5 Steps for an Effective Ethical Infrastructure

As part of its 2023 nine-week summer assembly, Chautauqua Institution invited Leadership Roundtable’s Executive Partner, Michael Brough, to speak on the Week Five theme: Religious and Ethical Infrastructure on July 26, 2023. Chautauqua Institution is a community of artists, educators, thinkers, faith leaders and friends dedicated to exploring the best in humanity, dedicated to the exploration of human values. It is a not-for-profit founded in 1874, with a 750-acre community on Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York. 

Approximately 600 people attended Michael’s interfaith lecture at the open air “Hall of Philosophy,” an amphitheater with people sitting under a velarium (an awning), on porches of nearby houses, and even on an adjacent grassy knoll. Generally, more than 100,000 people attend the public events held at the Institution during its nine-week season.

Michael’s talk focused on finding new ways to support ethical decision-making and implement new leadership, policy, and practice. He used Leadership Roundtable’s history and formation as a case study to highlight five essential elements for building religious and ethical infrastructure in an organization. 

“I believe my case study will indeed confirm the thesis for the week that there have indeed been failures with religious institutions in seeking to nurture a healthy and vital society,” he told the crowd. “I also hope to offer examples of how religious institutions can find new ways to support ethical decision-making and contribute to healing our fractured social and civic infrastructure. And I don’t want to give the wrong impression: it is a case study where we have learned from both what has worked and what has not worked; we are very much a work in progress ourselves; and we know there is no quick fix to challenges that call for culture change; a generational undertaking.”

Michael outline five steps organizations and their leaders can take to ensure an effective ethical infrastructure. Using these five elements, religious institutions can find new ways to support ethical decision-making and contribute to healing what is fractured in the Church and society.


1. Be clear about your mission: Define clear foundational charisms or principles for your organization before diving into the work. 

To illustrate, Michael detailed the process through which Leadership Roundtable developed its mission:

“In 2005, Leadership Roundtable was formed as a 501 (c)(3) with a focused mission to elevate and implement best practices in management and leadership to establish a culture of co-responsible, servant leadership for a healthy, thriving Catholic Church,” he said.“Since infrastructure is sustainable when built upon firm foundations, in addition to our mission statement, Leadership Roundtable also articulated key foundational charisms or principles that included: A preferential option for working in partnership; not being concerned with who gets the credit as long as solutions are both identified and implemented; not reinventing the wheel; believing in the strength of a network of networks; identifying and promoting best practices; and, importantly, paying attention to both current and emerging leaders.”


2. Create a new culture of leadership: Leaders must be brave and bold enough to break the mold by defining and implementing new structures and values. 

“As leaders, what are we brave enough to be? What sort of leadership is required in order to arise from the ashes?” Michael asked the audience. “To create something new within our Catholic context, we experienced three, separate, but related, dimensions of this new culture of leadership: New leaders, new structures, and new values.”


3. Work to restore trust: Trust is earned through commitments that are fulfilled with consistency, constancy, and courage.

Michael referred to the core tenets of Leadership Roundtable’s Restoring Trust program, noting that the tenets are critical steps for not just the Church to take, but any organization. Those tenets include: being proactive, pastoral, defining trust, taking responsibility, communicating honestly, investing in skill development, and other important values.


4. Be a servant leader: A true servant leader always puts people first and is proactive in meeting people where they are at, accommodating their needs, and valuing their gifts.

“A true servant-leader always puts people firsts and asks, ‘Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?’” he clarified. 


5. Build bridges: Building bridges across cultures, politics, and religions creates respect and solidarity.

Michael noted that people need to be trained in intercultural competencies and pastoral care and what it means to really listen without judgment, and know what to do with what they hear, know how to respond and discern the next steps. It is not merely something they just know, it has to be part of their formation.

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