Scott Rodin. The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010. $22.00. 191 pages. ISBN 978-0-8308-3878-3.
Popular level leadership books are a dime a dozen in the bookstore. Some bookstores have entire sections devoted to this genre of literature. Most of the secular literature you will find out there consists of books that focus on the idea of one person and “how I did it”. That is: became wealthy, turned a company around, empowered their employees, went from nobody to somebody, etc. While there are glimmers of truth in most of these books, there always seems to be something askew. For Christians, that obvious piece is God and the working of the Holy Spirit in the leader’s life to overcome obstacles and fulfill that person/organization’s mission.
In Scott Rodin’s latest book, The Steward Leader, he delves deep into the idea of the leader, the make up of such, and is concerned greatly with what makes that leader great. It is presumed that any leader, particularly the Christian leader, has the best interest of the organization (church, parachurch, association) in mind. While that is certainly nor universal, this is the audience to which Rodin speaks. For those leaders who genuinely care about their organization and the flourishing of such, there is typically an incredible burden on the leader to succeed and grow that organization.
The gist of the book and the concept that Rodin wants to put forth is that it is God, in fact, who frees us to become the leaders we are meant to be and who only He knows we can really become. This is the first important step into understanding Rodin’s concept of leadership. From here, to my mind at least, there is a unique contribution by Rodin in Christian leadership studies that others do not delve into. That is the idea of “being” a leader instead of “doing” leadership. To put it more philosophically, Rodin is concerned with the idea that leaders are ontologically centered and situated to be leaders by their “being” Christian and being completely sold out for Christ instead of possessing skills (though necessary) to “do” leadership. While skills such as administration, visionary, fundraiser, etc. are certainly key components to a successful leader, and while key character traits are also necessary such as charismatic, humble, empowering, etc….these are all “doing” characteristics (perhaps: an outer shell) to the reality of the “inner self” and the ontological positioning of the leader as a devout Christian man or woman.
This is one of the most important contributions (of many) that Rodin makes in his book. The term “steward leader” then supplants for the reader an understanding of what it means to be a leader not just in a Christian work environment, but always and everywhere. Leaders are to “steward”, that is to take care of or nurture or covet, the responsibilities and traits/skills that are upon us. Those gifts, of course, being from God. It is a high calling to lead any organization, whether secular or sacred, and leaders ought to have that understanding that we are called to, again: “be” devout followers of Christ first and foremost.
I would have liked to see Rodin go deeper into the idea of “freedom” expressed early on. As he says on page 62 that the idea that God has freed us to be leaders is a central component to his leadership model, I would have liked to see this idea of freedom explored more. For example, why is freedom necessarily given by the Creator to His creatures? Does freedom come at a cost? These and other questions like it float around the ivory tower discussions of freedom, but to my mind they have remarkable and practical implications for the “everyday leader” on the ground. And if this idea of freedom is a sort of lynch pin for your thesis, it and its implications should be explored some more.
Nonetheless, Rodin brings a worthy contribution to Christian leadership studies and supports some important and ground-breaking ideas when it comes to “being” a leader. There are many resources out there on the topic of leadership, and I suspect will continue to be, but The Steward Leader would be a worthwhile contribution to anyone’s bookshelf who is interested in leadership studies and/or finds themselves in a position of leadership and asks themselves what do I “do” now? For Rodin, it’s not about “doing”, but “being”….being a good steward to lead.