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In the May issue of this newsletter, I shared some reflections on the importance of self-awareness for leaders. This column will treat the value of ingenuity for leaders and some of the obstacles that seek to derail it. I am indebted to author Chris Lowney and his book, “Heroic Leadership” for his valuable insights on this aspect of leadership.

We live in a time of rapid technological change. Modern leaders, in order to be effective, need to have a purposeful commitment to innovation. Concepts that describe this dynamic are:

  • a readiness to respond to emerging opportunities
  • an eagerness to explore new ideas, approaches, and cultures
  • the ability to develop a vision for the future
  • possession of people skills to communicate the vision to others in an appealing way
  • the ability to encourage others to be innovators without being threatened by their success
  • an openness to ongoing learning
  • the inner freedom to risk
  • the flexibility to accept occasional failures as an integral part of the innovative process, and to keep exploring avenues toward one’s goal despite them

Innovative leaders who make a positive effect on their organizations and on society have their own personal code of conduct based on core beliefs and values. It is the kind of commitment that is greater than the negative effects of one’s ego. Here is where self-awareness plays a part – being in touch with internal fears, drives, and attachments that can threaten to derail one’s decisions and actions. “Imagine,” says Lowney, “the chief executive who undertakes an ill-advised merger because his ego inflates along with his company’s balance sheet – or who backs away from a brilliant merger because he and his counterpart cannot carve out roles commensurate with their enormous egos.”

The virtues of ingenuity are: imagination, adaptability, creativity, flexibility, and the ability to respond rapidly to unexpected situations. Ingenuity involves the willingness to work without a script and to dream up imaginative new approaches to problems that have stymied others.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My mother’s father and two of his brothers each founded their own companies. My dad did the same. So I grew up ‘breathing’ the heady smell of risk taking and creativity in the business world. As a Jesuit, most of what I have done over almost 50 years in ministry, I have initiated. I have learned how to use the intuitive dimension of my brain as well as the rational in order to meet and embrace innovative opportunities. However, I have also faced some of the ‘enemies’ of ingenuity along the way:

  • the fear of making a mistake
  • a resistance to taking a risk
  • complacency with the status quo
  • an inability to ‘think outside the box’
  • mental stagnation
  • a slavish attachment to money, power, a prejudice, or to anything else that clouds one’s vision

To the last of these ‘enemies’ of ingenuity, Lowney writes: “I might have first pursued a lucrative job so that I could provide for my family, but somewhere along the line the money itself became my goal, and my family became a neglected second. The end became confused with the means.” Basically, ingenuity is about inner freedom: freedom to risk, freedom to innovate, and freedom to make the right choices.

SPEAKING OF INGENUITY,here is an innovative way to pray the daily news. First, choose a story with some human interest in it. This could be from the newspaper, a magazine, or on-line.

  • Pray for anyone in the story who is a victim – from a natural disaster, a violent act, an accident, etc. If the person is named, pray for him or her by name.
  • Pray for helpers in the story – anyone who is assisting the victim, e.g., police, firefighters, nurses, doctors, for their well-being as they help others.
  • Pray for any oppressors in the story – an abuser, a criminal, the one who harmed those in the story; for their conversion. This is not an easy group to pray for. But Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors” (Matthew 5:43-44).
  • Finally, pray for a particular grace for yourself – something prompted by the story, for example, for deeper compassion, courage to help those in need, the wisdom to distinguish between the sin and the sinner, and so forth.

(June 24, 2013)

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