Needed Urgently: Stewardship and Statesmanship


There is no ownership of the future.  There is only stewardship.

Dont teach HBSQuite a few years ago there was a best selling business book that caught the attention of the more thoughtful in business and the executive ranks.  The book, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School, by Mark McCormick, founder and CEO of International Management Group (IMG) was published in 1984 and spent 21 weeks in the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best seller list. The book was full of what McCormick called “people sense” and shared his tips, experiences and insights on such non-MBA issues as sales, negotiation, reading others and yourself, and executive time management. Many of these important people topics are now part of newer MBA curricula, thanks to McCormick’s common sense approach to business success. As an alternative to the financially focused MBA business curriculums at the time, McCormick’s approach was badly needed and hit a receptive chord.

I suggest it might be time for a new approach again.

Two words jump into my mind and indicate a sea change from how business, and politics, is carried out today.  The first word is STEWARDSHIP:

At this point they don’t teach “stewardship” in MBA classes (please correct me if someone out there at a business school has a mandatory class on Stewardship).  According to the definition from the international standard for ISO 20121,

Stewardship is the “responsibility for sustainable development shared by all those whose actions affect environmental performance. economic activity, and social progress, reflected as both a value and a practice by individuals, organisations. communities, and competent authorities.”

That is, taking a holistic concern for all factors that impact our ability to thrive and survive on this planet.  Not just quarterly returns.  Not just maximising shareholder value.  Not just satisfying customer wants.  It’s the ability to integrate all these (and more) factors and come up with a win-win-win solution (win for the company, win for customers, win for communities, win for the environment).

Stewardship is hard work and not always popular, especially with Wall Street analysts, but in the words of Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever,“profit is not a purpose, it’s an end product. I always want a deeper result.”  And Unilever is investing heavily in finding ways to make good products in a sustainable way. Plus they are big supporters of the international charity, WaterAid, bringing fresh water and sanitation to underdeveloped communities. It’s not a gift, it’s responsible business and good stewardship; the healthier and more prosperous a community, the more likelihood that they will use Unilever products.

Stewardship and sustainable business practices are the best defence against short-term business models.

The other word that comes into play when thinking about a sea change in the way politics is handled is STATESMANSHIP.

 Statesmanship  “is the practice of a Statesman, usually a politician or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career in politics or government at the national and international level. Statesmanship also conveys a quality of leadership that organically brings people together and of eldership, a spirit of caring for others and for the whole.”

142664-president-robert-mugabeTo me, Statesmanship is the polar opposite to politics as practiced today. To many, politics is a win-lose game where “might makes right”. Plus, it seems to be a path to power and wealth.  The political behaviour of many African “elected” leaders is an extreme example, where the country’s natural resources are pillaged and sold, with much of the proceeds going to the President and his family, who all hold high government positions. The wealth of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, President of the Republic of Angola is estimated at $20 Billion, while the majority of his people live on less than $2 a day.  Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe “has turned once-rich Zimbabwe into his personal playground, killing most of his rivals and looting Zimbabwe for good measure. His net worth stands at $5 to $10 billion thanks to his country’s diamond deposits.”

There is also a need for greater statesmanship at all levels of global politics.  The UN is pretty ineffective and dysfunctional due to countries putting personal interest above the good of the whole, and upwards of 30% of US foreign Ambassadors are political appointees with no foreign service experience, but big donors to the President’s political funds.

Words are powerful change agents.  Spend some time thinking about Stewardship and Statesmanship and see how your views, and actions, shift. And let’s see if we can add these ways of being into the MBA curriculums and political party thinking.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!









About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
This entry was posted in ecosystems, John R Childress, John's views on the world, leadership, Organization Behavior and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Needed Urgently: Stewardship and Statesmanship

  1. Well said, John! I had the good fortune to serve as vice president of two companies and president of a third. Only one gave thought to the ‘Stewardship’ of anything, much beyond how to enhance shareholder value regardless of the larger cost. Looking back after a decade of retirement, I’m not proud of having to admit I didn’t show much leadership in that regard, either. Thinking like yours needs to make its way into all corridors of learning, and into corporate board rooms. Thank you for sharing your excellent insights.


    • James: Many thanks for your observations and thoughts about the difficulties of leadership. Speaking up and standing up is difficult and we all have much to learn in this area. Best Regards,


Leave a Reply to johnrchildress Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s