The right leadership style is essential in the face of budget reductions, fundamental changes to ways of working and increasing pressures on resources, say Kurt April, Julia Kukard and Kai Peters

The need for a new way of leading is well recognised in the NHS and beyond. The King’s fund report The future of leadership and management in the NHS: No more heroes called for recognition that the old “heroic” individual leadership model needs to make way for leadership being shared across the care system.  

‘Steward leadership starts with wanting to be the best for the world, not only the best in the world ’

Ashridge Business School academics Binney, Wilke and Williams, in their book Living Leadership: a practical guide for ordinary heroes, identify that the heroic leader − a charismatic, goal scoring superstar who takes courageous stands and doesn’t mind carrying the team on their back − actually inhibits workforce productivity.  

Stewards of the future

An alternative leadership model for the next generation of executives is defined by research conducted by Ashridge and Kurt April from the Cape Town University Graduate School of Business. The findings provide a road map to develop more holistic leaders who are stewards of the future and better prepared to meet current and upcoming challenges within the NHS.

Our book, Steward Leadership: A Maturational Perspective , explores how leadership needs to evolve in response to the rapidly changing and challenging environment. Stewardship advocates service over self-interest and is defined as a form of leadership that focuses on others, the community and society at large.

Steward leadership starts with wanting to be the best for the world, not only the best in the world.  

It offers a post-heroic approach to leadership, where executives empower and strengthen the leadership of others. It is based on a sense of public duty and offers a real alternative leadership mode that will enable executives to build resilient organisations fit for the future.

Practical framework

Through the research we have created a practical framework for stewardship and the behaviours that define it, in order to develop “steward leaders”. The behaviours correlate to their impact on community building and responsible behaviour and trust.

Personal mastery: Personal mastery is about continual growth and enhancement of abilities and capabilities. Stewardship requires a leader who is confident and is certain of their priorities. It is about trust − a person who is not a master of his or her own abilities will not inspire the trust in others necessary to make stewardship a reality.

Personal vision: Clarity of vision and commitment through action is essential for leaders to position themselves and play to their strengths. Steward leaders must have a vision focusing on what they want to create for themselves and the world around them.

Group of small goldfish following a larger goldfish

Mentoring: This is about paying attention and responding to the needs of others. Mentors also seek to establish a values base in others. Steward leaders also know that self-care is crucial to stay the course and remain resilient.

Valuing diversity: In an increasingly diverse, multicultural society such as the UK’s, stewards must purposefully seek out and value different inputs and people.

Shared vision: Clarity of vision of, and commitment to, a just and sustainable society underpin stewardship.

Risk taking and experimentation: Successful stewards must display courage and be open to new ideas.

Vulnerability and maturity: Maturity requires a fundamental shift in self-awareness and behaviour to show empathy, compassion and actively listen to people. Steward leaders are authentic, value uncertainty and are open to learning from others.

Raising awareness: Championing stewardship, sustainability and the common good is essential. Steward leaders must sound the trumpet for good corporate governance through raising awareness of a sustainable civil society characterised by service to society.

Delivering results: Achieving concrete and measurable results is central to stewardship, and leaders should demonstrate commitment to others via delivery. The steward leader is committed to delivering results responsibly in partnership with empowered others, within a purposeful community.

‘It time to think beyond traditional conventions of leadership and find ways of developing holistic leaders’

The traditional view of leadership places the onus of organisational performance solely on the shoulders of those who are in positions of leadership. The true mark of a steward leader, however, is his or her ability to engender trust in the members of the organisation and empower them to operate with flexibility to achieve the goals of the organisation.

It time to think beyond traditional conventions of leadership and find ways of developing holistic leaders who are equipped to lead teams though change.

Managers should optimise their skills and qualities from a steward leader perspective. This will produce greater results than any other management or leadership model has delivered to date.

Kurt April is professor of leadership, diversity and inclusion at Cape Town University; Julia Kukard is a management consultants based in Cape Town; and Kai Peters is chief executive of Ashridge Business School