Stewardship
Choosing Service Over Self Interest

by Peter Block

Peter Block has written a profound work. It hits the chord and rings true in striking at the heart of the popular rhetoric of current fads and management illusions. Most ‘contemporary’ leaders, executives and managers have ‘embraced’ the language of quality improvement, visionary leadership, and customer driven businesses. We do hear the ‘enlightened’ language all around us, yet see very little real change in what actually takes place.

Much of the ‘enlightenment’ we now experience is in reality, little more than cosmetics. All cynicism aside, in the implementation of new philosophies and concepts we somehow lose the heart of the matter, perhaps because we are not focused on the fundamentals. It is an all too rare an occurrence in our efforts of change, that we succeed in engaging the hearts and minds of individuals, as well as their hands, in the business of the business. Many individuals are struggling with why that is so, and many contemporaries are offering new models to address it. Peter Block has cut to the core issues of power, purpose, and wealth, and offers a concept of ‘stewardship’ as a model of real reform.

Stewardship - Choosing Service Over Self Interest is not an easy read, although it is extremely well written and the rationale is clearly presented. It is not easy or fun as it does strike very deep and is disconcerting. It deals with freedom, control, governance, service, and self interest. It is about a harsh reality of the human spirit and profit, and the need for the redistribution of power, purpose and wealth. It is about partnership and choice, and especially the choice of responsibility over entitlement. It is about service and accountability.

A few highlights to serve as an introduction to what I believe will be a significant model for organizations for the future.

Stewardship is to hold something in trust for another. It is the willingness to be accountable for the good of the larger organization or community of which we are a part, by being in service to, as opposed to in control of, those around us.

Authentic service is experienced when individuals act out of their own choices, as opposed to acting out of compliance. 

The ways we govern, manage, and lead today are a testimony to self interest and entitlement. If a commitment to genuine service is to have integrity, money and privilege must be redistributed more equitably.

No one should be able to make a living simply planning, watching, controlling, or evaluating the actions of others.

Changing the system of governance requires putting information, resources, and power in the hands of those doing the work.

Integrate the managing and the doing of work.

If our goal is to tell the truth, we do not need professionals to tell us how to get our message across. End secrecy and create business and customer literacy.

Think about who are we really here to serve? Who is the customer? The boss is not the customer! The customer is!

We choose service over self interest most powerfully when we build the capacity of the next generation to govern themselves.

A profound work indeed! (ed.)


Stewardship - Choosing Service Over Self Interest, by Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 1993.

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