"Big Four" Highlights


Leading from Above

Working millennials can find a leader in a 6th-century saint

By Jason Godin

Popular brands are often associated with individual names. Think Disney and entertainment, Hershey and chocolate, Estée Lauder and cosmetics.

Today’s true leaders in business share similar attributes, or so it appears for working millennials–the generation born between 1981 and 1996–in survey results released recently by Deloitte. The global professional services network asked over 7,800 millennials from 29 countries a probing question. The respondents were all born after 1982, have a college or university degree, are employed full-time and work predominantly in private-sector organizations with 100 or more employees. The question was:

“Thinking about individuals and in a business context, how do you define a true leader?”

The young respondents replied, with more than one answer accepted:

  • Strategic thinker (39%)
  • Inspirational (37%)
  • Interpersonal skills (34%)
  • Visionary (31%)
  • Decisive (30%)
  • Passionate (30%)


It seems to me one could substitute “Catholic” for “business” in the original survey question to find a great Church leader. History tells of an individual placed in a position of incredible influence who, at the same time, was blessed with exceptional gifts of diplomacy, inspiration, vision, decisiveness and passion. The life and accomplishments of Pope Gregory I – known to history as St. Gregory the Great – show that the very qualities millennials look for in leaders today existed in the Church as early as the late sixth century.

Gregory moved within influential networks at a relatively young age. Son of a wealthy family in the Roman Empire, Emperor Justin the Younger appointed him at age 34 as the Chief Magistrate around 574. But he soon moved into religious circles, becoming a Benedictine monk. In 579, Pope Pelagius II appointed him as his ambassador to the imperial court in Constantinople, the capital of the neighboring Byzantine Empire.  

In addition to decorated diplomatic appointments, part of what helped distinguish Gregory was his missionary zeal, which deepened after his election to the papacy in 590. He saw northern Europe, especially the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms across England, as fertile soil for securing souls. During the Middle Ages, many viewed England simply a source for slaves; Gregory, however, bravely expressed a different view, based on human dignity. He characterized the younger English slaves, for example, as “not Angles, but angels” who “should be co-heirs with the angels in heaven” and not left as “slaves of the prince of darkness.”

It was a point that provided the purpose behind his decision to send Augustine of Canterbury and other monks to England to establish the faith and the hierarchy there. Pope Gregory issued an inspirational reminder:

“It is better not to begin a good work at all than to begin and turn back. My beloved sons, you have begun this work with the Lord’s help; you must therefore bring it to completion.

At his death, the faithful shouted “santo subito!” for Gregory almost 14 centuries before John Paul II, another great papal saint. His reforms gave the Church much more than Gregorian chant. He proved an able shepherd for souls. He used his array of abilities to give guiding direction to the Church during the early Middle Ages, when the empire had fallen and the only administrative body standing was the Church. Like a true leader, he helped construct civilization through calls for conversion.

Most millennials may not have heard of him, but they admire a leader of his character and qualities.

St. Gregory the Great, pray for us!

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.