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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action


The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President
President's message
Patrick B. Sullivan  DPA, M.Div.,
Authentic Leadership

For the past several months, my research has focused on the idea of authentic leadership.  This is a fairly recent development in the leadership literature.  The primary source of this concept is an article published by Gardner and Avolio in 1998.  According to Walumbwa et al, authentic leadership is 

A pattern of leader behavior that draws on and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced process of information and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self-development. (Walumbwa, et al. 2008, p. 94)  

This stands in contrast to earlier concepts of leadership.  During most of the 20th century, the accepted model was Transactional Leadership.  In this practice, the tools of management or leadership include motivation by reward/punishment, teams were to obey leaders, and teams were closely monitored and controlled.  This was viewed as generally effective because of the types of organizations involved.  If teams or employees were expected to engage in repetitive behaviors with little need for creativity or problem-solving, then the process of compliance was all that was needed.  

As the 21st century came upon us, people in leadership recognized that a different model was necessary.  So they began researching to observe what seemed to work.  There were several iterations including charismatic, transformational, ethical, and ideological leadership.  These each offered some promising results.  However, they were either too limited in their applicability or lacked a balance between process and outcomes.  What Gardner and Avolio discovered is that the root of successful leadership lay in its authenticity.  If leaders are truly both self-aware and other aware, they would influence the organization to achieve its optimal capacity.  This proved especially the case when facing the complex problems of the age.  

Fred Luthans added a crucial piece to authentic leadership by noting that organizations that build on what he calls "psychological capital" or PsyCap were more likely to experience the best results.  At the core of PsyCap is the acronym HERO, which stands for Hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism.  If the authentic leader uses these as a guide for interacting with the members of the organization, it was more likely they would adopt similar values and the organization would thrive.  

It has occurred to me that authentic leadership is truly what we find in the gospel.  Jesus of Nazareth displays these same attributes.  First, he is clearly authentic in that he focuses on being self-aware and other aware.  We see this in his compassion and when he relates to those who are different, including the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) at the well and the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13).  Second, he certainly applies the principles of HERO in his interactions with his disciples.  The message of the Christ is one of hope (Mark 9:23).  Not a hope that is caught up in wishful thinking but a constant message that all will be well.  I suppose one might have difficulty seeing how efficacy comes into play.  However, we can see this when he sends his disciples out (Mark 6:7-13).  He teaches them principles that will be most effective in reaching the people in the communities they visit.  Resilience is what we see in his responding to critics and ultimately in is endurance on the cross, pointing to his Resurrection.  Optimism is the message of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10).  When one is blessed, it announces that those who are peacemakers and poor in spirit are ultimately successful.

When I think of the leadership of the institutional church, I must admit that I find very little in the way of authentic leadership.  Rather, it occurs to me that the style is far more transactional.  The tools of the prelates and the various offices of the Vatican are far more about rewards and punishments.  Such is the case, for example, in the oaths of fidelity requirement imposed on the Redemptorist priest, Fr. Tony Flannery.  I can say from my own experience of going through seminary absolutely confirmed the practice that teams must obey the leaders.  Obedience rose to the top in my interactions with seminary leadership and bishops.  Teams are certainly monitored for compliance.  This is not just a matter of prelates.  We have numerous individuals and organizations who are committed to policing everyone in the church to be sure that they are loyal and stick to an expanded notion of dogma.

If our secular organizations can figure out that authentic leadership is the most appropriate for solving what they call "wicked problems" I see no reason that our own church can't see the same.  After all, what more challenging problem in this world can there be than to continue the mission of bringing about the Reign of God?  We have been given the best example of authentic leadership.  It is about time that we become faithful followers and incorporate this throughout the church.  This means that we are all called to live out HERO lives.  The People of God have the right to authentic leadership and not archaic command and control 


Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA, M.Div.
President, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church
Director. Profession

Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church

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