The 29th Annual Sterling Awards, which honored excellence in micro business, small business, big business and nonprofits, was a rousing affair. Themed by Merestone, the Valley’s finest event production company, this superhero event could not have been more appropriate.
Twelve great firms were honored as finalists — and one finalist from each of the four categories was named an honoree.
When one looks at what ends up separating the good from the great — and every finalist we can deem great — the word “stewardship” comes to mind. In many ways an overused word that has lost some of its meaning, stewardship in its truest sense has become a standard for Sterling and a standard for the best in business.
In a business context, stewardship takes many forms. Community stewardship is the commitment of a company to be “of” a place rather than simply “in” it. Employee stewardship implies that the leadership of a company is keenly interested in the well-being, success and general happiness of its employees. Financial stewardship means that company protects and enhances its value. Customer stewardship is demonstrated when the focus is less about transactions and more about forging relationships and building loyalty. These parts together remain the components for the broader term “stewardship,” but a truly successful company works on all four as priorities.
So, from where does a complete sense of the culture of stewardship spring? In simple terms, stewardship comes from the top. Whether a tiny business or a major corporation, the person on top defines the priorities and drives the culture. Great leaders listen more than they speak. Great leaders genuinely listen to the opinions of the lowest persons on the food chain of a firm with equal enthusiasm as those of top executives. I have never trusted a leader who doesn’t know the names of those employees whom he or she passes every day. And I have always believed that the CEO of most successful companies occasionally serves as its highest-paid janitor. A great leader picks up the candy wrapper in the parking lot rather than expecting someone else to do so.
Great stewards are great leaders, and great leaders build great companies. During challenging times, it is easy to set stewardship aside in favor of dealing with the here and now. Business cycles create new fires to put out, new business to be gained, savings on expense lines and stress. I would contend that those who succeed best in down times are those who, against all odds, maintain that posture of stewardship. No one in business is alone, even if self-employed, and it is through maintaining a philosophy of stewardship that a business can weather the inevitable storms.
The Sterling Awards are about stewardship. The finalists and honorees all have great leaders who every day work to demonstrate the four facets of stewardship. We could not be more proud to honor them.
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