Rethinking Leadership to Build the Next Great Generation

Rediscovering the lost art of stewardship.

Excerpted From
Guiding the Next Great Generation
By Jonathan Catherman

For generations, societies worldwide have functioned within a two-layer model that separated the hierarchical position leaders held over followers. Leaders led from above, while followers followed from below. From above, leadership directed businesses, schools, politics, religion, communities, and families. Their tenure was the reward of an often-all-consuming dedication to work or was boosted through inheritance, gender, tradition, or relationship. From below, followers either filled subordinate roles or committed themselves to the tasks that implied promotion after years of experience, loyalty, and the occasional opportunity created by upper-level vacancies. This hierarchical, top-down, two-layer model was the norm for most members of the silent generation, the boomers, and Gen X but has failed to engage millennials and is widely rejected by the 85 million members of Gen Z.

Members of Generation Z are coming of age and, combined with millennials, are accepting the mantle of the largest population count in the world. This means their demand for change in leadership models can’t go ignored. In recent years, organizations of all types and sizes have investigated the need for an updated model of personal and professional development that recognizes the opportunity for anyone to rise to the level of leadership. Our personal and professional craving and willingness to pay for the promise of increased performance has created a competitive industry of leadership consulting, coaching and training.

The annual spending invested specifically in leadership development over the last decade has climbed into the billions of dollars. From large management-training companies with global offices to boutique coaching services that treat their clients like family, it’s not difficult to find services willing to sell their solutions for mastering the “laws,” “levels,” “principles,” “competence,” “effectiveness” and “art” of being a leader. Search Amazon for books that include leadership in their titles, and you will be overwhelmed by the results. So, with such topic saturation, why are researchers still reporting that only 44% of high school students are engaged in their learning, 82% of managers aren’t very good at leading people, and actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $483 billion and $605 billion each year in lost productivity?

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Perhaps we are focusing too much on convincing students, employees and team members that they need to be leaders and not enough on what qualifications they must first steward to make them worth following.

The growing rejection of the hierarchical leaders-over-followers model requires us to reimagine our centuries-old two-layer paradigm of leadership. In the process of restructuring the model, it remains important to include what we know are the universal principles anyone can practice in their qualification for the role of leadership. In doing so, the new model will be acceptable to and achievable for both pre- and post-millennium generations.

What begins to take shape is an inclusive, three-layer model built upon the qualifications of membership, stewardship and leadership. With this new layers-to-leadership model, leadership is obtainable by anyone who chooses a vertical dedication to personal development. This means leadership is no longer the most significant role one can practice daily. Stewardship is.

Why would stewardship be the most significant of the three layers? Because stewardship is what elevates us beyond the general inclusion of membership and acts as the prerequisite for the role of leadership. Stewardship is particular, long-term and strengthening. Where membership and leadership both function in public, stewardship is a far more private practice. Stewardship is powered by one’s personal commitment to integrity, which includes doing the right thing even when no one is watching. If we are to truly trust those who have risen to the level of leadership in our nations, communities, businesses, faiths, education, sports, entertainment and families to be good at what they do publicly, it’s best they are first consistently good at what they do personally. This means stewardship holds the prequalifications of leadership.

Stewardship is not a top-down responsibility. Stewardship is based upon the model that those who can be trusted with little can be trusted with more.

Bringing the focus back on our emerging generations, how committed are they to stewarding what has been entrusted to their care? How prepared are they to launch into life responsibly managing, supervising, and protecting their communication skills, driving habits, education, environment, faith practices, finances, personal belongings, business practices, heritage, influence, language, physical fitness, property, nutrition, opportunities, relationships, reputation, sexual activity, sleep schedule, social media, technology, time management, work ethic … just to name a few. As we work to prepare them to inherit the world, our responsibility includes guiding them to practice stewardship before leadership. When we do that, stewardship acts as the prerequisite for the quality of leadership they will need to right many historic wrongs and become the Next Great Generation.

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Excerpted from Guiding the Next Great Generation by Jonathan Catherman. Copyright 2020 by Jonathan Catherman. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.