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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

St. Ignatius And 500 Years of Leadership Advice

Saint Ignatius

Saint Ignatius

Realities that still resonate today

Ann Skeet
Ignatius of Loyola was a man well ahead of his time. Nearly 500 years ago he honed in on realities about leadership that still resonate today and even seem downright prescient.  
St. Ignatius gave us many gifts: his spiritual exercises of self-reflection, his wisdom that everyone is a leader, his teaching that leadership is a lifetime process, and that it comes from within us all. This founder of the Jesuit Order said that, armed with self-awareness, ingenuity, heroism, and love (more on that in minute), we have everything we need to lead.


St. Ignatius’ practices encourage the development of self-awareness, a concept that has been reintroduced today as mindfulness. Some understand mindfulness to mean we should be “fully present” and “in the moment.” To achieve true mindfulness one must first know oneself, warts and all.  


Nothing says Silicon Valley like ingenuity. Our ability to imagine new ways to do old things and develop fresh things is the essence of the place. People who thrive on figuring things out gravitate toward the Bay Area and, in a symbiotic way, create products that help people thrive around the world.


Heroism as Ignatius offers it to us is not as it is sometimes considered—the incredible efforts or abilities of a single person, a hero. Rather it is the work of setting goals so significant and challenging that they require the work of many people—aspirations that are so great no one person could achieve them alone.


This work happens most easily when there is love. The Jesuits were first known as the company of Jesus. In the book Heroic Leadership, author Chris Lowney reminds us that company and companion are from the same Latin root. The early Jesuits were not only companions of Jesus, but friends to one another. Their camaraderie and commitment to aiming for heroic outcomes is what made them a company. Few of us think of camaraderie and company when we hear people talk of companies today, and Lowney asks, “Why?”
In a previous role, I participated in the program—and later served as CEO—of an organization called American Leadership Forum (ALF). I was invited to become ALF’s second CEO by its board chair, Fr. Paul Locatelli, president of Santa Clara University, in 2000. ALF is an organization founded by Joe Jaworski, son of Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor in the Watergate hearings.
Many wise people influenced Joe’s thinking as he created a nonprofit to cultivate broader civic engagement and leadership at the local level. Joe shares an observation of his father’s in his book, Synchronicity, that has stayed with me. Leon said, on the heels of one of the greatest scandals in our nation’s history, that Watergate could happen because too many Americans had started to look toward Washington, D.C., for the answers to their problems. They placed all of their leadership bets on one person, Richard Nixon. Leon inspired Joe to create ALF to reinforce distributed leadership, which has long been a strength of our country. Rather than look to the White House for answers, we need to look within ourselves. Ignatius of Loyola thought so too.
Here on campus, in an idyll where the weather is almost-perfect and all the children, as Garrison Keillor would say, are above average, we must remember to find what we are looking for in ourselves, the way we live our own lives and the lofty goals we hope to achieve with the love and support of others.
This article was originally posted on Santa Clara's thought leader blog Illuminate on Nov. 11, 2016.
Nov 18, 2016

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