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The Way Forward: Addressing a Catholic Failure to Be Outcome-Oriented While Over-Emphasizing Thought Leadership

By Peter Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 13, 2010

As Catholics we are trained to reflect on the wisdom of the ages. We study the life of Christ and the history of the Church. We read the writings of the Saints. We study philosophy and theology. These things are important to understanding our Faith and deepening our knowledge of God and His works. We learn in order to make critical distinctions, and to teach others to do the same.

Those who take their Catholic development seriously—and would like to establish themselves as leaders (in various roles)—need to be wary of a common temptation. We must avoid remaining in the role of the critical observer, overemphasizing our own intelligence and over-focusing on the prevailing conditions around us. Rather, we must think and act in an outcome-oriented manner so as to achieve the greatest degree of success and participate fully in Christ’s sanctifying work.

Too many of us, who put ourselves in the position to form critical judgments about society and the current state of the Church, proceed always with sword and shield. We want to be recognized as “defenders of the Faith”—the authority, the voice of truth. Too often, the result is that those “on the outside” feel the attack of the sword and the defense of the shield, but never find the love that is at the heart of Christ’s message.

By writing this, I do not mean to suggest that the purity of the Church is not worth defending—quite the opposite is true. We need to take critical stands on critical issues.

But the world is in deep need of healing. Take the time to peel back the layers of an adversary (not with a sword), and often you will discover deep wounds (emotional, intellectual, and spiritual) that need to be healed—none of which will be remedied with cold steel. The person in error is more than his position, he is an entire person. Christ taught us to embrace the person, not to stand on a pedestal and hammer away. When we behave so, we establish our own fortresses and become immovable—neither retreating nor advancing towards the proper goals.

This is a failure on many fronts, only one of which I will be focusing on in this article: we fail to be “outcome-oriented”—and an aspect of this failure is our overemphasis on “thought leadership”.

Too often learned Catholics are “feature-oriented” or “program-oriented” rather than outcome-oriented”—we fail to keep firmly fixed in our minds (1) what a civilization of love looks like and (2) what a saint looks like.

The benefit of keeping these outcomes firmly in mind is that the landscape between the current point and the destination becomes clearer. Love, humility, and meekness are begotten through the practice of those virtues. These are our primary responsibilities in building the Kingdom. Sometimes we forget this, and the shortest distance between Point A and Point B becomes unnecessarily lengthy as we wander from the path, or step aside from it altogether. We get bogged down in skirmishes and fail to act strategically.

A few pertinent observations/comparisons from my business experience:

Studies have shown that organizations (and individuals within organizations) that are outcome-oriented are more successful than their peers. This encompasses all forms of business (including non-profits and government.) From a recent study of professional service firms, pertaining to outcome-orientation:

Average firms, for instance, focus on the economy and competition. This sounds reasonable enough, but it’s not where top performers put their time and energy. Top management at high growth firms concentrate instead on marketing and managing growth. Instead of worrying about the market, they focus on growth. Interesting choice.

I relate this to when we Catholics focus so much on establishing the “critical observer” role, and the adversarial circumstances surrounding our current position, that we actually forget to be outcome-oriented.

Part of the lack of outcome-orientation is a byproduct of the overemphasis of “thought leadership”. Studies have also shown that average companies show a greater affinity to “thought leadership” than their more successful peers. From a recent study:

Upon, closer examination, we discovered that what many firms call thought leadership is often so technical and esoteric that it sails over their clients’ heads. It’s as though they are saying, “Look how smart we are!” You can just picture the glazed-over looks they get. Of course they’re smart. They are professionals—everyone assumes they are technically competent.

When high growth firms invest in though leadership, however, they address issues of greater relevance to their target audiences... They care less about impressing their peers. So while high growth firms may emphasize thought leadership less, they tend to do it right.

Again, it is important to establish the characteristics and abilities of a critical observer (thus being able to distinguish between right and wrong, and weigh the value of various goods), but not as important to focus on establishing a recognized position as the critical observer—which so many of us do, whether we realize it or not.

The desired outcome for a successful professional service firm is the success of its clients, not the demonstration of its own intelligence. The desired outcome of evangelization is conversion, not the demonstration of our own thought leadership. A consulting firm does not conquer its clients; we do not conquer our converts.

If we are overly focused on ourselves and our expertise, we will never meet with the largest amount of success. Just as organizations should not desire to be merely average, so God does not call us to be mediocre. Saints are not mediocre people. We need to provide a high value, be high performing, and generate a high reward (but not for us).

I offer this article as a reflection for those (myself included) who are trying to put their learning to good use through Catholic leadership. Remember, the payout is not being recognized as the critical observer—the payout is the kingdom of God. Let’s continue to be truly outcome-oriented so that we can continue to move forward, and properly show others the way.

The quotes in this article are from Spiraling Up: How to Create a High Growth, High Value Professional Services Firm.

Peter Mirus is a business, marketing, and technology consultant with more than 20 years of experience working with companies and nonprofits, ranging from start-ups to large international organizations. From 2004-2014 he contributed articles on the Catholic Faith, culture, and business to the website.
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  • Posted by: bnewman - Oct. 19, 2010 10:31 PM ET USA

    Yes, we should remember the desired outcome.There is something very important being said here: “Only real concern for the other caries conviction?” It would be hard to get that right. One might lose the argument in this process. I would like to hear more on this topic.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 17, 2010 9:49 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Peter! We are to be laborers in the vineyard, not sitting on the fence criticizing the planting process. Many well-meaning Catholic blogs are so polemical it's impossible to feel any love. We know now from Pew Research that most Catholics(surveyed) had little knowledge of their faith. Amazing that Catholics have never been better educated but just can't seem to learn about Catholicism! Perhaps a homily from Rome on willful ignorance is in order... God bless you.

  • Posted by: marttywinston6762 - Oct. 15, 2010 7:57 PM ET USA

    Interesting, but lacking in concrete examples. For example: Should a pastor be a no-compromise preacher, driving away the lukewarm? Or, should he omit the 'hard' sayings of Christ, hoping they will sink in with time and spiritual maturity? This seems to have something to do with the 'pastoral' approach.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 15, 2010 6:52 PM ET USA

    Great observation, Mr. Mirus. It is another element of the Incarnation. God's Word isn't merely thought but terminates in Love, and becomes flesh as the ultimate orientation to outcomes.