Giant” Bites the Dust: The Stewardship of Leadership
On March 2nd of this year, Sports Authority, once the largest sports chain of its kind in the U.S., filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Some may look at this news, shrug their shoulders, and simply accept the fact that another corporate giant bit the dust.
Others, especially those very close to the organization and those directly impacted by these events, will wonder what went wrong. How could an industry leader with over 460 stores fail?
Looking at the spectacular collapse of corporate giants—Sports Authority, Kodak, Blockbuster, AOL—as well as the quiet, not really newsworthy demise of small businesses, there is one word that can very easily sum up the “why” behind many, if not all, of these failures. That word? Stewardship.
Stewardship has become a rare concept nowadays. Before we get into its ins and outs, let’s see how the dictionary defines it.
Mirriam-Webster describes stewardship as “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.”
This concept is illustrated time and again in God’s Word. A biblical worldview of stewardship can be defined as “utilizing and managing all resources God provides for the glory of God and the betterment of His creation.”
Of course, stewardship is often associated with financial responsibility or lack thereof, but it actually encompasses much more than making smart financial decisions.
Let’s look at three stewardship issues that most often contribute to organizational failure.
1. Financial Stewardship
Psalm 24 begins with these words: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”
From this and many other passages it’s very evident Who owns all financial resources. This ownership issue, although clear in God’s Word, is often either misunderstood or ignored.
We can recognize that God owns it all, yet we often act as if we were the “generators” and sole proprietors of those financial resources the Owner has entrusted us to manage.
Being able to differentiate who is the owner and who is the manager (steward) is critical for any organization not only to survive, but also to thrive.
The dreaded word debt is one of the key financial mistakes that leads many organizations and businesses to close their doors. Excessive debt, as a matter of fact, is what brought Sports Authority down.
According to business.com, half of small businesses fail within five years due to bad credit and excessive debt. Growing too fast, failing to carefully track finances, and overspending often contribute to the growing debt epidemic.
So what does God’s Word have to say about debt?
While it does not call indebtedness a sin, the Bible gives stern warnings and a list of consequences for those who embrace it as a norm. Here are just a few scriptures:
Proverbs 22:7 says: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
Psalm 37:21 says: “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.”
Romans 13:7-8 tells us: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Those of us entrusted with leading should always remember that we are accountable to God for the stewardship of financial resources of the organizations and businesses under our care. Here is a list of basic questions we should ask on a regular basis to keep our finances in check:
- Are my finances in order? If not, why not?
- Who am I accountable to for the way I manage the finances of the organization I’ve been entrusted to lead?
- Is there wasteful spending? If so, how can we stop it?
- Do employees have the freedom to question financial decisions we make as an organization?
- Are the finances of my organization transparent to employees? If not, why not?
- Do we spend more than we make? If so, why?
- What’s our debt-to-income ratio?
- Are we paying our vendors and creditors on time? If not, why not?
2. Relational Stewardship
There is another aspect of stewardship that, if ignored, will negatively impact any organization. I’m talking about relational stewardship.
Relational stewardship is nothing less and nothing more than honoring employees, vendors, customers and even competitors in a way that’s pleasing to God. There are quite a few corporate giants that, having failed at relational stewardship, are out of business today.
Poor customer service was a big contributor to the business failure of US Airways. With the second lowest customer satisfaction scores in the industry, extremely high rate of mishandled bags, slashing its customer service budget and outsourcing many of those functions, US Airways lost not only the trust, but also the business of its clients.
Blockbuster is another giant that went out of business partly because of relational mismanagement. During its height, Blockbuster failed to address customer concerns, showed it cared very little about what customers actually wanted, and did not apologize for charging outrageous late fees. While Blockbuster ignored their customer feedback, competitor Netflix listened, and ate their lunch.
Relational stewardship both inside and outside of our organizations is what can open or close doors for us. Building trusted relationships is what will allow us to operate with the speed of trust that Stephen Covey wrote about in his book The Speed of Trust. He said:
“There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world – one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership…On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success… Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time. That one thing is trust.”
Relational stewardship is what Jesus modeled during His three years on this earth. He built bridges with those labeled as sinners. He healed the sick. He trained and commissioned His followers. Everywhere He turned, He served. Everything He said He would do, He did. He always operated on the basis of trust.
People are every organization’s greatest asset, and they should be stewarded as such!
Here are few questions we can ask ourselves about the way we steward relationships:
- Am I trustworthy?
- Am I transparent and honest?
- Do I serve others well, including those inside my organization and my clients and vendors?
- Do I honor and respect my competitors?
- Am I easy to talk to?
- Do I extend grace and forgiveness often?
- Am I easily angered?
- Do I have a tendency to use people as means to achieve my ends?
- How much time do I spend relating with and praying for my employees?
3. Opportunity Stewardship
Last, but not least, let’s talk about opportunity stewardship.
Ephesians 5:16 says we should be “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Psalm 90:20 says: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Making the best use of the time and gaining a heart of wisdom in the process is what opportunity stewardship is all about.
There are many opportunities and open doors that come our way daily. But we can't possibly say yes to all – nor should we! I’m sure all of us can remember opportunities we wish we would have embraced while at the same time recalling enticing “opportunities” that ended in disaster.
Business Insider, for example, lists 16 business people who missed out on a fortune. One of them was one of Steve Job’s first bosses who had an opportunity to invest $50,000 in Apple. According to Business Insider, missing out on that opportunity cost him a one-third stake in the $480 billion company!
God’s Word is full of opportunity stewardship moments. Ruth and Orpah come to mind immediately. Ruth took a risk on love and selflessness by staying with her mother in-law, even if it meant dying with her. Orpah made a calculated decision based on logic and survival. Ruth ended up being in the lineage of Jesus, and her story still inspires thousands. No one knows what happened to Orpah.
Opportunity stewardship is not about success or financial rewards. It often presents itself as moments of choice between selfishness and selflessness. It may not always make sense to the naked eye, and we may not reap immediate rewards.
Opportunity stewardship thrives on prayer and on seeking God’s wisdom. It actually can't survive without these.
How are we stewarding opportunities that come our way? Here are some questions we can ask:
- How is my prayer life? Do I pray about my work daily?
- Am I in God’s Word daily, seeking His wisdom?
- Whose voice(s) do I listen to the most?
- What do I usually base my decisions on? What values drive my decision-making?
- Do I have many regrets? If so, why?
- Can I identify one missed opportunity that I wish I had taken? What stopped me from taking it?
- Can I identify one decision I made that seemed like a good opportunity but turned sour? What happened? Were there warning signs I ignored?
Stewardship plays a critical role in everyone’s life. Regardless of the positions we hold or how many financial resources we’ve been entrusted with, all of us have been given something to steward (manage) for God’s glory. Every day we make multiple stewardship decisions; we just don't pause long enough to realize what these are.
Our fast pace of life, multiple competing voices that bombard us daily, and our own desires and priorities often compete with the stewardship responsibilities we should embrace.
Can you imagine how your personal life, your business life or the life of your origination could be transformed if you decided to steward your finances, relationships and opportunities differently?