Leaders are responsible for the stewardship of the seat they sit in. Every leader currently occupies a seat in their leadership journey in the form of a position. Stewardship in leadership is taking good care of the people and the organization while you are serving in that seat. Do not confuse it for ownership. Ownership is more permanent and possessive. We do not own the seat, we are simply stewards of it.
My first seat in leadership was as the Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Resources for the City of Acworth. I served in that role for more than sixteen years before being appointed City Manager back in July. The transition caused me to reflect on this whole stewardship of the seat concept. I wanted to share a few of those reflections with you:
Someone Else Will Sit in Your Seat
Let’s set the tone for the next few minutes together! Here is a sobering thought that will change your world in one sentence. Someone else will sit in YOUR seat one day. Now, say it like this with me. Someone else will sit in MY seat one day. No matter how good you are at what you do or how long you have been doing it, it will happen. I had heard this, I spoke this, but it was not until the transition that I grasped it.
We rarely think about our positions from this perspective. Your responsibility is to be a steward of that seat and not become possessive of it. Leaders who become possessive of their seat, cling to it for all their worth. It is where they find their identity, their value, and their livelihood.
This is not intended to be discouraging. It is just reality. Unless you have figured out the secret to living forever, someone else will sit in your seat. The intent is to shift our perspective from one of possession, to one of stewardship. What if we could come to grips with this concept? How would it change our leadership journey?
New Seats Are Uncomfortable
I could be in the minority, but I prefer a comfy broken in recliner over a brand new one. New recliners are stiff and just overall uncomfortable. They smell funny too!
Anytime we sit in a new seat in leadership it is uncomfortable. My new seat was uncomfortable at first. I learned that the world does not stop for you to take time and break the seat in. In fact, decisions and problems await you before you ever take the seat.
Here is the positive thing that new seats will do. They will stretch you. Just like sitting in the seat over time will do to the fabric on it. It stretches to create comfort. As leaders some of our greatest opportunities for growth comes when we are uncomfortable, not comfortable.
Seats Can Get Too Comfortable
In my world, staying the Parks, Recreation, and Community Resources Director would have been the comfy thing for me to do. After being in the field for more than twenty-one years and leading the organization for sixteen of those, I was comfortable. We had built one of the premier park and recreation departments in the State of Georgia and I had seen about everything you could see in the field. It was very safe for me. The seat was broken in well. I could have easily just finished my career there and been content with it.
Just like my broken in, comfy recliner at home, seats can get too comfortable. You can grow complacent. In his Lunch with a Leader Program, my friend and Pastor Mike Linch said something that stuck with me, “you never drift into good health.” That is so true! We must work out, eat better, and go to the doctor to achieve better health. Sitting in the recliner does nothing for my health, other than make me take naps!
Leaders must show good stewardship of the seat they serve in and guard against getting too comfortable. You will fail your people and the organization.
Build Depth with Future Seat Holders
It is a personal pet peeve of mine, but I struggle when someone does not want to hire someone because they are, “overqualified and will not stay long.” The “will not stay long” is an assumption, and a poor one at that. Here is what I have learned over time. Hire the best person for the position, love and care for them, and there is a good chance they will remain with your organization. You can either have and extraordinary someone for a shorter season than stuck with an ordinary one for a long time. Far too often, whether it subscribing to this mindset or just insecurity, leaders can miss the right person.
One thing that helped in my transition is that we had built a team with multiple people that could sit in my seat as Parks, Recreation, and Community Director. We had built depth in the organization. It can make for tough decisions, but it makes for great organizations. We now have someone in my old seat that will grow the organization further than I ever could. The depth created that capacity.
Prioritize the Recliner
What? Yeah, the recliner. That comfy recliner is located at home. We cannot allow the seat at work to take priority over our position at home. The struggle is real. Work/life balance is something that my heart wrestles with a lot. The better leader we are at home, the better leader we are in the workplace. You can be a good leader at work without being a good leader at home, but leaders that are good at home make great leaders at work.
Here is a seat that you cannot ever be replaced in. Your position as father, mother, son, daughter, grandfather, or grandmother. Take great pride in that seat, be possessive of it, and cling to that one for all it is worth.
Stewardship of the Seat Conclusion
Home ownership is one of the American dreams. Ownership means little without stewardship. If I fail to properly maintain and care for the house while I am the steward of it, it will be beneficial to no one in the future. As sad as it is to think about it, someone else will raise a family in our house one day. The better stewards we are of it, the better it will make someone else’s life later. A generation we may never see.
When we look at life and leadership from the perspective of stewardship, it becomes more about others. It humbles us, because we realize we are not as important as we think we are. It shifts the focus from controlling the now to preparing for the future. Be the best steward of your leadership seat while you better others and the world you live in. If your perspective shirts to knowing that the stewardship of the seat matters, you will do great things.
Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection
Do I understand that someone else will sit in my seat some day? Is my seat comfortable or is it uncomfortable? Am I preparing people to sit in my seat one day? Is home my priority?