Catholic women learn about value of leadership Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Thursday, Jul. 02, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

First in a series.

MADISON -- In her keynote address at the Madison Diocesan Council of Catholic Women's (MDCCW) annual convention June 17, M. Elizabeth Tardola of Beloit stated that she wanted to share some thoughts on women and leadership.

She began by saying that, at a recent, local, mixed-gender meeting of Catholics on the subject of social justice within the Church and community, one attendee, a woman, referring to the role of women within the paternal hierarchy of the Church, said that today's Church of the 21st century could not function without all the work that women perform and contribute to its success. Then everyone, including men, nodded and openly agreed.

Equal but different
What is the MDCCW?

The Madison Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (MDCCW) is an organization open to all  Catholic women in the Diocese of Madison.

Their mission statement says that the organization "acts through its members to support, empower, and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership, and service. MDCCW programs respond with Gospel values to the needs of the Church and society in the modern world."

The theme of the annual convention, hosted by the Lafayette Deanery and held June 16 and 17 at the Bishop O'Connor Center in Madison, was "We are Women of Faith, Women of Hope, Women of Action."

Bishop William Friend's reference to leadership in the Church today stated that it must be expressed in view of the cultures, the times, and the needs of the people of the day. Leadership must liberate people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way. "We are all equal -- we just have different functions. Some lead; some follow, but the institution needs both."

Tardola admitted that like the evolving Church, MDCCW, too, must have leadership that focuses on power as working with, not being in charge of. That means empowering others to implement the vision and mission of the organization. These last few years have witnessed tremendous movement in the area of women's leadership with the March 2009 International Conference in Rome on the role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights.

A new feminism

Pope John Paul II called for a "new feminism" with the power to transform culture, imbuing it with a decisive respect for life. At the Pontifical Council for the Laity it was said that never before have women contributed so much, so often, and in so many areas of leadership.

Pope Benedict XVI said, "The genius of women to mobilize and organize endows them with the skills and motivation to develop ever-expanding networks for sharing experiences and generating new ideas."

At a recent meeting of the World Union of Women's Organizations, which includes almost 100 organizations in more than 60 countries, the president, Karen Hurley, indicated that their mission was to promote the presence, participation, and co-responsibility of Catholic women in Church and society in order for them to fulfill their mission of evangelization and to work for human development. Women are called to be signs of God's love by sharing their faith and offering hope to a world in need.

Tardola said that women's identity in the Church and in the world is significant. "As your theme indicates, 'We Are Women of Faith, Women of Hope, Women of Action.' It is only by beginning from the basis of what is created womanhood that can we understand the greatness of the dignity and vocation of women -- that is, woman's active presence in the Church and society.

"Women must be the promoters of a new feminism that, without falling into the temptation of copying macho models, is able to recognize and express the true feminine genius in all the manifestation of civil coexistence, working to overcome all forms of discrimination, violence, and exploitation."

The president of the Pontifical Council, Cardinal Renato Raffaelo Martino, contrasted the old and new feminism. He said, "At a time of profound transformation, women, illumined by the evangelical spirit, can do much to help humanity. They must lead in the discovery and promotion of a new feminism that underlines God's plan for human persons. The old feminism was based on egocentric individualism, often egotistical. The new feminism must be interlaced with love for life, for the family, for others; a feminism regulated by charity, the queen of virtues. A new feminism must be proposed which has as its objective a world of more justice and solidarity."

'The Speed of Change'

The speaker said she thought of the many changes and responsibilities that she and her colleagues have experienced. "The first thing that comes to mind is change. When it is proposed, women fear that change will affect them personally and hope it can be avoided. We have to recognize that change will continually take place. We need to prepare for those changes by mentoring others for leadership. We must change both as individuals and as council so that MDCCW may grow, remain vital, and never become stagnant."

In his work, Managing at the Speed of Change, Daryl Connor defines the challenges for leaders in times of transition. There are five steps going from change avoidance to change acceptance. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

In denial there is always the WHY? Why do we have to do it this way? Why wasn't the situation taken care of earlier? In anger we feel that we have been put on and that we have to do something that we did not plan for so then we are not happy. We want to know how the change will affect us. The "why" question has turned into the "how" question.

Bargaining is next. We say, "We have never done it this way" or "It is not going to work like that." This is a mistake. We have to move toward a compromise. Depression is next. We feel sorry for ourselves. We ask, "When will this change be over?" We could ask, "What can I do to help?" thus relieving the depression and moving from discomfort and confusion to positive feelings about what is happening.

The final step is the acceptance of the change. We focus on the challenges that must be overcome and the cooperation of our colleagues follows. We have finally come to grips that "change is going to come; change is coming; and change has come."

Leadership ability

Tardola explained that leadership ability determines a person's level of effectiveness. Although it is true that some people are born with greater natural gifts than others, the ability to lead is a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved.

In an article on professional intellect, it was noted that professional intellect can be defined very simply as "know-what, know-how, know-why, and care-why." Know-what is the knowledge of a discipline; know-how involves advanced skills; know-why is the ability to understand; and care-why is the will, motivation, and adaptability for success.

Tardola said there were five characteristics of leadership. Listening is the first one. Robert Greenleaf, founder of the modern servant leadership movement, indicates that the servant-leader listens intently and receptively to what people say. This action can also help the leader to get in touch with her inner voice.

In The One Minute Manager, Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson say, "Because you listen, you become influenceable, and being influenceable is the key to influencing others." John Maxwell, a leadership speaker and author, says that trustworthiness is very important for the successful leader. Trust makes leadership possible and to build trust, leaders must exemplify the three C's: competence, connection, and character.

Robert Greenleaf says that empathy and the law of respect are the next leadership characteristics. He said we should look for the good in people at all times. The most successful leaders are those who have become skilled emphatic listeners.

John Maxwell claims that respect is the highest level of leadership, not position, title, or gender. Strong leaders know they must earn respect.

Raising leaders

Since we are in a volunteer organization, we know that followers cannot be forced to get on board. They have to be influenced to do so.

John Maxwell said that it takes a leader to raise up a leader. "There are no limits to success when we do not limit people. The only way for a leader to truly succeed is to take a chance on people and to help them. An empowering leader should sing the praises of others."

Secure leaders who create an empowering environment provide benefits for people other than the leaders themselves. They look at others in the organization as valuable people with potential for not only contributing rich ideas but also accepting that one of the roles of leadership is to help others become more integrated and self-fulfilling people.

As people become empowered, they become more powerful. The environment involves a clear but challenging vision: an atmosphere of teamwork, clearly defined roles, and a supportive sense of security. Finally, leaders who don't possess a clear vision and communicate it will always have a difficult time empowering others.

Successful leadership

In summary, the CCW Manual gives a definition of the ideal leader in today's organizations: Ideal leaders in today's organizations have qualities that are basically Christian in concept. They inspire cooperation, encouraging every member of their organizations to be a team of winners rather than a select group with only a few of whom will get the top leadership positions. Every member of the team is equally important though roles and contributions may differ. Like disciples in the early Church, all members of an organization are respected for their individual roles (5-8).

It takes one to know one, show one, and grow one. In this age of a very educated laity, MDCCW is faced with the task of forging an organization with a new culture, a new set of values, and a new mission that takes the best from the old organization while representing an entirely fresh direction.

Tardola ended with two axioms for successful leadership. One is the best leader is one who takes blame for what goes wrong and gives credit to others for what goes right. Two is the good leader always looks for a way to say "yes" rather than using the position and power to say "no." Lastly, but certainly not of least importance, the willingness to stand and do what God had created you to do.

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