Who needs another leadership book? Apparently everyone. Chris Lowney, in his book, Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, asserts that all people are leaders, influencing others through belief and behavior. Lowney’s seven years in a Jesuit seminary followed by a career in investment banking provide him with foundational tools to observe influencers in a variety of contexts. His discoveries reveal the Jesuits have a considerable amount to teach corporations and the world in perspective and action regarding leadership.
In approaching Lowney’s text, I consulted reviews from Jana Riess and Arthur Boers. While Reiss draws the conclusion that “this is no formulaic “12-steps-to-success” tome,” Boers contends, “Lowney’s book resembles many leadership tomes in its crisp summaries of themes, quotes set off in bold type, insets and leadership stories.” Both are not wrong. Lowney outlines the text as many leadership books do, making it quite accessible, while continually directing his content toward the four core principles of leadership he’s extrapolated from Jesuit life and history. These principals of self-awareness, ingenuity, love and heroism are reiterated in the introduction, conclusion and detailed in each of their own chapters.
Important features of Chris Lowney’s book include the emerging of Jesuits as a ‘company’ (better known today as the ‘Society’ or ‘Society of Jesus’), the aforementioned principals for which the book is based, and the reality that these principals are transferable to any company or person as it were. Possibly most obvious, yet of foundational importance is Lowney’s own background as a Jesuit, guiding his historical interest in Jesuits role models and their unspoken yet lived values of self-awareness, ingenuity, love and heroism.
Lowney’s text is situated as a leadership guide book, denoting one organization’s life in leadership in moderate comparison to other orders of the Catholic Church. Though not truly comparative with modern corporations, the text is a resource explaining the guiding principals of Jesuit leaders. According to Lowney’s website, Heroic Leadership is “used widely in corporations and charitable organizations, it has also become a staple of business school and college curricula.” Lowney proposes a modest template for leadership without a direct explanation of how leaders use the spiritual exercises or principals in modern day examples. In this way, Lowney leaves much room for the reader to interpret the text into their own life or company.
In reviewing Lowney’s text, Arthur Boers found multiple limitations including Lowney’s delicate use of failure citing, “though Lowney does mention some failures, he never shows the downside, let alone the shadows, of the Jesuit approach, which at times has generated formidable opposition. Good leadership invites a hard look at liabilities as well as successes.” Boers compares Heroic Leaderhip to Jonathan Wright’s history of the Jesuits titled God’s Soldiers to fill the failure gap Lowney has left, stating, “He deals with the Jesuits’ faults, which in the past included arrogance, ambition and unseemly alliances with governments or colonizing powers.” Boers also evaluates Lowney as needing “A little less inspirational affirmation and a little more critique [which] would contribute immensely to making clear what the Jesuits could teach leaders.” Boers’ assessment of Heroic Leadership, while helpful in preventing the reader to not swallow Lowney’s text whole as the next leadership formula, tends to major on minor offenses. For Lowney to not inspire or to focus primarily on failure would have taken this leadership text in another direction. Boers statements such as “We never learn how Lowney derives these principles” among others are not well founded as Lowney speaks at length to the principles at work in the leader, clarifying exactly Boers point that the examples cited lived the principles without naming them directly as such.
I found myself in agreement with Boers on one key concept, the “Four Core convictions are good marks of leadership, worth passing on.” As reflections of the internal life of the leader manifest in daily action toward God and others, Heroic Leadership indeed comes across as heroic and original. As Riess has attributed, “more reflective business people of faith will find Lowney’s insights a breath of fresh air.”
From the moment I read Reiss’ review through to the end of Heroic Leadership itself, the idea of ingenuity or embracing change struck me. Ingenuity is necessary yet often overlooked by individuals and especially established religious institutions with regard to leadership. But, as Lowney puts it, “ingenuity-driven leaders uncover ways to turn human potential into achievement and a vision of the future into a reality.”
Lowney’s example of one of the spiritual exercises made me consider a documentary I watched a few years ago called, “Craigslist Joe” where a man lives off of the free list on Craigslist for a year. He only kept a backpack and his laptop with him on his pilgrimage. No cash, no car, no pre-arranged meal plan. The man, Zach, from the documentary illustrates the principle of innovation by having to make things up as he went, hoping to prove that people were good and would do kind things for a total stranger. At the end of the journey Zach has made some significant self-discoveries, influenced many around him for the better and gained a new perspective on the US. In part, Craigslist Joe demonstrates the two vital components of ingenuity in an attitude of indifference and the Contemplation to Attain Love. Lowney defines indifference as a sense of being released from prejudices, attachments, fears, and narrow-mindedness that can block the enthusiastic pursuit of new ideas and opportunities. The practice of Contemplation to Attain Love was a meditation toward viewing the world as full of love and relates to the third principle of the Jesuits.
As I research toward understanding discipleship theory and practice, I find most discipleship methods to be stony and often catechized. But discipleship must be flexible, fluid and innovative as it is made up of people, ever changing with life and culture. The core beliefs and values of discipleship centered on Christ are nonnegotiable, providing an anchor. Beyond these values, disciple-makers must be able to respond in love and adaptability indifferent to fear, prejudice, and provincialism. This is much easier said than done. The forming of innovative leaders/disciple-makers calls for a life rhythm of trust in the Anchor and a willingness to abandon all else.
To give a taste for an innovator in action, I have included the trailer from Craigslist Joe here.
 Lowney, Chris. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003. 16-17.
 Riess, Jana. Review. “Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World”. Publishers Weekly: New York, Vol. 250, Iss. 21, May 26, 2003, 65.
 Lowney, Chris. 2017. Accessed November 7, 2017. http://chrislowney.com/wp/ heroic-leadership/
 Boers, Arthur Paul. “Review of Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World / God’s Soldiers: Adventure, Politics, Intrigue, and Power: A History of the Jesuits”. The Christian Century: Chicago, Vol. 121, Iss. 21, Oct 19, 2004, 62-64.
 Boers, 63.
 Riess, 65.
 Lowney, 296.
 Lowney, 128.