Warriors and Stewards


Warriors and Stewards by Dr. Scott Yorkovich

Photo by Scott SM. Available at flickr.com.

Long before there was the country of China, there was the Qin Dynasty. Before the Qin Dynasty was the “Warring States Period.” This time lasted from 475 BC to 221 BC and the states of Yan, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Han, Wei, Qin, and others all fought for control of the region. Eventually, in 221 BC, King Zheng of Qin was victorious over each of his major rivals and he established control over a vast region, a significant portion of modern China. Zheng’s political power was solidified with the abdication of his prime minister and he created a new title for himself, Shi Huang, or “First Emperor.” It was Qin Shi Huang who oversaw the construction of Xianyang, his new capital city, and a 15 acre site that was his future burial mound. It was this site that contains the famous “Terracotta Warriors.”

I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this past Sunday to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit. It consisted of more than 100 artifacts as well as eight of the life-sized terracotta warriors and two horses. (In all there are several thousand warriors and more than 500 horses.) We waited in line for almost an hour to enter the exhibit and we spent an hour or more examining the many artifacts, reading the placards that explained them, and taking time to think about lessons from a very different time and place. It was an amazing experience and I encourage you to see the exhibit if it comes to your city.

Qin Shi Huang (pronounced “chin shee hwang”) ascended to the throne of Qin at the age of 9, during the Warring States Period. He was born into and became king in a time, place, and culture of war. Jia Yi, a Han Dynasty poet and statesman said, “Qin, beginning with an insignificant amount of territory, reached the power of a great state and for a hundred years made all the other great lords pay homage to it. “ So I don’t want to suggest that Qin Shi Huang was the one who initiated a great period of war and bloodshed. This was what his world was like when he was born and when he became king. However, contemporary historians do suggest he was very aggressive and absolute in his rule. At the age of 38, his military might unified the warring states, thus establishing the Qin Dynasty. The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China, but it lasted only 15 years (221 BC to 206 BC).

While the individual states were subdued and the Warring States Period had ended, the people of these states were not subdued. Jia Yi continues, “After [Qin] has become master of the whole empire… Its ruler, [Qin Shi Huang], died by the hands of men… Why? Because it had failed to rule with humanity and righteousness and to realize that the power to attack and the power to retain what one had thereby won, are not the same.”

Wow! What a powerful statement:
The power to attack and the power to retain what one had thereby won, are not the same.”

Most of us are not generals at war. We are not kings or emperors battling for supremacy over vast geographic regions. We are not presidents, prime ministers, or princes vying for control of vast resources and peoples. However, we are leaders who do engage in battles. We fight for resources. We negotiate for leverage. We persuade for favor. We advocate for change. But, rarely will our battles be recorded by historians and examined by students of leadership more than 2000 years into the future.

Nevertheless, Jia Yi’s words ring true for us, too:
The power to attack and the power to retain what one had thereby won, are not the same.”

The power to engage in organizational battle and the power to keep the spoils thereof are not the same.

I am reminded of a man I once worked for. He demanded loyalty and respect. I did work hard for the man and I was respectful to him. But I quit. (And so did several others.) He had the power to win the battle, but he was not able to keep the spoils.

I am also reminded of a practice I see on a regular basis in organizations. I see programs and policy changes implemented without the input and counsel of those expected to conduct the programs and implement the policies. Yes, the employees will do the work because they need the paycheck. But their heart is not in the work and often there is passive and unconscious sabotage of the program or policy. The organization attacked a problem, but they did not retain the benefits of a solution.

The reason for this problem is actually quite simple. The battle needs a warrior while the protection of the spoils of that battle requires a steward. The warrior must be tenacious, laser focused, and extremely high energy. This is the leader who sees a problem, spearheads the development of a solution, and rallies support for that solution. The steward, on the other hand, must be flexible, have a wide sweeping radar, and possess a calming spirit. This is the leader who understands a wide range of constituents, is able to anticipate challenges, and keeps multiple stakeholders happy.

It is my experience that you will rarely find both sets of attributes in the same person. It happens, but it is rare. Instead, you need a warrior humble enough to step aside at the right time and a steward aggressive enough to take the reins of power at the right time.

Which do you tend toward? Warrior or steward? Do you have the self-awareness to know and the humility to partner with others unlike yourself?

3 thoughts on “Warriors and Stewards

  1. Wow! Well said, Dr Yorkovich! As always, thanks for your insight. It always provides food for thought and helps me manage my kids (on a much smaller scale than employees in a corporation) with a little more finesse.

    I believe I worked for the same man you once worked for, yes?

    • I was thinking of a different “man” but I think there are some similarities and application of the principles for the person you have in mind. The truth, though, is that I think we all have times of being a warrior and times of being a steward. This is so despite what I said in the article about it being rare to find A person with both qualities. What I meant is that it is rare to find a single person with the positive application of both sets of qualities. I think I am a better steward than warrior, so when I get into warrior mode, it’s not good. The opposite might be true for others. Once again, it requires self-awareness to know which you are.

  2. Yes, in upcoming articles I may be addressing the topic of “Warriors and Stewards” further. Please keep reading and watch for that.

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