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.” 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.”
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.” 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.”
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.
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.”  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. “A university doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is a reflection of the world in which it exists.” 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.” 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.” 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’.”
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
 Barbieri, Richard. “Reading About Leading.” Independent School 73, no. 3 (Spring2014 2014): 122-126. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2017).
 “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).