A common interpretation of Pope St. John Paul II’s work identifies four aspects of the feminine genius: receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. FemCatholic has been exploring these aspects and what they bring to the world and workplace, in a series that began with receptivity and continued with sensitivity. Next up: generosity.
Leading Through Serving
In her book “Embracing Edith Stein,” Anne Costa identifies servant leadership as one way women can live out their generosity (58), one that she has used in her own career. The term “servant leadership” was first used by Robert K. Greenleaf in a 1970 essay, “Servant as Leader”; he spent the rest of his career elaborating on the concept and consulting with other leaders on it. Today, the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership defines it as “a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”
Servant leadership, according to the Center, is a natural desire and a conscious choice. Like the feminine genius, it is both an inclination that we are born with and a skill that we must cultivate. Most of us feel the desire to help others, and women especially often feel a strong pull toward helping others grow and flourish. However, we are a fallen people, and human weakness often interferes. Without exercising the generosity muscle, it atrophies.
A Natural Leadership Style
Some research suggests that servant leadership is a natural leadership style for women, perhaps more so than for men. In one recent survey of leaders’ peers, managers and direct reports, female leaders outscored male leaders in several areas. Those areas included what the researchers described as “nurturing” competencies but what are also, arguably, “generous” competencies: developing others, building relationships, inspiring others, demonstrating integrity, and collaborating and working as a team.
Another study specifically examined gender differences in servant leadership among school principals and found that women self-reported the use of significantly more characteristics of servant leadership than men did, such as building consensus and healing relationships. In a review of multiple studies, Anthony H. Normore, an educational leadership professor, wrote, “Transformational leadership is the preferred leadership style used by women. The characteristics of transformational leadership relate to female values developed through socialization processes that include building relationships, communication, consensus building, power as influence, and working together for a common purpose.”
In other words, women’s leadership styles seem to be caused by both nature and nurture — the feminine genius, our own individual genetic makeup, the unique personalities God gave us, and the culture in which we are raised.
Women’s leadership styles seem to be caused by both nature and nurture — the feminine genius, our own individual genetic makeup, the unique personalities God gave us, and the culture in which we are raised.
Becoming a Generous Leader — Even If You’re Not a Manager
In her book “Daring Leadership,” Brené Brown, a researcher and leadership trainer, defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential” (p. 4).
As Catholic women — indeed, as Catholic humans — we are called to see the potential in others and to help nurture it when we can. Here are a couple ways we can be generous leaders in the workplace, regardless of our job title:
“Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service,” wrote St. Teresa of Calcutta in “A Simple Path” (p. 114). “Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs in the moment.” Mother Teresa served the poor, tirelessly it seemed. But she also made time for prayer. In fact, she said, “Without prayer I could not work for even half an hour.”
Technically, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity could spend more time with the poor if they spent less time in prayer and adoration. But would that time be well spent? Prayer is the foundation of their work, and it should be for ours, too — even if that work is writing email copy, managing payroll or negotiating contracts.
For instance, how much would it benefit my work if I began each article I wrote or edited with a simple prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit; guide my words”? Even if the piece I’m working on isn’t directly related to a Christian topic, who knows what kind of change those words could make on a heart if they are guided by the Holy Spirit?
Writing for Catholic Answers, Mary Jo Anderson said women’s “natural generosity, a weapon against dehumanizing scientism, is manifested when women emphasize the social and ethical dimensions to balance the scientific and technological achievements of mankind.”
Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds, from everyday applications like virtual communication and social networking to the more frightening emerging areas like “designer babies.” All of these applications have potential negative ramifications, and women’s generosity can help rehumanize work.
Women’s generosity can help rehumanize work.
We don’t need to work in a high-tech industry to help provide this balance. Do you work in finance? Make sure the balance of profit and client support is right. Do you work in marketing? Keep an eye on the balance of privacy and audience development. There are endless ethical questions that come up in any workplace, and feminine generosity can ensure that the focus is always on the human person first.
Research has found that women tend to have higher emotional intelligence than men. It’s important that we use this trait to balance the (still important) traits that men bring to the leadership table. By combining the feminine and masculine geniuses, we can create organizations that not only turn a profit but that are generous in caring for their employees, customers and communities, too.
When Leaders Wash Feet
A few years ago, my parish asked me to be one of the parishioners whose feet the priests washed on Holy Thursday. I said yes with excitement and some trepidation. Having your feet washed — by your pastor, no less — in front of a whole congregation sounds a little uncomfortable. But seeing the pastor, who is usually standing at the altar, preaching to me, demonstrate his love and service to the parishioners by kneeling at our feet and washing them, was a beautiful experience.
The savior of the world knelt down next to his apostles and washed their feet, showing them that while He was their Lord, He was also their friend — and friendship involves generous service. The epitome of servant leadership, Jesus Christ is the inspiration we should follow as women to cultivate our instinct for generosity in the workplace.
The epitome of servant leadership, Jesus Christ is the inspiration we should follow.
This article is part of a series on how we can live out the feminine genius in the workplace, focused on four aspects: receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity.