Moral and Ethical Leadership

Around the world, people are talking about the leadership style of Pope Francis. Last Tuesday’s discussion on Morals and Ethics in Leadership with Father Mike Russo was no exception. The final installment in a semester-long series featured two prominent Catholic leaders—Saint Mary’s President James Donahue and Diocese of Stockton Bishop Stephen E. Blair.

President Donahue spoke of Pope Francis as a man in tune with his people—a key quality for a leader. “His mode is primarily a pastoral mode. He touches where people are, and speaks to the truth and reality of where people are.”

Another key quality, Donahue cited, is the Pope’s authenticity, his willingness to admit he his human. “He's been very clear in talking about having learned from his mistakes. You can learn from your mistakes if you have a narrative in which mistakes are a part of the story.”

Bishop Blair agreed that the Pope’s leadership style is effective. “The first thing he did was to ask people for their blessing. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a sign of something different that’s going to happen.’” What’s different, he said, is the way the Pope spreads the joy of the Gospel by speaking from personal experience. “He knows the street life, the pain of the people. He is able to take the truth of our faith and bring it down to our everyday experiences.”

Both President Donahue and Bishop Blair shared their own tips for leadership, formed by their personal experiences. Donahue drew on his time as a professor of ethics and theology. “Ethics is the arena in which all of life's issues come together,” he said, asking the audience to consider two fundamental questions. “Who am I – and who ought I to be?” He said once you start thinking in these terms, they permeate everything you do.

Bishop Blair touched on the importance of humility. Even as a high school administrator, he taught at least one class so he wouldn’t forget what it was like to be in the classroom or to lose his connection with the students.

When it comes to handling criticism, both men agreed that it’s one of the byproducts of leadership. “You often find yourselves at the receiving end of criticism, people's agitation, whatever it is. The challenge is not to make decisions to be liked,  but to make decisions because it’s the right thing to do,” said Donahue.

A strong faith in God forged the leadership styles of both men. Donahue remembered the powerful question his Jesuit teacher posed to him during his senior year in high school. “I was 18. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. He said ‘what do you think you're called to do and who are you called to be? What values do you hold and where is God in your life?”’

Bishop Blair agreed that the foundation for his morals and ethics comes from his faith. “Once you have a realization of how much you are loved by God, that flows immediately into love for your neighbor and love for the poor.” He ended by saying he prays every day for the gift of wisdom. “Sometimes the answers are not clear and you simply have to pray and ask God to help you with your decision.”