Finally, a book about the Jesuit order that recognizes them to be better role models than Attila the Hun. Don’t get me wrong, Attila has a number of good leadership qualities. His name is incredibly masculine and gives him an aura of mystique. He was known to be ruthless, not prone to being pushed around. He had expert horsemanship, enabling him to escape tricky situations like when he left 100,000 of his men dead on the field and lived to tell about it. He was also incredibly wealthy from all of his pillaging, therefore people emulated him. It is not difficult to understand why corporate America might look to him as a role model. Also, it is obvious that corporate America is not known for great powers of discernment.
Much like the one for whom they are named, the Jesuits practice a counterintuitive leadership that turns the traditional power model on its head as, through humility and extraordinary service to others, they alter the course of the world and exact influence far beyond their size or status. In humanity’s seemingly incessant effort to obtain some form of advantage over another, what if one’s impact was greater through the act of giving rather than taking? What if the Jesuits stumbled over the secret to unlocking leadership ‘best practices’ without ever developing a mission statement, securing financial backing, requiring compliance with the training manual or following the hierarchical organization chart? And what if churches decided they will finally forego the obsession with using the business model to structure themselves and instead attempt to develop a system, based on the example of the Jesuit order, that appears to be more akin to one the founder of the faith may have initiated? Is this just insanity, foolish optimism, and/or blind faith? Why, yes, it is! Blind faith has worked for the Jesuits this long, so why stop now?
With a thorough understanding of both the corporate world and the Jesuit order, Chris Lowney is somehow able to navigate through the morass of texts on leadership principles with something fresh and innovative from a nearly 500 year old organization. He discerns the four key principles that distinguish the order from other leadership models and clearly demonstrates how they have been utilized in context. Contrasting his experience in the Jesuit order with that of his time in the corporate world provides opportunity to compare the two from an insider’s perspective.
Utilizing this text as a lens through which to understand my particular area of interest generates some interesting insights. The structure of the Church is largely unchanged over the last millennia. Particularly when understanding older denominational traditions the Church is big, staid, traditional, hierarchical and prone to provide answers to questions people are no longer asking. This appears to be the antithesis of the Jesuit order, at least as Lowney describes it. Their “abilities to innovate, to remain flexible and adapt constantly, to set ambitious goals, to think globally, to move quickly, to take risks”, all sound like characteristics that the Church of the 21st Century could use.
There is some wisdom in considering the idea that one of the things that could be driving away Millennials from the Western Church is that there is very little distinction between its organizational structures and those of other manipulative institutions such as governments and corporations. When one’s entire life is consumed with surviving the daily grind as dictated by Attila and his cronies why would anyone commit to a community with the veneer of compassion and self-sacrifice masking an identical core to every other institution? Maybe that outlook places too much blame on the institution of the Church for the apparent withdrawal of Millennials from within its community. Perhaps it is not as clear as all that. But, perhaps this is a contributing factor as Millennials attempt to develop their own definitions of what constitutes valued leadership. Possibly the model espoused in this text, provided by the Jesuits would remedy some of that attrition.
The Millennial generation is much less inclined to follow the traditional path, to obey the rules because those in authority said they should, to accept the status quo until they are given the opportunity to wield some influence. Again, the Jesuits may empower Millennials by their willingness to recognize “that we’re all leaders and that our whole lives are filled with leadership opportunities. Leadership is not reserved for a few Pooh-Bahs sitting atop large companies.” In discerning what may be keeping those Millennials who have remained attached to traditional church structures it may be useful to determine whether these principles have been applied thus providing them with opportunities to be connected in ways meaningful to them in the present.
Further, there is little doubt that the cultural landscape is developing rapidly. It is the Jesuits more than many other Christian organizations that have the ability to “speak to us not as experts in dealing with an antiquated sixteenth-century landscape but as experts in eliciting confident performance despite uncomfortably shifting landscapes— in whatever century.”
If it is the form of leadership the Church has chosen to use that is encouraging the withdrawal of so many Millennials than possibly a willingness to develop what Lowry suggests is evident in the Jesuit order would prove to help the Church adjust to the changing landscape. He states that leaders “eagerly explore new ideas, approaches, and cultures rather than shrink defensively from what lurks around life’s next corner.” As the culture goes through further upheaval and meteoric change the example of the flexibility of the Jesuit order to adapt seems worth investigating. As I endeavor to pursue understanding of the relationships Millennials maintain with the Church this text by Lowry will likely be a useful tool.
BTW – I have some leadership books on Attila the Hun I want to sell if anyone is interested. They will be heavily discounted. Also, I’ll be keeping this book on the Jesuits and reading every last word, when I finally get the chance.
 Lowney, Chris. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World: Best Practices from a 450 Year Old Company That Changed the World (p. 4). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid p. 5
 Ibid p. 9
 Ibid p. 29