The Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific’s Leadership Development Program drew together 35 aspiring leaders from across the region in early November. Five Australians were among those gathered at the Mirador Jesuit Villa Retreat House in Baguio City for the gathering. Philippa McIlroy from Jesuit Social Services Australia shares her reflections on the program.
Fr Fernando Azpiroz SJ doesn’t believe that St Ignatius would approve of the branding of a leadership style as ‘Ignatian leadership’.
Originally from Argentina, Fernando has worked for many years in China, and is the Director of Ricci Social Services in the Hunan Province. For more than 30 years Ricci Social Services has worked with people living with leprosy and supported many affected by HIV and AIDS.
As we gathered to reflect on what it means to be leaders in Jesuit ministries, there was quiet agreement among the group regarding Fernando’s intuition. So instead of talking about ‘Ignatian leadership’, the phrase ‘Leadership anchored in Ignatian Spirituality’ was adopted.
Reflection and sharing were important parts of the gathering. The facilitators from the Centre for Organisational Research and Development at Ateneo de Manila University organised the program so that there was ample time for consolidation of learning. Learning circles of 5-6 participants included a range of ages, experience levels, ethnicities and genders. These were a wonderful opportunity to reflect together and listen carefully to the insights we had each gained from the course material.
Taking time out to observe
Fr Tony Moreno SJ, President of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, shared with us ten leadership propositions from the Spiritual Exercises and the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. These insights provided valuable context for discussing leadership anchored in Ignatian Spirituality.
Bo Peep Franco introduced us to a process observation and analysis tool, which allowed us to think about ways in which we can make work meetings and discussions more effective and inclusive. These practical approaches will serve not only participants but also our colleagues well into the future.
Through Heifetz and Linsky’s (2002) ‘Survival Guide for Leaders’, we learnt of the importance of maintaining high-level perspective in the midst of action and minutiae. Just as ‘great athletes must simultaneously play the game and observe it as a whole’, leaders have to maintain a capacity to reflect even amongst the chaos of competing tasks and responsibilities.
Heifetz and Linsky call this skill ‘getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony’. This is a helpful image that encapsulates the process of stepping back from the main action and asking, ‘What’s really going on here?’ We were reminded that the move from the dance floor to the balcony and back again must be continual, ‘over again throughout the days, weeks, months, and years’.
When he met with the board chairs and presidents of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States in October 2013, the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus Fr Adolfo Nicolás SJ stated that in order to make good decisions, ‘selflessness is necessary, a humble altruism that surrenders my own preferences to a greater good’.
‘Magis’ was, for Ignatius, the recognition that our call is to always undertake the better choice, the more effective enterprise, the more influential option, and go where the need is greater. Fr Nicolás explained that when we focus on ‘a bigger, more important transcendental value’ and surrender our own personal preferences, it makes the small and less important choices possible.This approach was clearly evident in what we learnt of the work of the Jesuits in a variety of ministries across Asia Pacific. These individuals and groups work across cultures and religions and for many they are strangers in a foreign land, searching to understand how others live and work.
Ignatius urged love-driven leadership and said, ‘love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words’.
Learning from others
All over the world, there are Jesuit ministries in which the ordained and religious work alongside lay mission partners and people of diverse cultures and beliefs in the service of the greater good. Just like Matteo Ricci in 16th century China, they continue to honour the traditions and ways of working of others that they encounter.
When asked about the challenge of trying to adapt to a different culture and religion while remaining true to mission and effective in ministry, Fr Ben Nebres SJ did not hesitate to explain his great respect and admiration for the Buddhist groups he has worked with who are experts in mobilising quickly and in community organisation during disaster relief.
I came to understand that doctrine doesn’t mean anything without service. An effective ministry is built by the ability to be able to acknowledge and celebrate the unique skills and approaches of everyone and work together in order to develop deep relationships. These bonds then allow you to connect over what moves you. We are united by the common purpose of working for the greater good.
By Philippa McIlroy, Jesuit Social Services Australia.