Here’s a nuts and bolts guide to understanding Ignatian leadership according to the founder of the Jesuits.
Leadership is about providing direction. It involves being concerned about people, and not just about tasks; providing a view of the whole; about guiding, inspiring … This is why the concept of “Ignatian leadership” has become popular among executives and boards of directors. The term refers to a rediscovery of the intuitions of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Azpeitia, Spain 1491 – Rome, Italy 1556) regarding the practical aspects of life, and the application of his ideas to leadership, and to guiding people towards the achievement of a specific mission.
The guidelines of Ignatian leadership help provide technical orientation for executives, based on principles and values related to the Ignatian tradition.
These factors and skills are taken from the saint’s famous work The Spiritual Exercises and also from a work less well known by the general public, the Constitutions of the Company of Jesus (the Jesuits).
Here are some of the aspects of Ignatian leadership:
1. Personal skills
Self-knowledge: If you are an Ignatian leader, you live with confidence, seeking in your interior the motivation for leadership.
Self control: You manage and channel your emotions serenely.
Style: You understand the role of a leader as a service; you take on the personal costs it involves and happily accept being evaluated and answering to others regarding your performance.
Spirituality: You know how God acts in your life; you have done the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and apply collaborative techniques to achieve a shared vision.
2. Social Skills
Relationships: You establish warm personal relationships with people, love those you lead, win their respect, and inspire confidence in them.
Guidance: You take care of people, promoting their integral development and their incorporation into the mission of the institution where they work.
Teams: You contribute to the creation of a good work environment, fostering internal unity, cohesion, and solidarity; you recognize people’s attitudes, efforts and results.
Corporative aspect: You delegate responsibilities, encourage the community, and utilize participative methodologies.
3. Strategic Skills
Knowledge of the mission: You are familiar with the legacy of Ignatius of Loyola and the apostolic tradition of the Company of Jesus.
Context: You interpret the religious, cultural, economic, and socio-political context in which your work is immersed.
Faith and dialog: You foster the creation of a pluralistic community of people in which believers express their faith and respect the ideas of those who do not share their beliefs.
Justice and ecology: You analyze reality critically, keeping in mind the perspective of those who are excluded, especially in the area in which your work is carried out, and you carry forward projects to overcome social problems of injustice, poverty, exclusion, and ecological awareness.
Strategy: You establish diagnostics; you are able to understand and confront the challenges from the world around you regarding the vision and mission of the organization, so as to plan and create a shared strategy with Jesuit institutions in your region and from other regions of apostolate.
Management: You look to do more, to love and to serve, and to care for people, being present where others are not.
4. Transversal Skills
Decisions: You make decisions using Ignatian spiritual discernment, and understand the consequences of your decisions.
Change: You lead the process of creating and implementing innovative projects, getting other people actively involved in the process of change, stimulating reflection and constantly seeking to improve.
Shared reflection: you take into account the wisdom and experience of other people, promoting meetings and encounters with collaborators, and you learn from experience and systematize the results of joint reflection.
Consultation: You propose processes of consultation and prayerful discernment on important issues, seeking substantive information and generating quality opportunities for everyone to express themselves.
These are leadership skills in organizations and institutions. José María Guibert, the rector of the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, says that “organizations can be a channel for doing a lot of good, but if they aren’t careful, they can be a source of malaise, dehumanization, secularization, and even injustice.”
The compass is clear: seek God in all things, practicing discernment. Guibert explains this in depth in Ignatian Leadership. A path of transformation and sustainability (El liderazgo ignaciano. Una senda de transformación y sostenibilidad) published in Spanish by Sal Terrae.
Fr. José M. Guibert (1962) has been the director of a formation program for Ignatian leadership since 2010. He has been the rector of the University of Deusto since 2013.
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