Spiritual Leadership in the Ignatian Tradition

Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J. and Pope Francis

Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J. and Pope Francis

I had previously written on leadership style in the Ignatian tradition based on the principles set forth by Chris Lowney and as evidenced by Pope Francis. America Magazine recently had a transcript of a speech by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Very Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., to the board chairs and presidents of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. Despite different characterizations, Fr. Nicolás’ speech echos the same Ignatian leadership principles articulated by Mr. Lowney. I encourage you to read the entire speech here but set forth below is a summary:

“Leaders who make good decisions can do so only when four prerequisites are present: a community of shared values, freedom, generosity and selflessness.

The first prerequisite is a community committed to shared values. God’s will is best found in a group of people, not inside someone’s head or individual consciousness. Whether it is the church, a religious congregation or an apostolic work; whether it is a board of directors, a faculty or a group of students, the community is a crucial ingredient. You need to have community to be able to discern.

* * *

The second prerequisite is freedom. The one responsible for the final decision cannot predetermine the outcome. The process must be open and free. Furthermore, those who contribute to a valid decision must be free to say what is on their minds without fear of recrimination or deleterious consequence. The participants in the discerning community must be committed to doing all they can to make sure that all positive and negative dimensions of a decision are carefully considered. At the same time, these people must dedicate themselves in freedom to the outcome of the process. I have seen, when I was provincial, individuals who would not enter into the process of institutional discernment, for example, but later, if the vote did not favor their own plans, they would come to me to say, “As provincial, you can’t permit this.” In that moment you have to tell them, “You have had your opportunity to participate but did not want to, and now you want to use your power. This power is illegitimate.”

The third prerequisite is generosity. St. Ignatius wanted his followers and, in fact, anyone who made the Spiritual Exercises, to put all their gifts and talents at the service of God who has given everything. Generosity was so crucial to Ignatius, as we know from that prayer, “Lord, teach me to be generous, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to seek any reward other than knowing I am doing your will.” Generosity is necessary if a good decision is going to be made.

Finally, selflessness is necessary, a humble altruism that surrenders my own preferences to a greater good. For Ignatius, “the greatest need” always stands out. Surrendering what I personally think of as important to a bigger, more important transcendental value puts everything into proper perspective; it also makes possible all the smaller and less important choices that go into accomplishing a great goal.”

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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3 Responses to Spiritual Leadership in the Ignatian Tradition

  1. Lynda says:

    Although I had read this previously, it is good to ponder on these points. Leadership is the responsibility of each person whether we have the official role or not; we lead others in everything that we do and say and it is important for all of us to follow these principles.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. A re-encounter with lessons I had learned and imbibed as a young woman.

  3. Thank you for your comments Lynda and Rosaliene. While these are not new concepts, for people like me who are slow learners it is helpful to be reminded of them on a frequent basis.

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