BY: MARY KATHRYN GRANT, PhD
Dr. Grant is executive director, Ministry Leadership Development, Catholic Health Association, St. Louis.
Turning on my computer the other day, I found an advertisement for a new book
on e-commerce: The X-Economy, by Theodore Koulopoulos. An excerpt from
the book said, "The x-economy is a community, not a market . . . [and
it is] built on trust, not transactions." It went on to say that "if
exchanges are to replace, much less outpace, today's methods of doing business,
they must provide a trusted community" [emphasis added].
"Provide a trusted community"! That advice would seem to apply more aptly
to Catholic health care than it does to e-commerce. One of our ministry's more
critical current needs is a deeper understanding of a theology of community
and the common good. The ministry needs workplaces that are trusted communities — trusted
by both the communities beyond our walls, which we serve, and those within them,
which are made up of those who do the serving.
We live in an age of "dialogue training," "relationship rescue," difficult
conversations, "transformative" language, all of which are popular topics for
workshops, lectures, books, and Oprah-like TV shows. These phenomena — which
promise to teach us skills in developing community, identifying common ground,
and restoring the common good — are nowadays unavoidable. All are evidence of
a strong hunger for community.
Strip mall Starbucks and Barnes & Noble cafes, in which people congregate
and seek familiar faces, have replaced the corner drugstore hangout. The instant
messenger is a very popular feature of e-mail provider services. And almost
all online learning, even predominantly asynchronous courses, has a communitarian
component, ranging from chat rooms to simple e-mail. In fact, a growing number
of studies describe how successful communities can and must be created in cyberspace — a
testament to the human need for connectedness.
Granted, the phrases "community" and "common good" are often misunderstood and
frequently carry a lot of mixed baggage. For religious women and men, the word
"community" often conjures up memories of the struggles involved in communal
living and the negative feelings that concept carries for some people. However,
a negative reaction to the words does not negate the pressing need for the reality.
So what does this have to do with leadership development? In today's health
care environment, and particularly in our faith-based ministry, community and
a seeking of the common good are clearly imperatives. These imperatives can
be demonstrated in many ways.
As has been observed repeatedly, the complexity of today's health care world
demands the full collaboration of many and varied parties and perspectives.
Mission-based discernment, integrated strategic planning and quality improvement
efforts all require interdisciplinary teams focusing on the best alternatives
for the community served. Self-interest yields to common good. Mutual accountability
draws out the best from each contributor — creating trusted communities.
The skills required to create and sustain these trusted communities are leadership
skills in the truest sense. They require the integration of personal attributes
and values with finely honed business and professional skills. They require
inner reflection, spiritual practice, and professional skill building.
The May-June issue of Health Progress contained a special section,
"The Ties That Bind," that looked at the factors enabling a health care merger
or consolidation to succeed. Informal wisdom suggests that good relationships
and efforts to form trusted communities are predictors of good outcomes for
such transactions. Moreover, a spirit of holding the assets of the ministry
"in common" in the name of the church facilitates consolidation for the common
good. (This is an aspect of "community" and the "common good" that deserves
its own exploration, beyond the scope of this column.)
The Context of Community
The compelling need for community and common good plays itself out in many other
arenas as well. For example, there is increasing pressure on physicians to move
from an ethic of individual patient-centered medicine to more of a community-centered,
social ethic, which involves seeing patients and their care in the context of
their community. Each of these examples represents a dramatic shift that must
be supported by the strength of trusted communities.
Three recent CHA efforts have recognized this need for community:
- An attempt to arrive at a common definition of sponsorship
and to identify its core characteristics, one of which is community
- The Mission-Centered Leadership Competency Model, with
its underlying realization of the need to create communities of persons committed
to a common mission
- A shared statement of identity, with its emphasis on
the common good
Liturgical readings for the days following Easter describe the community formed
by the first Christians as they struggled to find meaning in the events that
had just occurred. We are told a few things about their efforts: namely, that
they held all things in common, that they upheld and supported one another,
and that they awaited in hope the fullness of Christ's promise — as trusted and
trusting communities. We have that same opportunity today.
After my first column appeared in the March-April issue edition of Health
Progress, I received a letter from a reader who poignantly asked: How are
persons like myself, charged as we are with leadership development, to meet
our own development needs? The answer lies, in part, in community. In
the spirit of community, I therefore invite readers of this column to share
their experiences and suggestions, by either e-mail or regular mail. I promise
to share a summary of the ideas in a later column.
Copyright © 2001 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.