What one book changed your professional life?

This is the question for this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival, hosted by Nancy Schwartz.

It’s a tough one because there are so many books I could choose from over what is now a pretty long career.

But if I can only pick one, I’m going to pick Stewardship– choosing service over self-interest by Peter Block.

This book looks at leadership through the framework of stewardship, a word that I use frequently in my work with nonprofit organizations and appears as one of the three major board responsibilities I highlight in my board self-assessment book How are we Doing?

I was introduced to Block and Stewardship when I was working on my master’s degree in organization and management at Antioch University New England. I started the program at Antioch a few years after I went into consulting. It was a fabulous and challenging program that gave me a new lexicon for my work – and exactly what I needed to become a consultant after years working in the nonprofit sector. I particularly relished the extraordinary amount of self-reflection leading to self-knowledge the program demanded — so essential for any leader or change maker.

Reading Stewardship didn’t actually shift my values … instead, it was a bright illumination of my own thoughts about my role in life, about governance and management, about working in organizations and about serving my community. I’ve always been drawn to a life in the social change sector. Whether volunteering, working at a nonprofit, or serving nonprofits through my consulting practice, service has always been integrated into my life, never just an appendage to the other things that I do.

Stewardship introduced me to other books by Block. Most consultants know his seminal work Flawless Consulting. I’m a VERY big fan of The Answer to How is Yes, which I require my students to read at Simmons College and which has become a norm and a mantra in my consulting.

What makes Stewardship so meaningful for me? In Block’s words:

  • “Stewardship begins with the willingness to be accountable for some larger body than ourselves.”
  • “Genuine service requires us to act on our own account. We cannot be stewards of an institution and expect someone else to take care of us.”
  • “Stewardship is the choice for service. We serve best through partnership, not patriarchy. Dependency is the antithesis of stewardship and so empowerment becomes essential.”
  • Stewardship is “accountability without control.”

Block looks at leadership, management, governance, staffing, financial management… most aspects of organizational life… through the lens of stewardship. When I first read the book, it wasn’t a cakewalk for me, raising questions if this was just another framework for employers to shirk any obligations to their employees. But Block comes to that question from a different place: he digs deeper into the relationship of employee to boss in The Answer to How is Yes.

Now that I’ve pulled the book off the shelf and shared it with you, time to read it through once again. I hope you will too and that you’ll share your thoughts with me.

3 responses to What one book changed your professional life?

  1. Resource Round-Up, May 2011

    […] thinkers!  I know you’ll learn a lot from doing so.Thanks!Jim Berigan Gayle Gifford- What one book changed your professional life?Gayle Thorsen- Nonprofit video roars into 2011: Here are the trendsMarc Pitman- Learning social […]

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