By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 10, 2011
“Servant leadership” may not be a term taught in business school, but it’s a foundation for the inaugural members of the Catholic Charities Atlanta Leadership Class.
More than 40 women and men in middle-management positions at metro area businesses are participating in this new program at Catholic Charities Atlanta. They are drawn from a variety of professions, from one of Atlanta’s biggest law firms and the banking industry to self-employed entrepreneurs.
“Being a part of the Catholic Charities organization helps put life in perspective and constantly reminds me to count my blessings. It reminds me on a daily basis to think from the perspective of ‘how can I help those in need’ and provide service to them,” said Julie Richardson, who has her own jewelry business.
As participants in the 2011 class, the business professionals will develop their leadership skills by hearing from executives from Fortune 500 firms and from academia on living their faith in a competitive business environment. They will also participate in a nine-month mentoring program with Catholic business leaders.
“You can be extremely successful and be a great leader but not necessarily give in on high ethics, high standards. Nor do you have to check your religion at the door,” said Matt Tovrog, a partner at Bell Oaks Executive Search and a member of the class. He attends Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta.
The program helps the up-and-coming business leaders while helping Catholic Charities Atlanta spread the word about its services.
“We are hoping this annual class of local Catholic leaders develops into a community of supporters with a shared vision of responsibility,” said Joe Krygiel, the organization’s chief executive.
“And through professional development, education, service, and active mentoring they become advocates for organizations like Catholic Charities Atlanta or other organizations in the community, where their time and talents can be of service to others,” he said.
Part of the challenge for class members is to raise $1,500 apiece for Catholic Charities. Some have started websites to raise the money, while others are soliciting funds from friends.
Ethics are a key component of doing business. And the leadership program will encourage the class members to think critically, relying on Catholic perspectives to address business ethics and, at the same time, developing tools to resolve those challenges.
Cindy Nofi, who sits on the Catholic Charities’ board of directors and is a co-leader of the leadership program, works as a vice president and senior private banker at a Fortune 500 bank. She’s seen conflicts between what the church teaches and the business world.
Nofi, a former religious education teacher at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, said “in the line of duty” she’s worked with clients who have different ethics. At those times, she’s had to be honest with herself and teammates and let colleagues take the lead.
“Sometimes being a servant leader means taking a step sideways or taking a step backwards to really understand what it means to serve another, whether a coworker or a client,” she said.
The goal of servant leadership is to treat employees as people, said Kelly Kener, the senior director of development and marketing at Catholic Charities Atlanta.
“It’s leading in a way that takes the individual into consideration. It’s finding ways to give of yourself,” she said.
Kener said the program appeals to two groups: established businesspeople who want to lead their employees from a Christian perspective and 25- to 40-year-olds who want to nurture their faith as they set their goals in the business world.
“They are strong in their faith, but they want to know how to succeed in the business world without compromising that,” Kener said about the younger group.
Tovrog said he appreciates the opportunity to network with peers who share common ambitions but also common concerns about balancing faith and business.
“It’s been a great group to get to know better,” he said.
On the Catholic understanding of servant leadership, Richardson said her name is attached to every piece of jewelry she sells, so she strives to maintain a high standard of integrity, faithfulness and loyalty. Richardson attends Christ the King Cathedral, Atlanta.
Tovrog said he understands the concept to mean putting others’ needs in front of his own. Members of the business community can show this type of leadership by example, “not necessarily preaching on it, but speaking through our actions,” he said.
Courtney Smith, the community affairs manager at Regions Bank, has participated in many leadership development programs, but this one is breaking new ground. Smith attends Simpson Street Church of Christ in Atlanta. He feared it’d be a stretch to gain something from this program since he is not Catholic, but he said the ideas have enriched him.
“You’re always developing as a leader. It is good to get different perspectives on leadership. This is a different opportunity of leadership with its focus on service,” he said.