Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Management Guru You Never Heard Of

In the Catholic Church we have our holy men and women who, because of their distinguished lives and devotion to the faith, have been designated saints. These saints have "feast days" on which their life is remembered and celebrated. Today is the feast day of one such holy man, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622).

St. Francis de Sales holds a special place for me as he is considered to be the patron saint of authors and journalists. He was one of the Church's famed scholars and communicators. One tale is that in his early days as a preacher he wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors of those he was sent to minister to — "the first record of religious tracts being used to communicate with people." Another biography records that "His style was so simple that it charmed his hearers, and, excellent scholar though he was, he avoided filling his sermons with Greek and Latin quotations, as was the prevailing custom." His most famous book, Introduction to the Devout Life, written in 1608, grew out of a series of casual notes and advice that he had written which he was then persuaded to publish; it apparently achieved instant acclaim as a masterpiece and became a "must read" for its day all over Europe.

I figure St. Francis de Sales was the management guru of his times. For many years I had the following two of his tips for mastering the pressures of one's job pasted within easy daily eyeballing of my workspace:

• "Undertake all of your duties with a calm mind and try to do them one at a time. If you try to do them all at once, or without order, your spirits will be so overcharged and depressed that they will likely sink under the burden and nothing will be done."

• "The occasions for great gains come but rarely, but of little gains many can be made each day; and by managing these little gains with judgment, there are some who grow rich. Oh, how holy and rich in merits we should make ourselves if we but knew how to profit by the opportunities which our vocation supplies to us."

Another connection I have with this church leader: two of the happiest years of my childhood were spent living and going to school in the St. Francis de Sales parish in Philadelphia. And did I mention that I have a portrait of him hanging in my office?

We all seek inspiration from many sources. This patron saint of journalists is one of mine. This is one management guru worth knowing about. I am happy to have this opportunity to introduce him to you and to celebrate his life today.