Nettifee’s Business Model, a blog post by Catholic Studies student Shelby Bartemy

In my continual search for ways to further improve my relationship and inclusion of God throughout my “every day” life, or as Father McDermott said, “live life as a prayer instead of simply praying in my life”, I was seeking to learn more about how I could apply this model of Ignatian Spirituality that I have been studying with the business model of Clean Water H20YAS. In my search, I came across Dianne Nettifee’s article titled, “Ignatian Spirituality and the Three-Fold Model of Organizational Life”. I found her article to provide not only many relevant insights that can contribute to this alignment, but also helpful explanations that will allow me to implement in my daily organizational practices.

In her article, Nettifee immediately presents Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus, Abraham Zaleznik’s observation that “leaders are ‘twice born’, individuals who endure major events that lead to a sense of separateness from their environments”. This makes sense when more closely considering my own leadership experiences, especially within the scope of Clean Water H2OYAS. There was some sort of feeling present that caused me to separate myself from the rest of the group and desire to take on these additional responsibilities as President, rather than simply following someone else’s eventual lead or more recently, the potential collapse of the club. Some people said I was crazy for taking on this type of stressful and work-intensive commitment as a senior, but I would rather think that it was the realization of the severity of the water crisis problem and the effectiveness of the cause that caused this desire to deviate from the path and do more – rather than my craziness. Thus, as a result of a difference like this one, these leaders turn inwardly in an attempt to “reemerge with a created, rather than an inherited sense of identity”, refuting the normalized response from their environments (Nettifee 1-2).

This newfound created individual identity that is crucial to standing apart, and therefore, allowing one to be a leader can be highly influenced by the spiritual journey. Netifee explains that it is “through the Exercises of St. Ignatius a person is provided with a process to dive deeply into their own lives and to experience God in their inner terrain” (Nettifee 1). This opportunity to acquire more substantial meaning and purpose is provided through implementation of the Jesuit tradition’s main themes of finding and then responding to God’s presence and love in all things. It is through this pursuit of providing the desire and courage to live out of God’s love that she believes her proposed Three-Fold Model can meet Ignatian Spirituality and serve as a beneficial guide within both an organizational and personal context. Nettifee further explains, “the Exercises till the soil and help plant the seeds of a healthy, clear center, while the Three-Fold Model can help them imagine how to live this experience of God in the daily life of an organization” (Nettifee 2).

Netifee proposes this alignment by first presenting an explanation of the Exercises, and then demonstrating how the practice can be interwoven through the Three-Fold Model and integrated within organizational leadership. Nettifee capitalizes on the relevance of the Exercises by explaining the practicality and continued usage for over 450 years (Nettifee 3). As I already have knowledge of the procedure of the Exercises through our study in class and my own readings, I was much more interested in the alignment under her suggested “Three-fold Model”. Thus, I will only note a few unique points on the Exercises that Nettifee explained that I wish to consider more closely and employ in my own spirituality:

Week One: “As they contemplate their lives, one is looking for the footprints and influence of God’s grace” (Nettifee 4). “Through the lens of love they begin to recognize the presence of God throughout their life. The grace of this first week is a desire to re-orient one’s life with the will of God” (Nettifee 4).

Week Two: “Asking for what we desire is essential of intimacy. As one becomes more authentic in their prayer, they gain new freedom and move closer to themselves and to God. The retreatant is encouraged to ask for the desire to know, love and follow Jesus” (Nettifee 4). “Just as our intellect and emotions are an avenue of God’s communication, imagination is a central place for contact with God. Through encountering Jesus in this manner the scripture are enlivened and become revelatory” (Nettifee 4). “As a result of encountering Jesus and walking with him in his life, one falls in love with him and desires to be more like him. As a natural movement, the values embodied in our Christian faith such as love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, peace and hope become explored and embraced as one’s own” (Nettifee 4).

Week Three: “Entering the Passion from the gateway of love for Jesus and his for us, changes the nature of the importance of our values. Living our faith from this lived experience and awareness puts much more at stake in how we live, work, love and die” (Nettifee 4).

Week Four: “This final movement gives way to the rest of life where one seeks to live with the Risen Christ through glorifying God. In order to live in the light of God’s love one must reach outward to those around them and participate in God’s gift of salvation. (A world made whole.) Second century theologian, St. Ireneus sums this up, ‘The way we give glory to God is by being human beings fully alive!’” (Nettifee 5).

After explaining these key points of the Exercises, Nettifee then dives into the Three-Fold Model, which is defined as, “a process that assists organizations to imagine what ‘living fully alive’ might look like!” (Nettifee 6). Through practicing the Exercises leaders are left with this “expanded imagination as to God’s dream for the world” and the desire to bring about God’s dream in every part of life (Nettifee 6). The experience of the Exercises leaves leaders with the gifts of increased “interior awareness, spiritual sensitivity (awareness of God in all things), tools for discernment”, while strengthening one’s desire, and furthermore, “capacity to live a life which reflects deeply discerned values” (Nettifee 6). Ignatian Spirituality provides this opportunity for leaders to grow in their ability to live more fully and engage life from the ‘center’; as “a leader who has journeyed deeply into their own center will undoubtedly be capable of greater freedom in guiding an organization towards the values they articulate within the Three-Fold model” (Nettifee 6). Netifee furthers this explanation by providing that, “As leaders experience moral dilemmas, their inner capacity to reflect will be more fully formed, as will their ability to hold the tension that exists at the core of human (organizational) life. Having an identity firmed rooted in God’s love and ongoing Presence, allows for distance from the shifting winds of the daily challenges they face. The leader who knows themselves well, has an increased capacity to be present to others in a way that frees others to be themselves” (Nettifee 6). Through this explanation, I can now see that by becoming aware and centered in God’s love, I am able to more freely navigate pressing influences, (such as those previous friends deterring me from the Clean Water H2OYAS commitment because of their perception of this responsibility as crazy), and instead respond to not only my internal struggles, but to others as well, in a way that is reflective of God’s love and presence. This shifting in viewpoint from outside desires to God’s desires exposes me to a new way of looking at the world and each person within it (Nettifee 6). Nettifee points out that, “the needs of the ego run unrestrained until one examines their motives and beliefs underlying their actions” (Nettifee 7). Through this re-evaluation under God’s love, we are then able to change the basis of our decision-making from worldly esteem or gain to a more purposeful and substantial foundation (Nettifee 7). This transition of viewpoint is made easier when our identity is grounded in God, and “we are free to remove the masks of self-sufficiency, the chains of depending on others for approval and the need to control outcomes” (Nettifee 7). God becomes our center, and thus, the most important desire directing our work. Armed with the realization that we were put here and exist and function because “God has created us through love, of love and for love”, we then are able to make choices that result in the alignment of our actions with our beliefs; thus, “leading us to wholeness” (Nettifee 7).

Nettifee further adds that, “In Ignatian spirituality, desires play a significant role in that our deepest, most authentic desires are the already present God leading us towards God. God uses our desires to lead us on the path which is most life giving” (Nettifee 7). Thus, by centering God in our life, we are then acknowledging these already present desires that can provide more depth to our decisions, commitments, and interactions with others. Her explanation detailing one’s understanding of the will of God was furthered by the elaboration that, “desires are central in leading us where we can more fully use our God given gifts” (Nettifee 7). Nettifee provides an example of this demonstration by explaining how one of her students seeking spiritual direction expressed the concern of determining the root of his desires to become an influential leader. Like myself, he was uncertain as to whether this strong desire to lead others and make an impact was rooted in his ego or in God. While he wrestled this question, he was able to recognize and address problems with his own self-esteem; thus, allowing him to ultimately “discern to the best of his ability, that he was called to be a leader” (Nettifee 7). As a result, “he was able to let go of his confusion and experienced the freedom to use his gifts of leadership” (Nettifee 7).

Nettifee quotes Margaret Silf from her book, Inner Compass, demonstrating that, “When we act from a true reference point of our God center, a new source of energy emerges within us and we are freed to do the true thing from a place of power because this is the one place where our own desire is aligned with God’s desire for us” (Nettifee 7). Put more simply, this alignment can be applied in one daily life in that, “the conflict at work becomes infused with potential for spiritual work, the walk in the park becomes a time to encounter the gift of creation, a failure in our day becomes something of value that God can help us make meaning out of in time” (Nettifee 8).

It is through Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises that we are taught to “to become ‘indifferent’ when we come face to face with a decision”, as this indifference provides encourages us to pay more attention and notice the ‘movements’ of the soul (Nettifee 9). While this idea of Ignatian Indifference does not mean one pretends to not have a preference, but rather only that awareness of this preference is increased so I can then “move to a certain degree of inner freedom”, which is “absolutely critical in making good decisions” (Nettifee 9). Ignatius highlights three ways of making choices: “direct intuition, noticing the primary affections and discernment of spirits, and weighted reasoning” (Nettifee 9). It is through these ways that leaders are encouraged to “engage both the mind and the heart” (Nettifee 9).

Nettifee then suggests a possible process for how organizations would apply this Three-Fold model using Ignatian discernment (Nettifee 9):

–       Identify the conflict with as much clarity around values as possible

–       Determine best possible actions

–       Name the attachment to each outcome that the organization holds

–       Once determined, make an effort to keep them from determining actions

–       Reflect on the consequence of each action – and ask the question “What will bring more?” (More life, more fulfillment, greatest good for all)

–       Differentiate between goals and means.

–       Ask: Which alternative produces better results? Quality vs. quantity/ Depth more than abundance

–       Ask: Which of the alternatives offer more joy, peace and fulfillment? Which one gives the organization an opportunity to grow in all three dimensions? Which brings a sense of “rightness”?

–       Ask: Which alternative will continue to offer more consolation throughout the life of the organization for the greatest number of stakeholders?

–       Ask: How well are we serving others in our decision as well as tending to our own needs? ← Staying with the tension point between these two things

These steps address real life questions that come up in my every day life, especially as a leader of Clean Water H2OYAS, an organization faced with the need for multiple decisions affecting the outcomes of others. Where as I previously viewed these organizational decisions and questions as somewhat separate from spirituality, Father Martin reminds me that these are also “the kinds of questions that are proper to Ignatian spirituality… because all these things are proper to the human person” (Martin 6). It is through this reminder that I am able to understand Nettifee’s suggestion for organizational and spiritual alignment.

Works Cited:
Nettifee, Dianne, “Ignatian Spirituality and The Three-Fold Model of Organizational Life”,


Shelby Bartemy is a graduating senior at Georgetown University, studying Government with a double minor focus in English and Catholic Studies. Shelby serves as President of Clean Water H2OYAS, a student-run organization seeking to fulfill the basic human right to clean water in impoverished regions around the world through funding sustainable water solutions, while contributing to the spread of awareness for water justice. She also works as the Operations and Communications Associate for DC Action for Children, a nonprofit, advocacy organization providing data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth to promote policies that optimize child and family well-being. These leadership roles have allowed Shelby to implement her studies in a real world context in the form of service for others through contemplative action. The Catholic Studies Program at Georgetown has supplemented these roles through an infusion of increasing relations with God, oneself, and others.” 
In describing my experiences, I must echo the words of Dorothy Day, in that “I can write only of myself, what I know of myself, and I pray with St. Augustine, “Lord, that I may know myself, in order to know Thee.” [1]

[1] Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist, New York: Harper One, 2009, 11. 

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