Boss to leader to steward leader: Three stages of leadership maturity
“The last time I heard you speak was in 2010 when you were writing your first book Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders. Back then, you differentiated between bosses and leaders, and made a strong case about real leaders using leadership energy — the power of purpose and values — to create a better future. A decade later, do you still define great leadership the same way?"
I was asked this question while waiting for my turn to speak at a recent conference. “Funny you would ask; because this is exactly what I intend to speak about today,” I replied with a smile. Later, during my keynote, here’s how I answered:
- In 2010, there were 2.1 billion users of the internet. In 2021 there are 5.1 billion. Connectivity has given people much empowerment and reach, but its misuse has also made us vulnerable in multiple ways.
- In 2010, global population was 6.9 billion. In 2021 it is 7.9 billion. While this means bigger markets for businesses, it also places much greater burden on Planet Earth in terms of resources, socio-political harmony and climate change.
- Today, we live in a world where exciting growth opportunities co-exist with existential challenges to humanity. If we ignore the challenges, not only will we forgo the promise of the opportunities, we will also destroy the planet, and humanity with it.
- For leadership, in 2010, it was enough to say that as individuals, organisations or nations, we must pursue a growth agenda based on the right values. In 2021, we need to think much bigger, and strive to create a collective better future for all. The 2008 financial crisis, the increased frequency of destructive severe weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic are ample proof that no individual, organisation or nation can thrive in isolation.
- Creating a collective better future requires stewardship, which is the mindset and practice of creating value by integrating the needs of all stakeholders, society, future generations and the environment. For leaders to succeed in 2021 and beyond, they must mature into Steward Leaders.
The table below summarises the typical leadership maturity continuum. As you read, I invite you to reflect on your own leadership journey so far, and where you would like to take it next.
Where are you on the continuum? Can you answer this question with full Emotional Integrity? For a more in-depth description of steward leadership, consider reading: Stewardship: The Core Compass of Real Leaders.
This article first appeared on Forbes (13 September 2021).