“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

And just how, exactly, does one do that? It’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?

Chris Lowney, a Jesuit seminarian turned investment banker with JP Morgan, provides a fascinating perspective on this subject in “Heroic Leadership”, in which he describes the four pillars of the Jesuit leadership principles, as astonishingly applicable in today’s secular world as they were to the founders of the 450+ year old religious order started by Ignatius of Loyola – a company that literally changed the world through its network of Jesuit high schools & colleges.

The model has both simplicity and power, and significantly, its tenets of leadership embraced by seminarians and educators mirrors emerging empirical research.

The foundation is Self-Awareness.  Who am I?  What do I stand for?  What are my values?  And at my core, what are my strengths & weaknesses?  Historically, Jesuits engage in a 30-day intensive process of self examination and continue with a lifetime practice of very brief, thrice-daily self-examination (the examen) in which each person gauges how they are doing in capitalizing on strengths, improving weaknesses and measuring progress against principles and goals.

Fascinatingly, this process of daily examination is known as reflection on the run.  The Jesuit strategic values include speed, mobility, responsiveness and flexibility. They’re adventurous while remaining committed to core beliefs, engaging in contemplation and a quick return to action.

Immersion in real life, rather than living cloistered and apart, is tied to the second pillar, Ingenuity, in which one confidently innovates and adapts to embrace a changing world.   By cultivating “indifference” to the outcome, similar to the concept of non-attachment in the Buddhist faith, leaders remain flexible to changing priorities.  Loyola described the ideal Jesuit as “living with one foot raised” – always ready to respond to emerging opportunities.

The third pillar of Love is one the author readily admits he hesitated to mention in the cut and thrust environment of JP Morgan. What it means, however, is seeing value in others, engaging them with a positive, loving attitude.   Echoed in the strengths focus endorsed by both the Gallup organization and the Positive Psychology movement, it runs counter to Theory “X” identified by Douglas McGregor, in which people are thought to be essentially lazy, and therefore need to be motivated and controlled.  Instead, Love exhorts us to behave as though each of us is self-motivated and thus needs to be guided towards challenges, as supported by Dan Pink’s work in “Drive” in which he concludes that engaged employees require Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

The final pillar is energizing oneself and others by Heroic Ambitions – seeking to shape the future with bold action.

Well, that’s all very well.  I’d be fine if everyone else would jump on the bandwagon, but what am I supposed to do in the face of apathetic, self-involved co-workers and subordinates?

    • Lead yourself.  As the author points out, leadership is not limited to the great, momentous event; it’s in life’s thousand small opportunities.  While we may believe that making the grand gesture is true leadership, we are most often judged on our daily behaviour.

Corollary:

  • Lighten your focus on controlling results.  Leaders control only their own actions, however, one’s actions can be profoundly influential.
  • Stop acting like we’re leading followers and start acting like we’re leading leaders. Trust and support those “on the ground”.
  • Leaders are humans, not saints.  Ensure the culture has room for risk taking, and deals with mistakes by quickly and quietly correcting them, without paralysis.  Let’s not be like Mark Twain’s cat, “The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either.”
  • Find and develop the best talent.  Look for the highest quality, most authentic people.
  • Help subordinates locate their own on-buttons for motivated performance.  Think of it as the multiplier effect. If the process is followed, it becomes self-reinforcing and self-replicating. But it is not effortless.
  • Find a way to make the corporate objectives personal, because until they are, they aren’t motivating.  Remember the news story about Baby Jessica in the Well?   Her story gained worldwide attention, because individuals could relate to a single 18-month old toddler, while remaining unmoved by the plight of thousands of starving children in third world news coverage.

Many years ago, I received a wonderful guideline for correct action from my daughter Lauren’s first grade teacher, who had just admonished another parent for helping herself to the jelly-bean jar on the teacher’s desk.

“But it’s just one jelly bean!” the parent protested, to which the teacher replied:

“If everyone did what you did, would the world be a better or worse place?”

In summary, leadership starts with self; it’s a personal choice.  Lead by example.  Be authentic.  Be ruthlessly frank with yourself about your strengths, weaknesses and the gaps between your intended and your actual behaviour.  And stay open to wisdom from the most surprising sources, including a 450+ year old religious order.

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