Leadership Lessons from the 1st American Saint

Today is the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. There is a deep connection between her and my chosen home of Baltimore because of the school and religious order she started here.

A few leadership lessons we can learn from St. Elizabeth.

  1. Be a lifelong learner. St. Elizabeth was an avid reader from the Bible to contemporary novels. Reading is a major life skill that feeds curiosity and the desire to learn.
  2. When in doubt, let the Gospels be your guide. This does indeed harken back to the “What Would Jesus Do” rage, but the underlying truth is the same.
  3. Despite the ups and downs of our work, ministry, and lives, God is constant and God’s calling to us is ever-present. Don’t lose hope and always listen for God’s voice.
  4. Family–of origin or by selection–is second only to God as a priority. Make sure your schedule and actions reflect that.

Virtues and Leadership–Hope

electionIn the post-election analysis, one commentator reminded the panel and viewers that we don’t know what a President Trump will be like–and that could be good.

His contention is this.

When people rise to unfamiliar levels of authority and leadership, something often changes. We Catholics have seen this up-close-and-personal in some of our bishops, who in becoming a new bishop, moving from auxiliary to Ordinary or from one place to the next, have displayed characteristics and behaviors that no one had really anticipated. For the good, too.

It is that virtue of hope, actively seeking the perfection of the Divine, that we need to cultivate and nurture in ourselves and in our leaders. There is a smidgen of humility that reminds us that we are pilgrims on the journey, fed by a hope that–in our nation’s case–will bring us together to raise everyone up.

Optimism is a somewhat stereotypical American trait. We need to cling to that optimism as we reach out to all of those who feel left behind, are on the margins, are misunderstood, or have been left out. We as leaders in our own communities must embrace and embody the virtue of hope as we move forward. Let us be “road warriors” on the journey.

Who Will Reap the Harvest?

harvestChange, change, change, change, change.

It’s a key driver in this year’s elections. And the one challenge put before most of us as leaders at some point in time.

As much as we want to be the one out front, leading the way from what was to what will be, the reality is, in most cases, we only sow seeds.

Great leaders know this. They know that most of what they try to accomplish will only be evident years after they leave their position. Politicians take advantage of this sometimes, highlighting the changes that happen during their years in office when, in fact, their predecessor’s decisions were often the ones that forged the current path.

The truth is, the harvest is for others to reap.

Ministry with teens is one of the best examples of this. As I look back at my years of teaching in an all-girls’ Catholic high school and subsequently as a volunteer in my parish’s youth ministry program, we adults knew that we had four years–and in some cases, fewer–to sow the seeds of faith, hope, and love (ah, yes, the theological virtues!) in the hopes that there would be a harvest.

As each graduating class of seniors departed, there was an internal tug-of-war–what more can we do to keep them connected versus just letting them go free in the hope that the seeds would take root and they would find a “home” in their faith and the Church.

Social media has been the greatest friend to this “sower.” With it, I have been able to follow the lives of our “kids” (many of whom now have their own kids). And I’ve been able to share in their joys and sorrows, and watch how the seeds we planted have fared.

Some fell on rocky ground. Some fell among weeds. But some fell on good soil, took root, and have grown and flourished.

So, in a society that seems to grow more impatient and a culture that demands immediate gratification, what are we to do? Remember and practice the theological virtues so that we may teach them in both our words and deeds.

As Jesus shows us, faith is not something that we go from not having to having. It develops over time through prayer and action. While we are conditioned in our culture to connect hope with wanting things, hope is an attitude that looks to the future, but walks with others in the present (think the familiar poem, “Footsteps.”) And love comes through the care we take in the sowing and feeding so that there may be a harvest.

Being a sower is what we are called to. When you have the opportunity to harvest, thank God for those who came before you and tended the fertile ground and planted that seed. And ask God for support to those who will come after you to tend what you have planted.

 

 

Ties That Bind

DallasOne of the advantages of working from home is that when major news events happen, I have the freedom to be present when they are live.

The interfaith memorial service for the 5 men who died in Dallas last Thursday was one of those such occasions.

President Obama’s reflection repeated the phrase, “We know this . . . ”

As a leader, he reminded us all that we only know the experience of others when we have empathy, when we can stand in the feet of another. It is that ability that binds us to each other and ultimately allows us to hope — to hope with our God who assures us He will be with us in all of the highs and lows of our lives.