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How to evolve management

5 min read


The term management has baggage. It’s associated with conclusions that no longer benefit a business or its people. Management is linked to controlling people, monitoring their progress, dominating them. The truth is management has become soulless. It’s rote. It’s impersonal.

Let’s look at some data that points the way towards the impersonal nature of management. In a Towers Watson study, fewer than half of the participants agreed that their senior management was genuinely interested in their well-being. Strategy and learning consultancy Root found that 68% of employees believed their manager was more interested in their own development rather than spending time inspiring employees to do their best work.

Hold these two findings up against dismal engagement levels and low trust in senior leaders and corporations, an unsatisfying picture of management emerges.

Management is one of the greatest inventions. It’s time for it to evolve, however. To what, though? Management needs to evolve to stewardship.

Evolving management

Stewardship is a shift in leadership mindset. With this mindset a steward accepts responsibility for the greater good of the business. A steward isn’t drawn to the allure of self-interest, says Gary Hamel in “What Matters Most.” A steward accepts responsibility for the people in his care. Management expert Peter Block explains that stewards don’t feel the necessity to set goals for employees, as if they can’t do it themselves.

If there’s a simple way to describe stewardship, it’s this way: Stewards shape the work context so that human potential is unleashed.

The 5 shifts to stewardship

Business has always been and will always be built on the back of relationships. Management has migrated away from the relational nature of business. It’s become rigid. And rigidity does no one any good when working alongside people and building relationships. Humans are messy. Stewards understand this and accept it.


Here are five high-leverage shifts you can make to evolve management to stewardship.

Treating employees as people not resources or assets. People aren’t resources or assets. Both of these things have limited capacity. At some point their usefulness ends. People have unlimited possibilities. We learn and evolve. This endless cycle makes us more than mere numbers on a company’s balance sheet. Treating people as resources or assets assumes you can control them. It’s a fallacy to think you can control people. In the end people have free will, and you cannot control that.

Accepting responsibility for the team’s work environment. A steward recognizes that she has the greatest influence on her team’s perception of the workplace. This is important because a positive perception of the workplace helps positive emotions emerge and can lead to higher performance. It also helps emerge relatedness, self-actualization, and even purpose when employees view the workplace positively. Your goal is to focus on creating a context that helps people do their best work.

Promoting purpose. Researchers Nick Craig and Scott Snook found that leaders without a clear purpose risk struggling with health issues. These leaders also struggle to be consistent in their leadership style. Knowing your purpose at work isn’t some fluffy notion best left to spiritual conversations. Purpose has also been found to help promote a positive self-identity. It seems that knowing what you stand for helps you live more intentionally and improve performance.

In times where purpose eludes management, as evidenced in the rise of ethical corporate scandals, stewards are tapping into the growth influence of purpose.

Magnifying meaning. For too long businesses have expected employees to bifurcate their personal lives from their professional world. Reality is the two collide all the time. Overall life satisfaction is key for high performance in employees’ work. A big part of life satisfaction includes meaning in work life and meaningful work.

A steward invests effort to learn how to make work a meaningful experience for her employees. It means having conversations about what meaning looks like to each employee. Human nature is we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves—we want to experience significance. Magnifying meaning is key to this desired experience.

Reinforcing relatedness. Perhaps the heart of stewardship is rich relationships. For relationships to be rich, it’s key to create a work environment where relatedness can be experienced. A steward focuses on this work life outcome because it fosters team unity. It satisfies our human desire to connect with others. We are stronger together.

These five shifts don’t need to be an organization-wide effort. It’s best when leaders make the shift individually and let their results stand on their own. Leaders can create a pocket of excellence. This is descriptor of a type of positive, high-performance environment that exists despite the bigger culture and climate surrounding the pocket of excellence.

The world needed management at one time. What we need now are those same people to shift their gaze to more aspirational outcomes in order to achieve higher-level results that management just can’t touch due to an outdated mindset.

Shawn Murphy is a thought leader, inspirational speaker, and CEO/Founder of Switch & Shift. Switch & Shift is a popular site advancing leaders’ understanding of human-centered leadership and business practices and a consultancy helping organizations transform to be more human. He has a weekly column at His debut book, “The Optimistic Workplace” (AMACOM) is available today.