Your authentic self at work

Authentic Leadership: Bringing Faith to Work

By Gerri Leder

What do leadership and spiritual faith have in common? How can leaders integrate their professional and personal selves to become authentic leaders? As a member of the Woodstock Business Conference, an organization of executives striving to integrate faith and business practice, I’ve been exploring this topic of authentic leadership.

Rev. James L. Connor S.J.*, a Jesuit priest, friend and mentor who has spent most of his career guiding business leaders to authentic leadership, founded the Woodstock Business Conference (WBC) at Georgetown University in the 1980s.  As a Jesuit, Fr. Connor follows the practices of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, who calls us to treat people with compassion, exercise fairness and seek a higher calling than profit alone.

Between theory and practice a shadow is often cast.  Even leaders who attend church on Sunday are challenged to bring their religious faith to business practice. All too many of us compartmentalize, Fr. Connor observes. “Church on Sunday, work on Monday – never the ‘twain shall meet.” What’s that about?

He’s got a point: Religion is “out” in management discussions, but bringing one’s values to the workplace is not.  Authentic leaders are guided by principles and values that dictate our conduct. When we set the tone for our organizations, our principles distinguish between constructive and destructive behavior, and as authentic leaders we act accordingly.

Fr. Connor codifies authentic or moral leadership as being guided by the Four M’s: Mindset, Mission, Motivation and Methodology. “The fundamental calling of moral leadership is to labor in a community living in peace and justice, truth and love, compassion and mutual care,” he says.

Let’s examine his 4M’s and see how they fit with authentic leadership.

Mindset of a Leader

How can we act with compassion and love, even in the heat of the moment or the rush of the transaction? That’s where mindset comes in. Leaders are expected to act with consistency and emotional discipline. Our thoughts and feelings control our actions, and at times, are hard to keep under control. Maintaining equilibrium after a particularly challenging interaction may require taking a break.  Recognize when you need a moment to pause and refresh in order to respond to situations with consistency, openness and equanimity.

Mission of a Leader

What are we called to DO? An authentic leader communicates an understanding of the company’s or department’s purpose and what it intends to do. Employees feel greater certainty of what’s expected of them when the mission has been clearly stated. The mission statement may be formal or informal as it states the purpose, intent and commitments of the organization, outlining what product or service the company delivers and by what service standards it operates.

Motivation of a Leader

Motivation is what moves us, attracts us, and even compels us to action.  Motivations cannot be obscured for long. We go for what we want, what we find appealing, what strikes us as worthwhile, valuable and satisfying.  The desires and outcomes we embrace make up our motivation. Our decisions reveal our motivations over time.

Methodology of a Leader

We are called on to make timely decisions based on facts, judgment, experience and values. The Jesuit methodology calls for “experience, reflection, decision and action” in a constantly cyclical and ongoing pattern. In our pattern of decision-making, what opportunity do we take to revisit a decision, evaluate and learn from our mistakes?

As authentic leaders, we recognize we are not perfect. We acknowledge our innate imperfection and have the opportunity to show up differently the next time. We renew our resolve through regular reflection and self-examination.

Fr. Connor shares essential steps to the Daily Examen, a Jesuit practice, through which a mindset of moral leadership and continuous improvement can be created.

  1. We quiet ourselves, express our gratitude and ask for guidance as we reflect on our day.
  2. What happened today?  We review the day (or week, month, etc.) to recall concrete instances of good and divine guidance and perhaps our less virtuous activity and influence of evil.
  3. How did we do today? We evaluate how we behaved in these instances: whether we collaborated for good or yielded to the influence of evil in some way. We express gratitude or regret according to the way we behaved.
  4. How can we do better? In our anticipation of the future, we resolve and reflect to improve our behavior.

Our work is a profession, a source of income, and indeed, it can be a vocation. The Jesuit way of life through self-reflection and the discipline of making course corrections to become leaders others want to follow is an example of how authentic leadership can be integrated more fully across all areas of our lives.

* This article is based on conversations and writings of Rev. James L. Connor, S.J., a theologian, teacher and scholar, a leader for faith and justice, and an expert in faith-based leadership. Fr. Connor is the founder of the Woodstock Business Conference, then at the Georgetown University Theological Center, and is former president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference in Washington, DC. He resides in Baltimore, MD.

Gerri Leder, founder of LederMark Communications & Coaching, helps leaders navigate change and seek greater fulfillment in their lives and their work. 

She is certified as an Energy Leadership Institute Master Practitioner (ELI-MP®) from iPEC, a leading coaching training organization. She has an MBA in Marketing from Loyola University in Maryland and BA in Journalism from the University of Richmond. She completed the Securities Industry Institute (SII) at the Wharton School of Business.

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