The Jesuit principles “are rooted in the notions that we’re all leaders and that our whole lives are filled with leadership opportunities.” (Lowney, p. 5)
“The paradox is that the energizing power lies precisely in the combination of nonnegotiable core beliefs and a willing embrace of change.” (Lowney, p. 248)
Chris Lowney’s book, Heroic Leadership, is not only very engaging but also well written. He carefully wove the four pillars of success – self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism throughout the book with ever-increasing depth. (See pages 9, 15, 27, 162, and so on.) Skillfully intertwining stories from the past and the present Lowney convincingly makes his case that the same principles that have guided the Jesuits for over 450 years can be used by any organization today to encourage any and all people in their companies to meet the leadership challenges they face.
Ask someone on the street what they think of corporate America and the answer is likely to reflect suspicion, greed, and maybe even envy and anger. I admit that when I opened the book I wondered why I should care that J. P. Morgan found out a way to get richer. I quickly put aside my ambivalence however when I began to read Chris’s stories. Yes, there are stereotypes in the business world. However, we can do something about that as we put the four pillars into practice in our own organizations. It happens that these pillars not only reflect better values but also lead to success and success is not a bad thing (as long as you are not Attila the Hun).
Jason encouraged us to speak on the issues that we are passionate about and I am passionate about history. That was one of the things that made the book so enjoyable for me. I have studied the history of missions and I do admire Francis Xavier for his utterly unselfish love. I admire greatly Matteo Ricci and his willingness to conform to Chinese dress and customs in order to work with the people. Matteo reflects Chris Lowney’s observation quoted above – we must embrace the paradox. We don’t give up the “nonnegotiables” (p. 167), but we must be willing to accept change. We must learn to be indifferent to nonessentials. This leads to real ingenuity in life as we seek to love and serve others in whatever situation we may find ourselves.
We are a global community now. In our DMin program we are studying in a Global Perspectives environment. Like
de Nobili we should “embrace new approaches and explore new ideas or perspectives, born of a ‘whole world becomes our house’ attitude” (p. 166).
Reflection #1 – In his section on questionable leaders, Chris Lowney mentions Cesare Borgia. Cesare was the son of Rodrigo Borgia (1431-1503) of the infamous Borgia family. Rodrigo had many mistresses and Cesare was only one of his twenty plus illegitimate children. Most of us are familiar with the romantic Lucrezia Borgia, a daughter by Rodrigo’s favorite mistress. The stories of poisonings and assassinations are familiar to all of us. What many do not know is Rodrigo’s other name – Pope Alexander VI. Note that Rodrigo (Pope Alexander VI) reigned from 1492 to his death in 1503. Martin Luther (b. 1483) was a young man during this time. Is it any wonder then that Luther and others felt strongly about reforming the Church?
The popes felt that something was needed to counter the Reformers. The Jesuits with their high level of education, drive, ingenuity, and resilience met the challenge. Lowney talks about the efforts the Jesuits made during this time period, but he gives fair treatment to the Reformers admitting that the Church was filled with corrupt bureaucrats (p. 47). We now know unfortunately, that the Catholic Church would wait four centuries before addressing the issue of reform as something other than just countering the Protestants.
Reflection #2 – Far be it from me to complain about the lack of women in the Jesuit organization. The Franciscans and Dominicans have orders for women. Today the Jesuits are “16,000-plus priests, brothers, scholastics and novices worldwide, we are the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church.” (jesuits.org/aboutus) Honestly, I don’t have a problem with men having their own organizations; women do. It’s just that I wonder how much more effective they might be if they had the perspective of the other half of the “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1).
Reflection #3 – The fact that Lowney roots for his own side did not stop me from appreciating all of his good points about leadership. Let’s just say with fine British understatement, “it rather took the edge off a bit.” The lives of the remarkable Jesuit missionaries are something for us to emulate. Their lives of service form the backbone of Chris Lowney’s four pillars of leadership.
What will I take away as I reflect on the four pillars of leadership? I looked at the mission statement of my denomination and it contains the four principles in various places. Will the organizations that I may belong to in the future promote self-awareness, ingenuity, heroism, and the greatest of these – love?