What is the relationship between leadership, accountability, and Catholic identity?
Father Thomas More took on this question in the first keynote lecture of the fall 2017 Network conference. Father began his talk by discussing the difference between private and public persons. Private persons, such as the general student body, speak and represent themselves alone whereas public persons such as members of student government, represent not only themselves, but also their peers, organization, and school.
As public persons, our thoughts and actions are more visible and therefore more open to criticism than those of other students. As leaders, we have a greater influence on others and use this to inspire others to rise to the same standard or encourage them to do the opposite. With great power comes great responsibility - the responsibility to use the opportunity we’re presented in a leadership position for the good. Therefore, it is important that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than if we were just representing ourselves.
This leadership by example applies also to the Christian life. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth…are the saints and the beauty that the faith has generated.” As we strive to be living saints, our good example creates a powerful witness to the value of a life grounded in Christ and his teachings.
The life of Saint Thomas More exemplifies this idea. Saint Thomas More might be best known for his instructive writings, but his writings gained a certain weight because they were the same beliefs expressed through his actions. Thomas More spoke first with his actions, and secondly with his words. When we live a life that witnesses to the teachings of Christ, we show that not only do we take our beliefs seriously, but that our beliefs are worth living out.
We have a lot of responsibility as leaders and recognize that this role takes on additional significance as Christians. We also know that we aren’t perfect. This is where the need for accountability comes in. As humans suffering the effects of original sin, it is only too apparent that we will stray from the straight and narrow at some point. That’s why it’s important to recognize that we need a community of friends and peers that can encourage us, support us, and hold us accountable for our actions as we make our way through life’s journey.
As members of the Network, we strive to be this community for each other. It is only in realizing our role as Christian leaders on our campus and having a community to hold us accountable that we can embody the Catholic spirit that makes our schools great.
Q&A with Fr. Thomas More
What are the characteristics of a person we should ask feedback from?
Find someone who disagrees with you. It is essential for a good leader to seek out different perspectives in order to see things in a different light. Also, look to people of strong character who will offer wise and well-balanced advice.
How can we as students remain virtuous in a world seemingly devoid of it?
Examine your convictions - read books, discuss ideas, and be around people who disagree with your beliefs so that you are challenged to think more critically about them. At the same time, it is extremely important to find those who you do agree with and be part of a community that supports each other when others tear you down.
Underage drinking is often times in our culture and on our campuses. What can we do to address this?
See this as a challenge to put on an event that’s more fun and enjoyable than the alternative. Don’t be afraid to have a social event that competes timing-wise with these parties. Don’t underestimate the power of community - do what they do, but better.
Sometimes administrators and faculty have a hard time seeing the goodness in the students. What can we do about this?
It is unfortunate when administrators and faculty lose faith in the good intentions of the students. The best way to combat this is to remind ourselves that at the end of the day, we all desire to do good. It is easy to criticize and often hard to presume the good intention of the other. Both attitudes become show forth in our actions. When we presume the good intentions of the other we are able to have more respectful and fruitful interactions with the other. Even if this effort is not acknowledged, we should not be discouraged and must remind ourselves that we can only control our own actions and not those of others.