An Encouraging Word — What we look for in a leader

I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. I Timothy 2:2

Fr. Ron Knott.2012-wIt is easier to criticize leaders than be one! With that said, when we accept a leadership role, we must accept the responsibility that goes with it. Visibility leads to vulnerability.

Sometimes we deserve the criticism we get, but I have always found it uncomfortable being a target for disappointed people, especially when their anger is projected onto me instead of onto those who earned it. That kind of “collateral damage” can be especially hurtful.

There seems to be a lot of talk lately about approval ratings of leaders in general. One news report said recently that our Congress had sunk to an all-time low approval rating of 10 percent. President Obama hovers near 50 percent.

What was most surprising was that our Catholic bishops have seen their approval rating jump nearly 20 percent over the past decade. Seventy percent of Catholics in America are very or somewhat satisfied with the leadership of U.S. bishops. That compares to 51% at the height of the child sex abuse scandal. It looks like we may have made some progress in dealing with that issue.

I find it comforting that, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 83 percent of Catholics are very or somewhat satisfied with the leadership of Catholic nuns and sisters, 82 percent are satisfied with their parish priest and 74 percent with their local bishops. Seventy-four percent were satisfied with Pope Benedict XVI. I would suspect Pope Francis has an even higher satisfaction rate at this point.

Here are a few random things that came to mind as I reflected on leadership, especially within the church.

There are two extremes to be avoided in exercising our leadership: authoritarianism (too much) and abdication of one’s rightful role (too little). Just as parents have to avoid these two extremes, being over-bearing or being too permissive, so do we. Leadership, rightfully exercised, is a service to the community.

One of the things that people look for in a leader is what is called the “Cincinnatus Factor.” Cincinnatus was the famous Roman General known for stepping aside and surrendering power at the top of his game. Pope Benedict XVI will probably go down in history as the pope who showed that kind of humility and courage.

Pope Francis has been talking a lot about “careerism” in the church, jockeying for higher positions in the structures of the church. Using especially strong language on one of his favorite themes, Pope Francis recently decried a plague of careerism among the clergy that makes them look “ridiculous.” He called it a “leprosy.”

“Either be saints or go back to the diocese,” he told students from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for future Vatican diplomats.

Finally, praise us when possible. Speak the truth to us with love at all times. Pray for us always!

Father J. Ronald Knott

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