The Emotionally Intelligent Jesuits
Chris Lowney’s book, Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World, was a fascinating read. I would have never thought I would be reading a leadership book based on the Jesuits, let alone referring to them as a thriving company to take notice of. After reading it, I am now convinced we have much to learn from the Society of Jesus, and others who have reviewed this unorthodox approach to leadership agree as well. If you can read through some of the lengthy Jesuit history you can find some revolutionary leadership principles. One of the foundational principles is the idea that everyone is a leader. Lowney writes, “Four differences stand out: • We’re all leaders, and we’re leading all the time, well or poorly. • Leadership springs from within. It’s about who I am as much as what I do. • Leadership is not an act. It is my life, a way of living. • I never complete the task of becoming a leader. It’s an ongoing process.” This concept of everyone leads is hard for people to grasp when every other leadership book focuses on the concept of leaders and followers. The concepts in the book that were most attractive to me were the leadership pillars of self-awareness and love.
Self-awareness is something I help my clients increase in on a daily basis. As the author points out, helping people “understand their strengths, weaknesses, values, and worldview” is one of the keys to helping them master their life. The Jesuits seemed to figure this out, unlike many people in leadership positions today. Many people do not seem to be self-aware, and when I ask them who they are and what they want in life they often look back at me with a blank stare. I notice people tend to be uncomfortable being introspective, and they have never been challenged to do what the ancient Greeks encouraged, “to know thyself”. This appeared to be a key element for the Jesuits as they referred to this idea of self-leadership. “If all leadership is first self-leadership that springs from personal beliefs and attitudes, then each person must first decide what personal leadership legacy he or she wants to leave behind.” This seems to be lost on most people I see in my practice. They often don’t know what they believe, and they definitely have not thought about what kind of legacy they want to leave. Our culture seems to breed much of the opposite, an attitude of what can I attain and how can I better my life. Like Lowney, I believe if more people were self-aware, we would naturally have more quality leaders in our midst.
The next Jesuit leadership pillar our world needs is love. Now this sounds a little trite, but it is a leadership quality that is left out of almost all leadership books. This book highlights a beautiful principle found in scripture, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” In fact, Lowney writes that Ignatius Loyola counseled his Jesuit managers to govern using “all the love and modesty and charity possible” so that teams could thrive in environments of “greater love than fear.” This is revolutionary because many leaders and manager today are convinced their subordinates need to fear them in order to respect them. The Jesuits believed everyone to be of value, and everyone to be a leader and the bottom line was that this approach of leading with love worked tremendously. “That’s love-driven leadership: the vision to see each person’s talent, potential, and dignity; the courage, passion, and commitment to unlock that potential; and the resulting loyalty and support that energize and unite teams.” Companies that care more about their employees than the bottom line stand the best chance to stand the test of time.
The next thing that caught my attention was the Jesuit’s commitment to an egalitarian approach to leadership. “Their egalitarian, world-embracing embracing vision enabled Jesuits to create teams that seamlessly blended recruits from European nobility, the world’s poorest families, and most everything thing in between.” Since the topic of my research is egalitarian leadership, namely men and women in equal partnership, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Jesuits live by this value. Although their version of egalitarian did not include females, in my research I discovered that in April of 2014 they began allowing women into the Society of Jesus. James Martin, the Jesuit author of the best-selling book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, is quoted in the article as saying “Our Ignatian-minded sisters will be fully-recognized Jesuits. Martin added that the female members will be called Hermanas Sociedad, but we’ve already nicknamed them ‘the Kateris’, after Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who was converted by Jesuits. We believe the Kateris will bring what Blessed John Paul II called “the feminine genius” into the mainstream.” This is a powerful affirmation of women and I pray they continue to be celebrated and put forward as equal leaders in the church. In fact, on March 8th of this year at a conference in Rome, they were discussing this very thing.
The last gem I want to include (so I have it referenced for future) is Goleman’s powerful list of five core competencies: “Self-Awareness: the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives. Self-Regulation: the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; the propensity to suspend judgment-to think before acting. Motivation: a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status. Empathy: the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. Social Skill: proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; an ability to find common ground and build rapport.” Of all the leadership books I have read, I have never seen a list of leadership qualities that even come close to matching these, mostly because these are all about emotional intelligence, which is extremely lacking in leaders today. I believe the key to the Jesuits’ success was their amazing ability to develop emotional intelligence in their members, thus living out the five core competencies.
 Chris Lowney. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World (Kindle Locations 124-126).
 Ibid., 82-84.
 Ibid., 82-84.
 Ibid., 189-190.
 I John 4:18 (NIV)
 Chris Lowney. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World (Kindle Locations 290-291).
 Ibid., 1702-1703.
 Ibid., 299-300.
 Elizabeth Scalia. BREAKING: Jesuits to Admit Women to the Society. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2014/04/01/breaking-jesuits-to-admit-women-to-the-society/#gcqp0t8UBbPjvaLd.99
 Bradley Eli. Head Jesuit Calling for Women’s Ordination. https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/head-jesuit-calling-for-womens-ordination
 Chris Lowney. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World (Kindle Locations 1029-1032).
10 responses to “The Emotionally Intelligent Jesuits”
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Hey Jake! I’m so glad you did the research and discovered that the Jesuits are admitting women. This is very cool. I’m tempted to apply for membership, but I’m betting that being married would render me ineligible. Might their process of admitting women and lobbying for female leadership within the Catholic church become part of your researc? I think it would be fascinating to investigate!
It is definitely on the list, thanks Jenn.
Jake- You’re a master at writing these posts! Well done again. I would like to continue to grow at helping people in a one-on-one context, increase self-awareness. Since you do that as a core part of your work, I’m curious how you do this. I’m guessing it has something to do with the art of asking good questions. What have been some questions/ statements that help people see themselves more clearly? Thanks brother!!
Thanks for the encouraging words! I usually help clients figure out what makes up their “yard” by asking them what their BVORs are. That’s Beliefs, Values, Opinions & Responsibilities. I do ask other questions but this is a good starting point.
As you discuss many of these principles in your practice with clients what do you believe to be their understanding of the terms self-actualization, self-discipline, and self-awareness. In my work with young people it seems to me that these terms are frequently conflated causing for many of them a drive toward hedonism in order to satisfy themselves. The Jesuits certainly have a different motivation, very countercultural especially for our present industrialized context. Do you think there is a way to communicate the truths you discovered in this book with your clients that might encourage them to consider developing new frameworks?
Thanks Dan, I definitely think this book will help give me another resource and approach to help people increase in their self-understanding.
Jake, I could not agree more with the need to bring better qualities for team building. I believe the worldview is so focused on competition and domination that we have become fixated in stepping on one another rather than loving as commanded in Scripture. Sadly, I have seen this same predicament infect way too many churches as well, completely contradicting what I believe is the ultimate goal set forth by Christ Himself.
So I have this fear that at first glimpse it is going to seem as though our dissertations almost clash with each other, but in fact, I believe they will have a similar impact. Part of what was focused on in this reading was the value that each person can serve in their own way; your paper is promoting egalitarianism, and mine will be focused on the need for diversity through role identification…do you see a conflict n our two themes based on the Jesuits principles?
Great thoughts Shawn, no I don’t see a conflict as long as they are both treated as equals functioning in different roles.
Thanks for your words about self-awareness. This is the one tenant I found myself contemplating the most. You put this into better words than I was able to (I am not surprised, you are a great writer).
You mentioned you try to help your clients with this. Is there a technique you use? One of my toughest counseling client has no clue on self awareness, in fact he needs a huge dose of reality check! Someday I would love to dialog about this with you.
We need your perspectives in this cohort!
Thanks so much for your kind words and I would love to chat with you anytime more about this topic. I usually help clients figure out what makes up their “yard” by asking them what their BVORs are. That’s Beliefs, Values, Opinions & Responsibilities. I do ask other questions but this is a good starting point.