When I was a kid, I remember when "the Cardinal" came to town. This guy was in charge of every church in Philadelphia, and even knew the Pope. He donned a regal black and red cloak and wielded a staff as if he was going to the fight The Foot Clan.
You could imagine how honored I was a few years later when I got invited to represent my grade school for a symposium hosted by this very Cardinal. Cardinal Bevilacqua not only looked the part with his staff and cloak, he played the part of someone to look up to, a leader, preaching anti-violence to all us young 'uns.
It seemed my leadership spidey-sense had failed me as a 10-year-old. This Cardinal had lead a city-wide cover up of over 30 priests who were accused of sexual abuse. Including a priest at my school.
An unspeakable tragedy. But an outlier, a freak incident with a rogue Cardinal, surely.
Until the news broke about my alma mater Penn State. In this case, so many people in leadership positions, so many times the buck was passed. I remember my mother saying, "This story is a carbon copy of the Philadelphia priest scandal."
And then the news broke about a third alma mater of mine, Holy Ghost Prep. This past week, the private, Catholic high school's administration made a "difficult" decision to fire a teacher because of his plans to have a same-sex marriage.
Letting the disappointment and colorful language subside, I needed to reflect on what was really going on here. These institutions are not inherently evil, but they were making some awful, awful decisions.
Amidst the three scandals, I tried to focus on the response of the Headmaster of Holy Ghost Prep, and his use of the adjective "difficult" to describe his decision and the "we have no choice but to..." phrasing we so often hear in these situations. A-ha!
It struck me that all of my alma maters suffered from the same problem: they were being lead by those who aren't leaders.
Leaders are called upon to make difficult decisions. Without a doubt, that is THE determining factor of what constitutes a leader. Never has a leader achieved greatness through a series of simple choices, nor do they shirk responsibility for the consequences. Look no further than this past week - we lost a great leader in Nelson Mandela, who forgave those who imprisoned and tortured him for over 25 years.
That was a difficult decision.
In regards to the Holy Ghost Prep decision, I'd rather not make a judgement on the decision on ethical or moral grounds. Plenty have and can shed light on that.
What I will do is question the administration's leadership abilities - regarding the way the decision was made and how they communicated this decision:
- Leaders do not cite long-standing policies in employee handbooks. Leaders create their own conversation.
- Leaders don't hide their decisions, leaders own them.
- Leaders do not communicate difficult decisions with a "we have no choice," they respond with "This is our decision because…"
- Leaders do not focus on what has been done, they focus on what should be done.
- Leaders do not do what is easy, they do what is right.
There are many people leading us from positions of power, maybe in a black and red cloak or a Madiba shirt, here's to making sure that those of us who lead are leaders.
*Nod to The Onion's "Area Man" series - totally used their idea for my title.