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In his insightful book, Heroic Leadership1, author Chris Lowney suggests four pillars for effective leadership: self-awareness; ingenuity, a loving attitude, and heroism, or eliciting great desires. I will explore these principles over the next four months, expanding on what Lowney wrote from my own and others’ experience.

Self-awareness, or self-reflectiveness, is composed of four virtues:

humility, courage, wisdom, and commitment.

Self-awareness means looking at the total me. It takes humility to face and accept the truth of one’s limitations and weaknesses as well as one’s talents and strengths. It takes courage to learn about one’s self from one’s failures as well as from one’s successes. Wisdom is necessary to know how and where one can be tempted to veer off the ethical course and do the ‘wrong’ rather than the ‘right’ thing. And, commitment is essential to take the time to slow down, get in touch with a deeper reality than what appears on the surface of one’s consciousness, and stay with it until a deeper meaning emerges.

A good analysis of the importance of living a reflective life comes from writer Thomas Hart:

“Something inside us keeps prompting us to do the good. We have a strong sense that we must do certain things and must not do certain others. It feels like a nudge, a push, sometimes a pull. It is an inner movement, a felt sense. We can go against it and sometimes do, but when we do we feel bad, as if we have failed in something important… we call this inner urge conscience.”

Living without reflectiveness is the doorway to rationalization and an abandonment of one’s conscience.

I have found that a helpful companion to self-awareness is sharing what I have learned about myself with someone I trust. This can be an individual or a support group.

What is proposed here about individuals also applies to a business, a city, a country. Companies that repeatedly get in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission have lost the spirit of their mission statement and code of conduct (presuming they have one). I think of one company that has had to re-commit itself to a corporate integrity agreement twice over a period of five years and at the insistence of the government. It has seemingly lost the art of corporate reflectiveness and commitment to ethical principles.

Regarding a city, or a country for that matter, the words of Winston Churchill are meant to stir its citizens to reflection, “A society is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” It is measured by how it treats the defenseless — the homeless, women who have been abused, the poor, elderly, immigrants, and so forth. Implied here are the values a society is built on, its ‘soul’ if you will, and its moral fiber. Reflection comes to play in the kind of choices its citizens make and who they elect to office.

1 Heroic Leadership, by Chris Lowney (Chicago, Il: Loyola Press, 2003), Chapter 2. In his book, Lowney compares the leadership principles of the Jesuits with those of modern corporate leadership principles.

Readers’ Comments on previous “Heroic Leadership” Entries

“Nicely written. I keep being impressed with Pope Francis’s symbolic gestures. He is certainly modeling a more servant leadership approach than we have seen in awhile.” — Marcia, educator

“I enjoy readings on heroic leadership and servant leadership as I feel this is my calling. I strive to do the best I can for all the students and staff I work with. A good example of heroic leadership is the great Sitting Bull.” — Audrey, superintendent of education

“I am moved by your writing on Pope Francis because I was also educated by the Jesuits, in South Africa. I recall writing A.M.D.G. on all school work. I share high hopes for a renewed papacy, one that will effectively deal with the sexual abuse scandals as well as issues related to the Vatican Bank.” — Graham, retired business man

“Thanks for your latest newsletter. I am hoping that Pope Francis will continue to surprise us and show us how to be a ‘poor church for the poor.’ It will be a hard sell especially for North America and Europe where there seems to be so much emphasis on getting and buying more and more trying to fill our spiritual hunger with all the wrong ‘stuff.’ I see the effects of this in the high rates of depression in university students. Plus, it’s getting hard to find leaders whether political, institutional, or in the business world who have a social conscience. There are good people who are working for change, but we need more of them.” — Heather, psychologist

“This issue was perfectly timed for me as I have been working on teaching my young son on why it is important to work hard and who we work for. As adolescence is growing in him everyday he is beginning to struggle with a variety of issues. I feel Jesuit ideology speaks to this challenge perfectly.” — Jen, mother and registered nurse

“Your newsletter on heroic leadership was excellent on several levels: the reflections on Pope Francis and the hope of his positive influence in the Church in the coming years; secondly, your article can nurture the seed of ‘magis’ planted in each one of us; and, thirdly, I expect an acceleration in the quantity and quality of school applicants for Jesuit institutions because of the Pope’s influence.” — Edward, educator

“This article will be helpful to many to understand the Jesuits as well as Pope Francis and may lead some to make an Ignatian retreat.” — Tenny, retired Jesuit theologian

Comments on Hank Shea’s No. 1, on Integrity and Courage:

“Integrity is achieved when society recognizes evil. The evil of politicians who make laws based on how much money they receive from lobbyists; the evil of civic leaders who send criminals whose lives are entwined in a life of crime back to society; and the evil of those who take the life of the unborn or the old and the sick.” — Robert, retired rancher

“When you tell the truth you never have to wonder what you said the last time and to whom.” — Michael, retired businessman

(May 17, 2013)

Related Items of Interest

The Apostolic Preferences energize the Bishop of Inongo

Discernment and Leadership: A Jesuit contribution to the Church

Proposing silence in an unbridled culture