July 2, 2022

Anonymous businessman or worker in black suit with leather handbag or laptop case in his hand goes to work on the road to the entrance of a glass office building.

By Dana Hess

Being a manager in a business and a Catholic may seem like two vocations at odds. Mixing the two may seem awkward at best and, at worst, the fast lane to alienating employees. However, bringing Catholic virtues to the workplace doesn’t mean preaching so much as using Christ’s lessons to set a good example.

“There’s opportunities that present themselves where you have an opportunity to witness to people,” says Jo Vitek, former chief of police in Watertown. “Most of the time, it doesn’t even have to be verbally. It can just be by your actions, your integrity, how you handle things.”

In law enforcement for 36 years, Jo didn’t shrink from sharing her faith in the workplace. Police officers need to be grounded in faith, she says, because of the nature of their work. Upon taking the chief’s job in Watertown in 2005, Jo implemented a chaplain program for the department.

“The stuff that you encounter in law enforcement is going to rock your boat,” Jo says. “If you don’t have a connection, and if you’re not grounded in your faith, you’re going to go sideways and that’s not a good thing.”

A sexual abuse survivor, Jo says she would share that story, as well as her faith, with the officers who worked for her.

“I’m not preaching at them or anything like that,” Jo says. “You can’t be in law enforcement and see things that police officers see without having some faith.”

Faith-based leadership

Keith Borchers expects a certain amount of preaching in his work leading Evangelium Consulting Group, a California-based firm dealing in organizational health and leadership for religious organizations. A former director of religious education for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, Keith was back in South Dakota recently working with Bishop DeGrood’s leadership team.

Keith teaches leadership from a basis of spirituality. “As good Catholic leaders, when in the public forum or private or church, you’ve got to have a personal prayer life.”

Catholic leaders have to trust themselves enough to allow others to see they are vulnerable and flawed. “A lot of leaders think, ‘I can’t let people see me sweat. I’ve got to hold it all together. I’ve got to be the guy or the gal and not let them see me squirm,’” Keith says. “The reality is, people know your foibles and vulnerabilities even before you do sometimes.”

Keith cautions not to confuse vulnerability with incompetence. It takes honesty and courage, he says, for a leader to make statements like, “Hey, I’m sorry about what I said yesterday. You’re better at this than I am. Can you help me with this project?”

Bringing Catholic attributes like charity and love to the workplace can help leaders with conflict resolution, Keith says, noting that Catholics often smile, nod and stay quiet when they don’t agree with what has been said.

“We really don’t know how to say it without offending them or saying it in the wrong way,” says Keith. “Conflict without trust is politics, and that’s one thing that we have to help people eliminate.”

The hard things need to be said with charity. “That’s what good leaders do. They say the hard things, but in love.”

Relationship building

Keith’s lesson for leaders isn’t new or particularly groundbreaking. “At the heart of what we do is teaching people how to be human with each other, how to be real.”

Jo Vitek with Bishop DeGrood and friend Tanya Weiland.

Jo, the former police chief, has a similar philosophy. “In my estimation, relationships in life are everything. I say that because we are relational to the core because we are made in the image of the triune God.”

Jo has a unique way of bringing her faith into relationships. While in law enforcement, she also taught at the university level. When she retired as police chief in Watertown in 2013, Jo created and then taught in the law enforcement program at Lake Area Technical College.

With her classroom filled with budding investigators, Jo knew they would find out what they could about her online. That realization inspired her to join Facebook as a means of sharing her faith.

“I knew that the students, naturally, want to be friends with you,” Jo says. “Every morning I post something that is spiritual—scripture, something that would be inspirational.”

She does this, knowing the students are looking at her posts. “I know that they’re going to read everything I write,” Jo says. “So the Lord can use that.”

Taking advice from Intel

Keith says Catholic managers in the workplace would do well to heed this advice from computer chip maker Intel: disagree and commit. Keith explains that at Intel, leaders pledge that even if they don’t agree with a decision, they will commit to making it a success.

“Even if the decision goes against their opinion, they can still commit and be helpful,” Keith says. “That is huge.”

The paradox of any kind of job is that human frailty means no matter how hard they work, there will always be failures. “We are not perfect. The workplace is fraught with that imperfect human frailty,” Keith says.

Catholics are familiar with accepting the paradoxes of the virgin birth and Christ’s death to bring new life. “Our faith is filled with paradox,” Keith says. “A faith-filled person will recognize that, even if you work in the secular world.”

Keith notes that the best leaders are willing to accept and acknowledge their failures. “Strong leaders have to be transparent and vulnerable. That’s how a lot of organizations get into trouble is they try not to do those things.”

The Catholic path includes a degree of self-awareness. Keith says the best leaders develop a greater sense of self-knowledge. He takes advice from St. Gregory the Great who said the greatest obstacle to ministry or effective work is the lack of self-knowledge.

“As people become more self-aware as a leader, then they can start to improve themselves,” Keith says. “Fundamentally, you have to understand what it is you are and what your mission is and how to improve that.”

Catholic leaders can enhance Bishop’s vision

Leaders who bring their Catholic faith into the workplace will help fulfill the Bishop’s vision of Lifelong Catholic Missionary Discipleship Through God’s Love.

“As Catholics, we are all charged with the great commission from Jesus in Matthew 28: ‘Make disciples of all the world, all nations,’” Keith says. “You don’t have to be a priest or religious to do that.”

Keith Borchers working with a leadership team to help them use faith principles in their work.

Keith says, as missionary disciples, Catholic leaders in the workplace should strive to engage and transform the culture to a more Christ-like vision.

“It doesn’t mean you go into the workplace and try to disciple everybody and convert everybody that you’re working with,” Keith explains. “I think, at a basic level, it means bringing the tenets of our faith to the workplace to make it more Christ-like—the transforming of it in a way that is more charitable and loving.”

The last three words that describe the Bishop’s vision—through God’s love—are key. “What’s the prescription for a hurting world or business?” Keith asks. “It’s love. We’re bringing God’s love to the world by the witness of our life, but also by our actions and words, too.”

Don’t be afraid to share God’s love

Jo looks back on a long career in law enforcement where those who knew her knew she wore her Catholic faith as proudly and boldly as she wore her badge.

“Maybe some people look at me differently,” Jo says. “But you know, I just know how much the Lord loves me and loves them. I don’t worry about what people think or say. I just try to do what I believe I’m supposed to do.”

Catholic leaders who live their faith in the workplace will set a good example for others.

“It doesn’t mean you have to be a door-to-door, let me tell you about this Jesus, person,” Keith says. “But first and foremost, your actions are so compelling that people ask, ‘What’s the secret of your joy and your happiness? I want to know more about that.’”

At that point, Keith says, it’s time to share the good news. “That’s when we tell them, ‘It’s my love for Jesus. He changed me.’”