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Eva Gullo and

Alberto Frassineti




Organizational leadership

in service to a charism

Eva Gullo and Alberto Frassineti - Coresponsibility - Ekklesia 17

For 15 years, the authors have assisted General and Provincial Councils of Institutes, Congregations and Associations of the faithful to redesign and transform themselves through helping them to be faithful to their respective charisms in more creative ways. They reflect here on the characteristics needed for strong organizational leadership.

Organizational culture

Our work is with Organizations at the Service of a Charism (OSC). We begin this commentary by focusing on distinguishing features of leadership within these organizations. The objective of a member of the OSC is to bear witness to its charism and to spreading the Gospel. This is true regardless of the impact or effectiveness of the work, services and activities that a given organization carries out.

At their life-sustaining core, OSCs are composed of people who choose to give their whole lives in witness to a charism that unites them. This choice imbues and authenticates every aspect of their personal life.  It also generates a specific organizational culture that is at the basis of those actions and behaviors. A first consequence is that standard organizational tools, charts and instruments developed for other types of organizations cannot be applied in the same way to OSCs.

This is also true of the concept of leadership.  Management theory uses this term to speak about both people or teams that govern and to describe a person’s directorial and persuasive skills relative to others.

Similarly, the term governance is another example of the uncritical use in connection with the concept of leadership. In most organizations, governance structures are collegial.  Instead for OSCs, service in a role of authority is regulated by the Code of Canon Law. 


Before considering a list of leadership characteristics, we should first reflect on co-responsibility, despite the fact that both merit deeper discussion that can be provided here in this brief article.

... a sense of


... a common


... the ability to



It is preferable for OSCs to make decisions in communion rather than following enlightened or magnetic personalities who fail to develop their ideas in a context of communion. The term co-responsibility combines "co" and "responsibility". The "co" refers to doing together in cooperation, sharing, communion and ultimately in relationship with others. The term "responsibility" derives from the Latin respònsus or respòndere, meaning the commitment to respond (to oneself or another) for one's actions and the consequences deriving from them.  

It seems to us that OSCs first need a new awareness and renewed practice of co-responsibility. There is need for greater recognition of the reality that only through communion can hope for the future be built. This requires a personal contribution from each one, as if everything depended on me.

Effective co-responsibility is indispensable for the life and development of a community:

  • Co-responsibility generates a sense of belonging.

  • Co-responsibility develops a common identity.

  • Co-responsibility nourishes the ability to construct together.


Some important aspects of responsibility as part of a community’s development need underlining.

A first aspect is that of living one’s responsibilities as a service performed for someone else. Exercising one’s own responsibilities in serving others rather than ourselves is something freely chosen and expressed through tasks or roles assigned with clear and transparent guidelines.

Then other aspects follow from this: Responsibility is a service that fosters the common good.  Concretely, personal interests should never prevail over the good of another and the common good of the whole organization.

Thus, responsibility requires building positive relationships. If the other person is important, then one needs to make the effort to understand their needs and what they are saying to me. This requires establishing a caring relationship. Even before providing answers, taking action, or making decisions, being in a role of responsibility means being capable of – and cultivating – relationships.

Cultivating, fostering and being sensitive to relationships means giving dignity to the other. This is not because of their relationship with me in relation to my own role. Rather it is to express a common belonging to the same organization, community, project or shared goals.