As I prepare for a new season of equipping more leaders…
I’ve been thinking about the approach to leadership of Ignatius Loyola and his followers the Jesuits. Former Jesuit seminarian turned successful investment banker, Chris Lowney, discusses leadership and followership in Heroic Leadership, a study of the 450-year old Jesuit institution whose practices, he asserts, are as relevant today as they were in Ignatius Loyola’s day.
In the Jesuit tradition, leadership is defined “not by the scale of opportunity but by the quality of the response.” A similar definition is used by the Christian Leadership Alliance: “Leadership is a process of influence. Any time you seek to influence the thinking, behavior, or development of people toward accomplishing a goal in their personal or professional lives, you are taking on the role of a leader.” In this definition we can assess our leadership efficacy by the response of our followers, just as the Jesuits prescribed.
According to Lowney, “their [Jesuits] approach scraps ‘command and control’ models that rely on one great person to lead the rest.” Jesuits believe that every person possesses untapped leadership potential. The leader’s role is not to persuade subordinates, but to equip them to discern and accomplish what needs to be done. Through the Jesuit lens, leadership is a way of life. It is never accomplished; it is a lifelong pursuit.
I have been reminded that I too am on a journey in a lifelong pursuit of leadership. The process of developing a personal vision statement has challenged me. I do think of myself as insightful, but I have struggled over the years to develop a statement that describes me – to me and to others. It’s so much easier to apply insights to other people.
Yet my growing understanding of leadership, brings me to define it much more like Jesuit’s. It causes me to believe leadership is more about who we are than what we do. If we embrace the Jesuit model of leadership in which everyone is a “leader in the making,” we must commit to mentoring “leaders in the making.” That serves as a reminder to me that, regardless of the number of people following me at any given point in time, I am still a leader in the making – and so are they. My personal vision statement has helped me to consider this in a fresh way.
This aligns with a contemporary leadership researcher and his findings as well. Coming alongside other “leaders in the making” sounds a lot like mentoring. As I reflected on my vision statement I considered one of my strengths – that of developing people. I was reminded that Goulet and his colleagues released the results of groundbreaking research in 2012. They studied the process of developing leaders through mentoring, one they describe as “a process that involves the interactions and relationships between the leader and others. This view of leadership enables anyone to develop as a leader.” Goulet’s team proffers mentoring as the best tool for equipping leader efficacy in both “being and doing” or in competence and character.
I was challenged to write my own personal vision statement a few years ago. It brought clarity and purpose. It highlighted alignment – and misalignment in my activities and associations.
When I consider my personal vision, and those of early Jesuits, I am reminded I am called, as are all Jesus followers, to lead others. We are much better influencers when we first make real connections with others. That requires listening. The Holy Spirit gives insight. For me that insight often comes as I listen to other Jesus-followers share their thoughts, feelings, celebrations, struggles, praises, disappointments, disillusionments, and triumphs.
I do not yet see myself fully exhibiting all that my personal vision statement declares. Yet, in articulating it I have a new metric by which to assess my own leadership daily. I know what I wish to be. I am reminded that I am not responsible for the transformation of individuals or communities. It is Christ’s love at work in and through me.
In the Institute for Cultural Communicators, hundreds of students and adults progress through our mentoring programs each year. Some of our most advanced young leaders apply for an honors internship in which they travel the country – or the globe – providing education and coaching for their peers along with parents, teachers, and community leaders. In short they are living out what the Jesuits teach. As I write they are rehearsing a program entitled, “Communicate for a Change!” This can be nuanced to have multiple meanings. We do need to communicate better. That requires change. We also need to communicate if we are to influence change.
As these teenage leaders explore this message they highlight that in order to create change we must first be changed. I am reminded that I need to focus on change in myself in order to better influence change in those I lead. I am eager to continue the journey.
To learn more about how many of today’s youth are becoming extraordinary leaders, just as the Jesuit’s prescribed, visit iccinc.org.