Stewardship and Ownership

There are subtle differences in our perspectives that when acted out over long periods of time can lead to very different results. As I have grown a little older, my appreciation for the distinction between stewardship and ownership has developed. When I was young, I thought ownership was all that mattered. I needed private property I could call my own and do with it as I pleased. If I had stuff, I would be happy. I borrowed money to get assets on my balance sheet. I had to have something to work with. Then, I went through a phase where I believed all I needed should be fit within a backpack. Stuff enslaves. I should avoid it. (of course, I was still investing and owning businesses, so really it was double-speak on my part… however, I was developing my mental model for financial freedom & independence… which I believed resources would provide.)

Later on, I lost money. I felt the double edge sword of leverage cut the other way. This humbled me greatly. I realized that what I owned, was only temporarily mine. My responsibility to others was preeminent. If I parked it in a savings account it would not earn anything. But if I invested it in others, it could be lost. What to do? The temporary nature of it all was more fluid and out of my control than I wanted to admit. The shift in my mind began to change from hoarding toward more of fluid movement I artfully directed. I began to care less about gathering and more about allocating through space and time.

Recently, I have been humbled again by the trust and investment from other business owners in my management. I lead our management company which has responsibility to allocate other’s resources. They have outsourced this to me. I am among the owners, but I am not the sole owner. To that end, I am a steward. I am responsible to watch over other’s resources… but not just passively watch over, I am expected to put those resources to work.

I think it is important to be a steward before being an owner, and important to be an owner before being a steward. I also think it is healthy to be both leader and servant… at the same time. How can this be? A steward acknowledges the owner’s rights. The owner can sell the property and dispose of the manager.  There is a liability the steward has to the owner for that which the owner has lent him. I learned this first hand when borrowing and renting property which I managed. But, if the steward’s work is conducted shrewdly he/she can derive a profit and thus become an owner. Once an owner he/she can take up an employee, tenant, manager or debtor over which a liability can be held. This all takes time but is fundamentally a never ending cycle. This dichotomy is reconciled continuously because of it’s interdependence.

Ultimately, the owner depends upon the manager. And, the manager depends upon the owner. Little Engine Ventures is a partnership of business owners striving to steward resources well. This starts with providing the customer value. It waterfalls through employees to lenders and ultimately rolls down to equity owners. There is voluntary cooperation on the part of each individual. And, both stewardship and ownership enacted by each. If you play this scenario out over time and space it’s highly likely that those who most understand this relationship will prosper most as they serve and are served based on the changing circumstances.

I believe this plays out on a grand scale outside of Little Engine Ventures as well. What is your role today? In the future? Can you even opt out of it?