Leaders clear the path to the goal and then get out of the way. Steve Pareja, executive director of Catholic Charities of St. Cloud, MN, shares how prioritizing your values builds a successful organization. Steve delves into how transparency, accountability, and humility inform his professional leadership.
Steve did not expect to head a nonprofit when he started his career as an X-ray technician. But he knew he wanted to be a leader — and he knew that he was passionate about his faith.
That combination led him to work for a branch of Catholic Charities which serves about 50,000 people per year of all faiths and backgrounds across a 16-county area of Minnesota.
Today, Steve occupies a visionary role at the top of the organization and constantly thinks about how to lead his team well.
Steve finds that transparency, vulnerability and humility go a long way in leadership. He says it’s essential for a leader to realize that just because he is a visionary does not mean that he is also the implementer.
[11:27] “The way I see my role in leadership is, first of all, to point to the goal we’re working towards and then get out of the way so that people can get us there.”
Leaders Need Accountability
Steve thinks a big ego is the most harmful characteristic in a leader. Egos are blinding and inhibit leaders from listening and asking for help.
Steve has found that in order to keep his own leadership sharp, he needs others to hold him accountable. Your team must be empowered to call you out if you want to move forward.
Put the Client First
Steve’s organization helps combat homelessness, hunger and neglect that the ignored and vulnerable in society experience. People’s well-being hinges on his ability to lead his organization well.
In order to lead well, you must put the needs of those you serve first. Having the right people in the right positions plays a big part in your ability to accomplish that. It ensures your organization will be able to do its best work and help the most people.
Steve highlights that making sure people are in the right roles often means you need to have some hard conversations. Hard conversations are also a mark of respect for whomever is on the receiving end — and offer an opportunity to improve.
[20:36] “Sometimes people don’t recognize that they’re not meeting the expectation of the organization. Sometimes that’s it. What I have thought was going to be the most difficult, challenging conversation [actually became] an “Aha!” moment for that employee.”
Revisit Your Values
Steve says that revisiting his values provides guidance whenever he feels stuck. That’s what his team has been doing this year in the face of challenges like the pandemic and social unrest.
[25:35] “In order to have the most effective team, we need to make sure that everyone across the organization continues to shine the spotlight on our values.”
Steve urges leaders to talk about challenges as well as successes with their teams and to always include their values in every conversation. His values, roles as a father and husband within his family and faith life greatly influence his professional leadership.
These roles have taught him to discuss decisions with his team before he makes them and to treat employees as if they were family — practices from which all leaders can benefit.