Leading Your People With Empathy: The Value of Stewardship

Investing in your workforce and their families has a tangible payoff. It leads to optimized sales and marketing, better customer service, and higher productivity

My father taught me growing up that whenever I borrow something, I should return it in better shape than I received it. That’s how I aim treat my employees — in essence, I borrow them from their families and home lives. We spend a big portion of our days at work, and I want my people returning home happy to spend time on what’s really important.


Investing in my workforce and their families has a tangible payoff. It leads to optimized sales and marketing, better customer service, and higher productivity. In fact, companies that report a high level of engaged employees experience 22% higher productivity, according to research by the Gallup Organization.


It’s not purely a business strategy, however; those improvements are the result of intentionally emphasizing what’s important in employees’ lives — in other words, embracing my stewardship of them.


What It Means to Be a Steward


Several milestones through life have brought my father’s advice into sharp focus. Whether temporary or permanent, I feel an obligation to every one of my employees, and every chance I get, I’ve shared that perspective with other business leaders. I tell them stick to these three tips, and they’ll be surprised at how much their company culture evolves:


1. Be obvious with good intentions. When I started my company, I knew I wanted to lead like a steward, but I didn’t have a clear-cut blueprint of what that meant. What I did have was a strong love for people and a desire to create a good company for them. I was direct with that intention, hanging posters and banners around the office to remind them that people come first and setting expectations for how everyone can contribute, including being generous, loving, honest, faithful, passionate, and creative.


I learned the value of steward leadership firsthand from several mentors throughout my life, including Norm Miller, former CEO and current board chairman of Interstate Batteries. Miller has been recognized for blending faith, family, and work to improve the lives of his employees, and I do my best to emulate him in many business decisions.


2. Live the idea. Stewardship isn’t the norm when it comes to leadership, and some employees might be skeptical. Make sure your message doesn’t seem contrived by living the example of stewardship as much as possible. Live up to the mistakes you make, turn the mishaps of others into learning opportunities, and take genuine interest in your employees’ lives outside of work.


This pretty much defines all the time I spend with my older brother, Jeff. We’ve always been close, but we grew closer working on our many entrepreneurial adventures. Even when I was prideful in my youth, Jeff was always genuine, authentic, kind, and transparent, and it was obvious he cared about my success. 


3. Care about people more than money. Leading as a steward results in a highly engaged workforce, which leads to improved customer experiences, better employee retention, fewer accidents, and 21% higher profitability. Most importantly, engaged workers also report better health outcomes.


In the end, the defining quality of stewardship is caring for the well-being of your wards — in this case, your employees. Most managers would ask an employee whether they’re OK if performance starts to slip. Most employees, meanwhile, don’t want to admit what’s wrong for fear that their employers won’t care about anything but the job.


If an employee seems overwhelmed, ask what’s wrong instead of chastising them to improve. Help employees further their education or personal goals or find other ways to prove you have their best interests at heart.


My father might not have meant people when he spoke of caring for things I borrowed, yet the happiness and productivity of my employees proves that it’s good leadership advice. Your customers are your business, but your employees are the lifeblood of your company. It only makes sense to take care of them.


Read more: Culture of Caring : Impactful Initiatives That Keep Employees Invested



  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events