Today, it’s my pleasure to host Tim Warneka, author of a few books on Catholic Servant Leadership and a fellow Buckeye (which does not, I repeat does not, have bearing on my enthusiasm for his work… 🙂.

Tim, I was really pleasantly surprised by your latest book, Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader: An Introduction to Catholic Servant Leadership (which I reviewed here ). It’s not what I’d call a “typical” leadership book. Tell us a little bit about it.
For me, “Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader” is first and foremost a work of love. God seems to have called me to write and teach and speak about this atypical approach to leadership called Catholic Servant Leadership, which is about using our Roman Catholic faith to help us become better Servant Leaders.

I agree that “Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader” is very much not a typical leadership book … the last thing the world needs is one more typical leadership book. (Laughs.)

For me, writing “Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader” was my way of introducing people to Catholic Servant Leadership, which, because it follows the teachings of Jesus Christ and Roman Catholicism, is quite different from the “typical” approach toward leadership these days.

Catholic Servant Leadership is about putting others first. It’s about truly serving other people. And Servant Leaders are very rare these days.

What inspired you to write Black Belt Leader?
Several years ago, I wrote my first book “Leading People the Black Belt Way,” in response to what I saw as a problematic gap in the leadership literature. So many leadership approaches present leadership as something one person does to another. In my experience, leadership is far more effective when it is seen as something that one does in relationship with another person. Sadly, the relational aspect of leadership seems to get left out in most of today’s discussions on leadership in favor of focusing on the more individual aspects of leading people.

Leading People” has sold quite well, and as a result I’ve had the good fortune of presenting to groups around the globe. Leaders seem to really resonate with the idea that leadership is a relational phenomenon.

As I worked with all sorts of leaders, I began to hear a consistent refrain. Many leaders were thirsting for a leadership approach that incorporated spirituality. Since I’m a lifelong Catholic, I returned to my own spiritual tradition and began to develop the concept of Catholic Servant Leadership.

From some conversations we’ve had, Tim, I notice that we seem to have similar influences, including Joseph Campbell. Can you share a little about how Campbell’s work impacted you?
I attended the University of Dayton (UD) for my undergraduate degree. UD is the largest Catholic university in Ohio. UD is run by the Society of Mary, or Marianists, who had an enormous influence on my life, as well as my understanding of Catholic Servant Leadership. For example, the Marianists deeply value relationships and community as ways of expressing our Catholic faith.

When I went to UD, one of the first things I did when I got to campus was to seek out a spiritual director. God was kind enough to lead my to a wonderful Marianist sister. Early in our conversations, she gave me a copy of Campbell’s wonderful book, “A Hero with a Thousand Faces.” That book had a profound influence on me. I became very interested in psychoanalytic psychology, and soon changed my major to psychology.

When I sat down to write “Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader” I very much kept the Marianists in mind when wrote about leadership. In many ways, writing this book was about coming full-circle for me. I was even blessed by the fact that Bro. Ray Fitz, S.M., the Marianist Brother who served as President of UD while I was attending, agreed to write the foreword to “Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader.”

I’m biased, of course, but I think it is a wonderful foreword. (Laughs.)

Now, at the risk of courting controversy, I too was very impacted by Campbell. Back in my atheist days, I think it was a work by Campbell that started me thinking about faith in a whole new way and opened me to becoming Catholic at all. So, that said, what cautions do you have when it comes to Joseph Campbell? What caveats would you share when you say you’re “impacted by Campbell”?
What a great question! (Laughs.)

I think it is very important for Catholic Servant Leaders to step into controversy. If we’re going to help bring about the kingdom of God, the middle of controversy is where we Catholics belong.

That said, I was attracted to Joseph Campbell’s work because Campbell understood the power of myth. In my mind, Campbell would have agreed with St. Thomas Aquinas when he said, “… a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”

I think Catholic Servant Leaders are more effective when we can be “big with wonder,” and through his books, Joseph Campbell was one of my earliest teachers on how to hold that awe and wonder.

I’ve heard from Catholics who, like yourself, deepened their relationships with Catholicism because of Joseph Campbell’s works. I’ve also heard from Catholics who completely disagree with Campbell.

I think that’s the beauty of the Catholic Church … that there can be room for different perspectives.


My first caution would not be specific to Campbell. Rather, my first caution would be: “Catholics must practice rational thinking.” God gave us the gift of rational thought, and in my view, we Catholics need to use that gift every day.

In my experience, Catholic Servant Leaders do better when they understand that “being impacted by XYZ” is not the same thing as “believing that everything XYZ said was true.” Believing those two statements to be the same is an error in logic, and an error that (sadly) many Catholics fall into.

Speaking of St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, it is clear that he studied many of the classics of Greek and Roman civilizations. Both were pagan civilizations. But that does not mean St. Thomas Aquinas became a pagan. Rather he used his rationality to integrate the information he learned from the pagan sources to make his Catholic faith even stronger.

Going back to Campbell, it is clear when he addresses Catholicism (in his interviews with Bill Moyers, for example), that is was very much opposed to the changes brought about by Vatican II. For myself, who grew up in the post-Vactican II Catholic Church, I’m more than willing to disagree with Campbell on this point.

We want to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Catholicism is – and always has been – about embracing diversity, about listening to other perspectives and gathering wisdom from other perspectives. But disagreeing with Campbell around Catholicism does not diminish his genius in understanding the power of myths and legends. It just bears remembering that no genius is correct about everything.

Tim, you have quite a ministry established based on the principals of Catholic Servant Leadership in your books. Tell us about what you do and who you serve.

My Catholic Servant Leadership ministry is about writing, training and public speaking so that Catholics and like-minded people understand that there is another way of viewing leadership, an approach that is different than the “I-get-mine-and-too-bad-for-you!” and the (mis-named) social Darwinism approaches so often taken by secular leaders today.

In the past year, we’ve seen where the “I-get-mine!” approach to leadership gets us. It gets us outrageous behaviors by business leaders who take enormous bonuses while their organizations and banks fail, causing the layoffs and down-sizing of countless people. It gets an environment on the brink of collapse. It escalates national and international levels of violence.

Clearly, the “I-get-mine!” approaches to leadership does not serve the greater good. Just as a rising tide raises all the boats in a harbor, for me Catholic Servant Leadership is about putting others first – about actually serving people – in order to bring about the greater good for all.

Recently, I heard you interviewed by Lisa Hendey on the Catholic Moments podcast (Episode 84). You tantalized me (and her!) with a comment about applying Catholic Servant Leadership principles to parenting. Can you briefly describe that?

What a great question. I’m actually just started writing a book on Catholic Servant Leadership and parenting. So stay tuned there.

I really enjoyed speaking with Lisa. She has a very important ministry going.

As a clinical counselor, I’ve been working with children, teens and families for over 17 years. It’s not often said, but I believe being a Catholic parent is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet.

In my mind, every Catholic parent can benefit from understanding Catholic Servant Leadership. Becoming a parent means making an 18+ year commitment to serving another human. This is very difficult. As Catholic parents, we need to learn how to use our parental power appropriately, peacefully, and in ways that serve our children.

Like many secular leaders, too many parents today see parenting as one more way they can get their needs met. Parenting from a Catholic Servant Leadership perspective really rejects that “me-first” notion, instead focusing on serving our children.

However, ‘serving our children’ does not mean spoiling our children, and far too many parents have over-indulged their children to the point that these children have a difficult time functioning in society.

Parenting children from a Catholic Servant Leadership perspective is about loving our children deeply, and having the courage to serve our children in ways that prepares them for whatever ministry God has in store for them.

Where can we learn more about Catholic Servant Leadership and your work, Tim?
The best place to learn about Catholic Servant Leadership is through my website at:

Any closing thoughts?
In “Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader,” I clearly state that every Catholic is called to be a Catholic Servant Leader. I invite your readers to have the faith to step out onto the journey that is Catholic Servant Leadership.

All for the greater glory of God.

Thanks, Tim, for sharing more about your ministry with us!