Leadership Lessons from the Life of Saint Patrick
Lost in the midst of shamrocks, green-clad partygoers, and leprechauns there is a story of a tremendous leader – Saint Patrick. That we celebrate a holiday bearing his name 1,500 years after his death attests to the greatness of Ireland’s patron saint. Saint Patrick’s life teaches valuable lessons about the power of forgiveness.
THE LIFE OF SAINT PATRICK: A STORY OF FORGIVENESS
Born to a wealthy British-Roman family, Patrick was kidnapped by a band of Irish marauders as a teenager. The raiders carried him off to Ireland where they pressed him into servitude, tending their flocks and fields. Isolated and alone, Patrick clung to his faith to endure the cruelty of his masters.
After six years in captivity, Patrick summoned the courage to risk escape. He ran away from his captors, surviving a 200-mile trek across Ireland to the sea. Upon arrival to the coast, he talked his way onto a shipping vessel bound for his homeland.
Lesson #1 – Don’t harbor grudges
After being enslaved in Ireland, you would think Patrick would have embittered at the Irish for stealing six years of his life. However, he dedicated the next 15 years to studying theology in preparation for a return trip to Ireland as a missionary. Despite being kidnapped and cruelly mistreated, Patrick chose forgiveness and showed compassion to his former captors.
Lesson #2 – Go the extra mile to make amends
Patrick was not exactly a welcome visitor back in Ireland-especially when he began teaching a religion that ran contrary to the beliefs held by druid priests. However, Patrick won favor by returning to his former master and paying the full ransom price of a slave as “compensation” for his escape. This generous gesture astounded the Irish and appeased them, giving Patrick a platform to share his religious views.
It seems as if Patrick should have demanded an apology from his prior masters rather than paying them for having been a runaway slave. However, his goal wasn’t to make accusations, but rather, by extending forgiveness, to acquire influence with the Irish.
Lesson #3 – When reconciling a relationship, speak the other person’s language
During his six years of force labor in Ireland, Patrick gained a working knowledge of the Celtic language. When he returned as a priest, he could speak directly to the Irish in their native tongue. Furthermore, Patrick understood the religious sensibilities of druidism from his time in captivity. Accordingly, he was able to communicate the message of the Christian faith in images that made sense to the Irish.
As legend has it, Patrick created the Celtic cross in an effort to connect the significance of Christ’s death on the cross with the Irish people’s veneration for the sun. Another popular legend holds that he used the shamrock, another natural symbol, to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Whatever the case, Patrick’s ability to deliver his message in ways the Irish could understand had a profound impact. Within a century, the entire nation of Ireland had converted to the religious faith of one of its former slaves.
Regardless of a person’s religious beliefs, there’s no denying Saint Patrick’s enormous influence as a leader. By harnessing the power of forgiveness, the one-time slave persuaded his former captors, and their entire nation, to adopt his Christian faith. By studying the life of Saint Patrick, we find lessons about forgiveness that can be applied to our own lives and leadership relationships.
Moran, Patrick Francis Cardinal. “St. Patrick.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 8 Mar 2009.
“Who Was St. Patrick?” The History Channel Online. 2008. A&E Television Networks. 9 Mar 2009.
“Patrick’s Life.” Religion Homepage. BBC Online. 20 Feb 2006. 9 Mar 2009.
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