Being a Good Steward
ancient office of the Royal Steward was held by the most
trusted aide of the king or queen. The Steward was responsible
for the administration of the royal household, and for the
safeguarding and management of the objects and ceremonies most
valued by the king. The Steward had to be the most trusted of
the kings subjects, and in trade for honoring that trust by
effective administration, this Royal "Chief Administrative
Officer" received honor and wealth.
the other hand, failure to honor commitments, disappointing
the king by not accomplishing assigned responsibilities, or
being disloyal or unethical meant an early and perhaps very
unpleasant retirement. In medieval times, such disappointments
no doubt led to a very different version of a DROP program
than the deferred retirement model we know today. The medieval
DROP might have had the word "dead" next to it!
Through the centuries, the
concept of "stewardship" came to mean the serious acceptance
of and follow-through on assignments, as well as ethical
attention paid to duties and responsibilities. Being a good
steward means someone who is a "go to" person; one who is
trusted and does not disappoint. Such a person takes
commitment seriously, and is a person who is steady and
Today, these are still the
characteristics of a person headed for a bright future in
public service as well as in personal relationships with
spouses, children, neighbors, and significant others. The work
habits of good stewardship, when combined with the learned
knowledge, skills and abilities of a technically skilled
person, create a very strong package. In fact, every elected
or appointed leader has a special responsibility to practice
good stewardship and to develop the idea in those working in
the administration of the public agency.
Todays public service
stewardship is over the taxpayers money and the quality of
services delivered to all persons in the community, including
those who are frail, infirm or unable to care for themselves.
Our stewardship extends to public safety and public education.
It goes to public health and the health of the environment. It
also extends to the intellectual health of an area in terms of
the strength of its libraries, museums, and cultural
the individual level, the HR Doctors observations,
unscientific as they may be, are that there is a decline in
the understanding of and commitment to stewardship among job
applicants as well as employees. There are fewer people who
accept personal responsibility and accountability for what
they do or fail to do, and there is a definite increase in the
amount of whining in society (see "The National Commission on
Whining" at http://www.hrdr.net/).
Without that personal stewardship
component embedded in work and life habits, a person is
heading for a prize-winning imitation of a test dummy crashing
into a wall without a seat belt. An excessive "whats in it
for me" attitude carries with it the seeds of career trouble.
No matter how bright a person may otherwise be, no matter how
many college degrees a person may have, the maturity and
understanding of the importance of honoring commitments and
responsibilities is an essential component of a person to be
trusted and promoted in public service.
HR Doctor is a zealot for internships and for the career
development of others. Overwhelmingly, that commitment has
translated into helping the next generation of public servants
understand what it takes to be successful in public
administration. Success requires obvious technical
competencies and skills. However, this part of our
professional life can be learned. It is harder to teach the
stewardship concept, but it too can be mastered, especially
with help from a concerned manager or supervisor acting as a
mentor and role model.
Occasionally, there is
disappointment when a person being mentored falls off the
balance beam and does not honor a commitment or an obligation,
or commits an ethical breach. However, on the whole, a focus
on stewardship is a wonderful foundation upon which to build a
career and to teach others as they build their
can learn a lot from the ancient Royal Stewards job
description. It wouldnt be a bad idea to discuss the concept
in every new employee orientation and supervisory training
There are other medieval offices;
however, the HR Doctor has consciously declined, fortunately
for the reader, to write about the Privy Counselor.