Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

But did you know…

Written by: on November 10, 2017

With much acclaim, Chris Lowney’s book, Heroic Leadership, is inspired by Lowney’s time and experience as a Jesuit priest.  In a 2016 interview for America, The Jesuit Review, Lowney states “There are too many definitions of leadership! Every pundit who is trying to sell books makes one up. So I prefer to go right to the dictionary…“to point out a way, direction or goal; and to influence others toward it.”[1]  Lowney believes the Jesuit “brand” is the most influential company of its kind.  Some of the Jesuit successes include:  first explorers to cross the Himalayas and enter Tibet, to paddle the headwaters of the Blue Nile, and to chart the Upper Mississippi River.  The Jesuit’s most notable accomplishment, however, is the “world’s largest higher education network…700 secondary schools and colleges sprawled five continents educating nearly 20% of all Europeans.”[2]

In his book, Lowney identities four leadership principles guiding the Jesuit corporate culture; self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism.  “Ignatius, Lowney observes, focused on followership rather than leadership: “Loyola’s core appeal was not his own leadership traits — it was his ability to identify and unlock others’ latent leadership potential.”[3]  Lowney himself provides greater insight in 2016 when he explains in an interview, “Now, without a doubt, I believe that Jesuit (or Ignatian) spirituality and the traditions of the Jesuits lend themselves well to manifesting leadership in one’s life and work. And, without a doubt, I feel that someone whose leadership is inspired by the Ignatian tradition will particularly emphasize certain habits or priorities as a leader, in ways that distinguish him/her from the way leadership is generally taught and practiced.”[4]

The following habits and priorities are identified by Lowney as distinguishable:

  • the importance of formation: leadership is not just learning to do technical tasks (like strategic planning); it also entails a commitment to lifelong self-development
  • the importance of deep self-awareness (of coming to know oneself, for example, as happens in the Spiritual Exercises);
  • becoming a skilled decision-maker, as happens through the discernment tools of the Exercises;
  • committing oneself to purposes bigger than self, to a mission of ultimate meaning (Jesuits often refer to this commitment by the shorthand of “magis,” and I referred to it as “heroism” in Heroic Leadership);
  • deep respect for others, what Jesuits might refer to in language like “cura personalis,” or “finding God in all things.” In Heroic Leadership, I referred to it as “love”;
  • a habit of reflection, like the examen.[5]

But did you know…First published in 2003, reviewers question if Lowney’s belief in the Jesuit leadership model is relevant for our times – “In a time when the number of ex-Jesuits has exploded and the number of active Jesuits has plummeted, when new recruits (outside India) are almost nonexistent and the Society can no longer man its educational institutions and other apostolates, Heroic Leadership is both counterintuitive and counterfactual.” [6]  Jesuit universities are being forced to “re-brand” to stay competitive in the higher education market.  Schools have moved away from their Catholic identity and are creating a softer, more social justice focused marketing campaign.[7]  “A university doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is a reflection of the world in which it exists.”[8]  So regardless of how true to self the Jesuit brand claims to be, they too have been forced to adjust and readjust to meet market demand.

But did you know… “These days, heroic leadership is out and post-heroic is in.”[9]  According to an article in the Ivey Business Journal, heroic leadership may still have a place in organizations, but should not be the one size fits all model for leadership.  “Heroic leaders use the power of their position to make decisions unilaterally.  By contrast, post-heroic leaders are facilitators.”[10]  Rather than using the heroic mindset of focusing on goals, progressive organizational leaders rely on, and nurture, followers – giving them a greater role in finding solutions within the team, vs. promoting their (the leaders) own.

But did you know…Adolf Hitler studied the Jesuit leadership style and used the same fundamental leadership principles to lead Nazi Germany?  “‘I learnt most of all from the Jesuit Order‘, Hitler told me. ‘So far, there has been nothing more imposing on earth than the hierarchical organization of the Catholic Church. A good part of that organization I have transported direct to my own party. . . . The Catholic Church must be held up as an example. … I will tell you a secret. I am founding an Order’.”[11]

So, what can you and I take away from the both hopeful and discouraging rhetoric surrounding Lowney’s Heroic Leadership book?  Personally, I’m grateful for both sides of the story – for examples of good and evil that come from  seemingly successful leadership models.  When a leader is identified, inherent power is given.  I don’t believe there’s a one size fits all for leadership, but I do believe in relationship building (valuing your people), self-awareness (and self regulation!), shared ownership (speaking into decisions, process, and results), and group decision making (individuals collectively make a choice from the alternatives before them…the idea that the “whole” can create a better outcome through buy-in).  Does it work in every situation?  Probably not – but perhaps that’s the sign of a great leader – one who can adapt to their business culture and utilize the best strategy in the moment to get results, while utilizing and affirming the skills, strengths, and creativity of their team.

But did you know…Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, shared this simple directive:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Philippians 2:3 NIV

[1] https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/leading-jesuit-qa-author-chris-lowney

[2] http://www.tomorrowtodayglobal.com/2011/03/03/heroic-leadership-a-summary/

[3] Barbieri, Richard. “Reading About Leading.” Independent School 73, no. 3 (Spring2014 2014): 122-126. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2017).

[4] https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/leading-jesuit-qa-author-chris-lowney

[5] https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/leading-jesuit-qa-author-chris-lowney

[6] “HEROIC LEADERSHIP (Book).” First Things: A Monthly Journal Of Religion & Public Life no. 147 (November 2004): 61-62. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2017).

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/12/the-new-brand-of-jesuit-universities/384103/

[8] https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/12/the-new-brand-of-jesuit-universities/384103/

[9] https://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/is-heroic-leadership-all-bad/

[10] https://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/is-heroic-leadership-all-bad/

[11] http://nomanregarded.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-jesuit-hand-in-nazi-germany.html

About the Author

Jean Ollis

12 responses to “But did you know…”

  1. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, wonderful job showing both sides of this argument. I agree with you that there is never a clear cut and dry model that will guaranteed work for every scenario.
    I watched a program on the Knights Templar, which praised their banking techniques and gave them repeated kudos on their ability to manage finances and yet protect their secrets to adequately on a nearly global scale. They were trendsetters for banking…and yet…where are they today? You addressed the argument against the Jesuits simply because they are disappearing and losing their hold today. So my question to you is this: Does this fact necessarily prove that their system is flawed, or does it mean that the work place is focusing on the wrong things? In regard to the church, if we sacrificed the “love” principle in pursuit of financial productivity, would a larger, richer church indicate growth or failure?

  2. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hey Jean,
    Thanks for this post and for all the back-story research you did on it! I enjoyed reading this as I learned more and got a better critical look at not only the book but also the Jesuit order in general. As I read the places where you said “but did you know…” I located you in those parts as standing back and kind of saying that in another person’s voice (rather than your own). Is that right? Like, you were kind of playing devil’s advocate, more than making that claim for yourself. Anyway, thanks for the work on this.

  3. Greg says:


    In light of the decline in Jesuit membership and the rebranding of universities, do you believe this book is a propaganda piece as one of the reviewers I read alluded to?

    I think leadership development is messy. If there was a one size fits all we would not need multiple approaches to ministry, different denominations and maybe different toothpaste flavors. One way and one thing would work for everyone. When we teach someone to lead, we never know what will happen and what path they take. Good post. I got me thinking on a Sunday afternoon.

  4. Jason Turbeville says:

    Wow what an insightful post. You did a much better job than I did in finding opposition to Lowney’s book. I could only find people who agreed with him. In the writings you saw was there any discussion of taking some of his principles and leaving others? If so what were they, would be interested in hearing. I do think to just rely on one leadership idea is to limit oneself. Your ending hit the nail on the head, be humble in any position the Lord has put you in.

  5. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    I appreciated your closing statement, “But did you know…Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, shared this simple directive: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3 NIV

    Well stated! And, if I could add, “The first shall be last, and the last first.” Matthew 19:30

    The Jesuits were humble! And in their humility, they understood that people who “appeared to be winning” were actually not going to win in the end. They put their trust in God and built their guiding principles on God’s Holy Word. What could go wrong if they did that?

  6. Jean,

    I loved your research into the various reviews and commentaries on Lowney’s book, and for bringing new and different perspectives onto this discussion.

    As I read, I wondered what will be the influence of Pope Francis on the Jesuit order? Maybe because of his leadership, we will begin to see a resurgence of the order.

    It appears to me – in true Jesuitical fashion – that Francis leads quite powerfully, but in a countercultural manner. He critiques the excesses that have built up over time by intentionally modelling the simple way. His choice of accommodation in the retreat centre in the Vatican is a great example when he forsook the traditional papal apartments for the communal retreat house.


  7. M Webb says:


    That is a great opening review from 2016 on Lowney’s 2003 publication of Heroic Leadership. I think he took some of his own medicine, and I appreciate his humble approach, servant attitude, and focus on followership. I reviewed your habits from Lowney and identify with lifelong self-development, purposes bigger than self, and looking for god in all things. I am not so good at self-awareness and reflection in the Jesuit pattern, but willing to try it out if it will help others, reflect Christ, and glorify God.

    I am so glad you drilled deeper than I did while moving homes this week, and provided us “But did you know” differences between then and now Jesuit leadership. When I led in public safety and military aviation, my style was mostly heroic. However, leading in missions and in the marketplace ministry the post-heroic model seems to work better, especially with the newer generations entering the workforce.

    Like you said, there is no one-size fits all style of leadership, but variations of the Jesuit model do have application in our every changing global context.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  8. Jean, your post was fascinating and made me feel like an idiot for not knowing all those extra facts about the Jesuits and especially the part about Hitler…yikes! But I especially enjoyed your statement, “But did you know…Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, shared this simple directive: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Philippians 2:3 NIV”. This was a drop the mic moment. 🙂

  9. Trisha Welstad says:

    Jean, I was stuck on your quote about post-heroic leaders, “post-heroic leaders are facilitators.” and then your summary of “Rather than using the heroic mindset of focusing on goals, progressive organizational leaders rely on, and nurture, followers – giving them a greater role in finding solutions within the team, vs. promoting their (the leaders) own.” I have found both heroic and post-heroic leadership to be of value but especially the latter with regard to apprenticing others and helping to train leaders. What’s your take on this? Do you agree that heroic leadership is out and post-heroic leadership is in? Is any of this faddish and is there a way that stands the test of time?

  10. Kyle Chalko says:

    Jean, thanks for bringing in a balanced review.
    I’ve already drank deep in the Jesuit kool-aid so I’ll respond as such.

    1. Great point about the Jesuit’s taking a slump, although I would like to see more numbers. Is that in priestly enrollment? Is that in only college student numbers? Even if they are lower it is an incomplete picture. A slump after 450 years I don’t think is a fair comparison. They measure their effectiveness by the decades not by the quarters.

    2. “post-heroic is in”. This is just the type of language Lowney and the Jesuits would not have cared for. They were not concerned with what was in, and that’s probably why they have lasted so long. But the description of being post-heroic is what I feel like the Jesuits did. However, they only let people in who were already aligned with their values, so by the time they joined, the initiate’s vision was one in the same.

    3. I did not know that about Hitler. Hitler also used roads. And Hitler also didn’t believe in cruelty towards animals. I’m not sure I see the connection, that just because Hitler did it, makes it evil. All truth is God’s truth and if something works to advance his Kingdom, it may also be perverted and used by our free will to bring destruction.

    Ok there is my tunnel-visioned responses to your response. Great post Jean. cya tomorrow!

  11. Dan Kreiss says:

    I wish I had read your blog before today. My method of selecting blogs on which to comment generally means I miss some of the better ones. Glad yours was highlighted today as it encouraged me to go back and read it. It seems that the Jesuit Order is having many of the same issues the rest of the Church is facing with declining enrollment. As they came to establish educational institutions they too became dependent on the financial resources those institutions provided. It seems they have lost much of the flexibility that Lowney touts so highly.

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