Practicing Benedictine Values in a Modern World

04/15/2015 06:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2015

Although Saint Benedict walked this earth more than 1,500 years ago, his teachings remain relevant in today's business world. This is especially true for higher education.

By following the Rule of Saint Benedict, every organization can produce better work guided by lofty standards. Sometimes it may seem impractical to live by core values in a world seemingly obsessed with power, fame, and fortune. In the pursuit of profit, corporations too often cut corners with little attention paid to integrity and excellence.

At Saint Leo University, we find that when we remain true to our student-centered mission, offer our students support and an excellent education, and go about our work together living our core values of excellence, community, respect, personal development, responsible stewardship, and integrity, we are rewarded with exceptional results and a better reputation. Not surprisingly, this leads to higher enrollments and an ever-stronger financial foundation.

Our institution is proudly Catholic, but we are remarkably diverse in every way. We welcome and respect all religions, races, ethnicities and backgrounds. These values are unifying, rather than divisive.

At the heart of any effective institution is humility. The Rule of Saint Benedict states, "Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us saying, 'Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted' (Luke 14:11)." A more contemporary example, Jim Collins, states in his book Good to Great that the key traits of the most successful leaders are humility and lack of ego. The ability to work for the good of the organization or company, not the advancement of one's own career or lifestyle is one Saint Benedict would no doubt encourage.

In the book Doing Business with Benedict, the authors state, "Central to the theme of treating every person as an individual is the need to listen -- perhaps Benedict's most well-known command." Any successful CEO will tell you that listening to customers is the best route to meeting the company's goals. Listening to co-workers is also essential to a high-performing organization.

In my role as university president, I've taken listening very seriously. While this means I may have to commit to more meetings than I would like each week, it ensures that students, my direct reports, and many others have my ear. They have a chance to talk through issues that are important to them and receive my undivided attention. Leaders owe that to their colleagues and customers and they understand, as Benedict taught us, that everyone has a piece of wisdom to offer.

Managing Mistakes
Throughout our lives, both as students and employees, we learn by trial and error. Experience is often the label we put on our mistakes. Saint Benedict encouraged his monks to not be motivated by fear or negativity, but rather to take on responsibility with enthusiasm and confidence. In St. Benedict's Rule for Business Success, Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr., describes "At the heart of Benedictine process, quality is the idea of doing a job right the first time, but Benedict realized this was only an ideal. People will make mistakes and these mistakes are the root of quality problems... A lack of honesty and sense of fear cause such mistakes to go unreported... Making an honest mistake was not the real issue; the issue was covering up that mistake." In Jim Collins' Good to Great parlance: "Confront the brutal facts."

As we tackle new challenges that require new ideas, we know that mistakes are inevitable. Some initiatives will not be successful, but we face our mistakes when we make them, accept responsibility and act to correct them. Not honestly dealing with our mistakes will ruin our desire to produce an excellent educational experience for our students.

Doing well and doing good
During their years in college, we help prepare students not only to do well, but also to do good. It's the same recipe for success we've applied to our own institution. Since I began as president, Saint Leo has prospered, growing larger, ten times stronger financially, adding a dozen beautiful buildings and exceptional faculty and staff. The transformation yielded improved programs and course offerings, athletic championships, more generous gifts, and increasing pride. We continue to follow the Rule and do well, by doing good.