Stewardship, networks … and listening.

July 4, 2007 § Leave a comment

Sitting in last week’s ‘learning from networks’ workshop at the Centre for Social Innovation, Jane said something like: “I know I am doing well when the people I work with come up with their own ideas for Santropol Roulant, and then run with them. That gets them smiling and energized.” Colette quickly jumped in: “What you are talking about is ‘agency’. You know your network or your community is working because people are doing things based on their own agency.” This little exchange was a huge gift.


I have always seen stewardship as one of the most central values of leadership. I believe that good leaders – especially network leaders – are focused on serving and inspiring the people around them. If you are helping people meet their own goals, you are most likely helping to move the community or the company along in a useful way. Yet, it is tough to explain this to new network leaders that I work with, and even tougher to explain what to look for to know if you’re being a good steward (I know that I am not always one myself).

Jane and Colette’s quick exchange gave me what feels like a clear and simple way to talk about this issue: stewardship is a network leadership technique, agency something to watch for (or a metric) that tells you if you are being a good steward. Here’s a little diagram that I drew at the time …


You can see this diagram as a yin yang symbol, showing your (servant) leadership and the agency of network members as a dynamic and creative tension. Or, you can imagine it as a cycle where you pour all of your energy into sparking and encouraging initiative within the network, and then see the initiative from the network give you the energy you need to continue with your work of stewardship. In either case, a lack of agency or initiative within the network indicates that something is out of balance, and that your leadership approach needs to be tweaked.

If you haven’t done network leadership before, this may sound like abstract boohucky. However, I know from the experience that things are going well when our telecentre activist partners are running ahead with their own ideas, organizing their own events and creating their own services. We saw this very much with the formation of the Bangladesh Telecentre Network over the past year. In contrast, when it feels like we are pushing the telecentre activists we work with or they are participating only because we pushed and prodded, then it’s clear that we are not working effectively as stewards. We saw this to some degree in the early stages of the Training Commons in India, although it has now turned a corner.

As moves into a phase of building up more and more network leaders from the ground to play a global stewardship role, I am going to try out this simple diagram to see if it catches. I will let you know if it helps.

PS. Huge thanks to the Centre for Social Innovation and the Millennium Scholarship Foundation for organizing a great event on listening to and learning from networks.

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