(Excerpted from Vincentian Life: Conference)
Within the Rule of the Society, Servant Leadership is identified as a scripture-based method of leadership which all Vincentians aspire to practice. The following quotes are from the Rule.
Rule: Part 1, 3.11: Following Christ’s example, the Presidents at all levels of the Society endeavor to be servant leaders. They provide an encouraging atmosphere in which the talents, capacities and spiritual charism of the members are identified, developed and put to the service of the poor and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The President of the Conference or Council will have special responsibility for promoting Vincentian spirituality.
Rule: Part 3, Statute 11: Leadership positions in the Society, at any level, are always to be accepted as service to Christ, the members and the poor. Servant leadership is done in imitation of Jesus who said: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.
The passage below is an excerpt from the Newsletter of the Australian National Council by Livia Carusi and Jenny Papps. The article is entitled “Vincentian Leadership – Is There Such a Thing?”
“You say you experience great difficulty in the mission. Alas! Monsieur, there is no lot in life where there is nothing to be endured.” (St. Vincent de Paul)
It is believed that Vincent de Paul wrote over 30,000 letters during his life. For Vincentians, his letters provide a small window into his character, his courage, his struggles and achievements over a lifetime of service and leadership which was marked with great personal transformation as well as a steadfast vision for mission, charity, justice, spirituality and servant leadership.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and a young French man, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and his companions, with the guidance of a Daughter of Charity, Blessed Rosalie Rendu, made a conscious and heartfelt decision to name our organization in honor of Vincent de Paul. This decision, we suspect, would not have been taken lightly, and in choosing the name “Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” they too would have understood the very essence of the man, his vision for the world and also the magnitude of his legacy.
Like other community organizations doing “good works,” the St. Vincent de Paul Society has its own unique DNA, of which our leadership model is a large part.
So what makes our DNA unique?
Briefly, it is our founding story, which no other organization can claim.
It is our place within the broader Vincentian family; our model of assisting people; home visitation (which remains authentic to our founder’s vision of assisting people in need and in pairs), and also being part of an international organization; the opportunities that we afford to members, volunteers and staff to connect and engage in our mission, our governance model of subsidiarity as well as our model of leadership.
The Vincentian model of leadership is quite simple – servant leadership.
Servant leadership is not connected to a person’s title, as it is quite different to the function of management. The cornerstone of this model is the belief that all people have within them leadership qualities and that an office, Conference or Special Work should facilitate opportunities for individual and collective leadership qualities to come to the fore.
Servant leadership echoes the message of Christ, Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam and the countless number of Vincentian men and women around the world whose primary mission is to serve another first – so yes, there is such a thing as Vincentian leadership that is very much part of our DNA.
One of the topics that comes up very often related to Conferences (as well as Councils) and the role of the President is focused around a statement that has been made for years in our writings as well as our training sessions. That statement is: the Conference as a whole makes all of the decisions. Some people have a tough time grasping what that means; and that is very understandable since it is not a simple and straightforward statement. There are a few embedded qualifications.
Those two articles from the Rule (shown earlier) make it very clear as to how the Conference should be run. There is no place in the Society for a Conference dominated by one or two individuals. The Society does not support a small group of people making the decisions for the whole. Conference members should be made aware of all aspects of the item to be decided. And, for all practical matters, the decision should be made by the Conference simply through consensus. That means the members are in agreement with what should or should not be done. Formal voting on any topic should occur only when there is reason to believe there is a significant difference of opinion.
The President, as well as all members, needs to be an excellent listener and a good facilitator. This most likely means that some of us have to fine-tune our listening skills. The President must listen to what the Conference wishes to do (not tell them what he/she wishes to be done). Then the President must help (through guidance and facilitated dialogue) the Conference to make it happen. The President must serve the Conference – not the other way around.
There are times, however, that the democratic process is inappropriate. This is because the Conference is not totally autonomous. All members of the Society must be faithful to the Rule and spirit of the Society. No decision can be made at any level of the Society that contradicts the Rule. This holds true also for bylaws, standards of affiliation, or any other standards set by the general membership or by Councils.
The spirit of the Society is determined by the traditions of the Society on a global scale. As it is, the current Rule is very explicit about most things. Our focus in our decision-making should be on ways to enhance the spiritual growth of our fellow Vincentians as well as improve our service to those in need. There are many official writings of the Society, both current and historical, which can help define what is proper for Vincentians if it is not explicitly defined in the Rule.
So in summary, the statement “the Conference as a whole makes all of the decisions” is very true within the constraints described above. Our servant leaders must be geared up to serve the members rather than dictate to them. It’s all part of being Vincentian.