Heroic Leadership, Jesuit Style, and Pope Francis

Chris Lowney recognizes Pope Francis as a Heroic Leader in the Jesuit tradition

Chris Lowney recognizes Pope Francis as a Heroic Leader in the Jesuit tradition

I told myself that I would refrain from discussing Pope Francis’ interview last week as that subject was widely covered elsewhere. I have largely stuck to that other than a brief reference to Blessed Peter Faber, S.J., one of the significant influences on Pope Francis. I am going to bend this rule again (bend only as I am only going to talk about Pope Francis’ leadership style, not the substance of the interview).

Chris Lowney did a brief piece on Pope Francis and I recently found out he wrote a book on Pope Francis that is going to be published next week. Many people have not heard of Chris Lowney but he has a truly unique story. Lowney spent seven years as Jesuit seminarian before leaving to work for J.P. Morgan & Co. He had a very successful business career, rapidly advancing up the leadership ranks at J.P. Morgan, holding senior positions in New York, Tokyo, Singapore and London. Lowney retired early in 2001 to focus on writing and charitable activities. During his business career, Lowney modeled his leadership style from what he learned during his Jesuit training. The first book that Lowney wrote was “Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450 Year Old Company” that describes the Jesuit leadership style. According to Lowney, the Jesuit approach to leadership eschews flashy techniques and focuses on four core pillars:

  • Self-awareness: Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, values, and worldview
  • Ingenuity: Confidently innovating and adapting to a changing world
  • Love: Engaging others with a positive attitude that unlocks their potential
  • Heroism: Energizing yourself and others with heroic ambitions and a passion for excellence

The four principles address a person’s whole life—personal and professional–and are rooted in the idea that we are all leaders. They form an integrated way of living, a modo de proceder (“our way of doing things”) as the Jesuits called it.

The Jesuit approach scraps the “command and control” model that relies on one great person to lead the rest. Convinced that people perform best in a supportive climate, St. Ignatius of Loyola and his colleagues sought to create environments filled with “greater love than fear.” They lodged their hopes in the talents of their entire team, showing that success flows from the commitment of many, not the isolated efforts of one. In my professional life (a corporate law firm), I have tried to use many of these techniques and they work. On my white board at work, I have the initials: SILH (self-awareness, ingenuity, love, heroism).

We are seeing the leadership style that Lowney describes in Pope Francis. According to the article by Lowney published today in National Catholic Register:

“Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro asked the pope during their now-famous August interviews. While most politicians or celebrities would have batted a self-promoting answer to that softball question, here’s what the pope said: “I am a sinner.” He was taking a page from Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, which include some bruising meditations on personal sin: “I will look upon myself as a sore and abscess from which have issued such great sins.”

But that’s no “downer” in Francis’ and Ignatian spirituality; it’s plain speaking about the human condition. And even though postmoderns here in cosmopolitan New York might reject Catholic “sin talk,” all can resonate with the pope’s vision of a “battlefield hospital” church that focuses first on healing. We’re all deeply flawed, popes included, but inherently dignified and unconditionally loved by God nonetheless.

* * *

Francis said he was initially drawn to the Jesuits for three reasons, one of them its “missionary spirit.” Ignatius of Loyola exhorted Jesuits to live “with one foot raised,” ever ready to seize the next opportunity. He also instituted a special fourth vow of obedience for many fully formed Jesuits: to be always available to be sent on mission by the pope.

That mindset unleashed extraordinary centrifugal energy among early Jesuit generations, who famously sought out the frontiers of the world then known to Europeans. The pope’s own Argentine homeland, for example, is still dotted with ruins of remarkably innovative settlements — the so-called Paraguay reductions — that Jesuits pioneered alongside indigenous persons.

But Francis is inviting us to understand “frontier” in a much more expansive way. Catholicism’s 21st-century frontiers are less about geography and more about those who don’t see much value in organized religion or who have been overlooked or excluded. The pope told his interviewer that he admired early Jesuit Fr. Peter Faber’s “dialogue with all … even with his opponents.” And, the pope said, “let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.”

That’s not a platitude; that is his strategy. Another Jesuit interviewed for my book project said Fr. Bergoglio was once asked to assume responsibility for a new parish in an impoverished community and drafted some seminarian volunteers to assist him. To do what? Well, walk the neighborhood. Meet everyone, not just the churchgoers. Seek out the poorest and see what could be done to help them. When the seminarians returned from these visits, Bergoglio used to check whose shoes were dusty — who was showing the frontier spirit to meet people where they really live.”

I encourage you to read the entire article here, as well as check out Chris Lowney’s website for more information about Lowney and the Jesuit leadership style.

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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12 Responses to Heroic Leadership, Jesuit Style, and Pope Francis

  1. claire46 says:

    We met Chris Lowney once in Puerto Rico where he had come to talk about another of his book on Southern Spain and Al Andalus. Fascinating. He is also very interested by the Camino Ignaciano from Loyola to Montserrat. His book on Heroic Leadership must be quite fascinating as well. Very big among our Jesuit friends 🙂
    Thank you for the links!

    • Hi Claire, it’s neat that you met Chris Lowney. He seems like a fascinating person. I have not yet read his book “A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment” but it is on my (way too-long) to-read list. Also, I can not recall if you completed the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela but if you did, you have accomplished something that Chris Lowney did not do. According to his website:

      “In 2006, Mr. Lowney undertook (but could not complete!) a walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to raise money for charities providing education and healthcare in the developing world by pledges to “Pilgrimage for Our Children’s Future,” a non-profit organization. To learn more about this pilgrimage or to support the organization, visit http://www.pocf.org.”

  2. Geralyn says:

    Great post about all-important leadership that is based on support ive networking rathet than hierarchy. The SJs have had a long celebrated history as strong leaders, so as in all things, let us remain humble as Pope Francis is, lest we fall into the trap of “individual kingdoms”. The good news is for all, to be shared by all.

    I hope Aus’ new PM, Tony Abbott, will listen to teachings and spirit of his Jesuit-schooling and be “a man for others.”

    Thanks for sharing about leadership, Jesuit-style. Have you seen:
    http://www.jss.org.au/just-leadership

    • Geralyn, thank you for sharing the Just Leadership services of the Australian Jesuits. It looks like great training. Hopefully it will spread across the ocean!

      • Geralyn says:

        Movers and shakers, we are down under! I actually studied/worked with its director, Pam. One look at her and you wouldn’t think she’s “spiritual director”-type (heels, salon hair, pristinely made up, distinguishable fashion sense!) but that’s her language and niche – the corporate world – and thank God for her brave ministry.

  3. Lynda says:

    That is a great post. I had read the article previously and was so impressed with the fact that Pope Francis has remained close to his roots. He has always had a concern for the marginalized. I must also take time to read Chris Lowney’s books – maybe in the next life I’ll have time! 🙂

  4. Hi! This is Sharon Bennit, Jefferson. You have a very good Blog site. Take a look at my new address http://vatikos.wordpress.com/

  5. Donna says:

    Thanks for this post. Chris Lowney’s leadership approach is very helpful for any leadership group looking to be “persons” for others.

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