The essence of Catholic leadership

Great leaders are able to harness the energies of a group of people, tap into their motivation to achieve something worthwhile, and focus that motivation upon a task that is worth their commitment. These abilities are the hallmark of all good leaders. Think of Pope John Paul II, Gandhi, Martin Luther King or even Simon McKeon, the 2011 Australian of the Year, according to Seeing Swans at Night.

If we define leadership in these terms, then it raises the question about whether there is any such thing as a distinctively Catholic kind of leadership. To put it another way, does being a Catholic make a difference to the way in which we lead? And to push this line of questioning even further: is it an advantage or a disadvantage to be a leader motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

My first response to these questions is to say that a Catholic leader (and paradoxically, only a Catholic leader) can truly say with the pagan playwright Terence (d. 159 BC) “Nothing human is alien to me”. 

This is because a Catholic leader knows that Jesus Christ reveals what it means to be truly human (Gaudium et Spes 22). This is the foundation of the inclusiveness that should mark every Catholic school, but it is also the litmus test of what must be rejected as incompatible with our true humanity. 

If as leaders in Catholic schools we do not regard Jesus as the model and exemplar of true humanity then we must ask ourselves what our alternative standard for truly human behaviour is. If leaders’ standards here are implicit and ill-thought out, then they run the risk of opting for a measure of true humanity that corresponds to the standards of the noisiest in our culture – the media and the market.

Our organisations also ought to be places where people want to work and make their contribution because the constant motivation for what we do is the love revealed in Jesus Christ and the dignity of every human being made in God’s image. 

There is such a thing as Catholic leadership, and it should make us the most effective leaders around. If our schools are not organisations that excel in producing men and women that are truly alive, then why aren’t they? And as truly Catholic leaders, what might we do about that?

FULL BLOG: Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Leadership? (Seeing Swans at Night)


Gaudium et spes

The Leadership Challenge (Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner)