Servant leadership: The Grad at Grad

Dr Tony Fauci has become a regular feature at White House press conferences in recent months, as the country struggles to come to grips with the coronavirus. The Jesuit-educated Fauci is described by one author as a leader who embraces facts, principled pragmatism and humane values - a servant-leader. It is the same leadership model we put before the boys here at St Aloysius College, writes Fr Ross Jones SJ.

In recent months we have become familiar (almost daily) with the figures of Dr Anthony Fauci on the media podium with President Donald Trump. Fauci has had a distinguished medical research career at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (nearly forty years as Director), seeking to contain HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, swine flu and now COVID-19. He now heads the Trump Administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, working fifteen-hour days. His credentials are without peer.

Taking a name from the movie and television series, these two could be styled The Odd Couple. Such different personalities, temperaments and agendas. As one Guardian reporter put it,

To achieve success according to their respective definitions of the word, the two men need each other. Trump needs Fauci to shore up fading public trust in his administration’s disaster response. Fauci needs Trump to take action that saves lives.

But there has emerged a powerful anti-Fauci movement from the political right. Fauci always looks to the safer long haul. But his critics want a quick fix in the face of limits to freedom and the crippling current economic difficulties. Trump has some sympathies for them – even recently he re-tweeted a Fauci critic with the hashtag #FireFauci. But Fauci knew, in terms of Ignatian discernment, the greater good is so often in the long-term goal rather than the shorter-term payoff.

These two rarely sang from the same hymn sheet. When Trump claimed he knew the source of the virus, or suggested a ban on travellers from China would stem the pandemic, or that a lupus drug would be a miracle cure, or that drinking or injecting antiseptics might be effective treatments, Fauci would simply make measured, gentle corrections, taking people back to the hard scientific truths. It was the respectful integrity that Ignatius expected of all his followers in any contexts of conflict and divided opinions.

Fauci’s public approval ratings run currently almost twice those of Trump. Three articles on Anthony Fauci caught my attention recently, two from Forbes magazine and the third from The Stanford Daily. They all return to Fauci’s Ignatian formation as a young man at Regis High School in Manhattan. Regis is a tuition-free Jesuit school, enrolling students on the basis of talent and character. An able student, in his final year (1958) Fauci also captained the school’s Basketball team.

Looking to the early shaping of Fauci’s character, one of the authors referred to Regis’ mission statement:

‘All of the school’s goals for the personal development of its students – intellectual, moral, spiritual, and emotional – must be understood with this end in mind: Regis students are asked to develop all their abilities so that they may be used in the service of others.’

That should have a familiar ring to those in our school communities – the goal is to be other-directed. It is what shaped Fauci and he speaks of such formation often. In a recent interview for National Geographic he told the reporter,

 My whole life was almost served to me on the basis that my mother and father were very much oriented toward service. They were never really interested in money or material things. That’s just the way they were, both of them. So I never knew there was anything like going out there and making a lot of money, and that was really cemented when I went both to a Jesuit high school and a Jesuit college, where the entire theme was service for others.

Fauci is described by one author as a leader who embraces facts, principled pragmatism and humane values. He is described as a servant-leader. It is the same leadership model we put before the boys here at St Aloysius’ College.
Jesus, of course, presents as the servant-leader, par excellence – both in word and in deed. But it was not until the 1970s that such a model was launched in the corporate world by a proven business executive, Robert Greenleaf. In his seminal work, Servant Leadership, Greenleaf makes scant mention of Jesus, but speaks of universal principles that he has drawn from the best of business and corporate practice.

There are a number of characteristics of Greenleaf’s servant leadership. And they parallel nicely the features of our Ignatian spirituality and pedagogy (in brackets): listening (a feature of ‘Ignatian conversations’); empathy (compassion, a humanitas); healing; awareness (self-knowledge and reflection); persuasion (eloquentia perfecta, ‘a flawless eloquence’); stewardship (care for creation and resources); commitment to the growth of people (cura personalis); building community (as in our Aloysian family).
When Greenleaf first proposed his insights, they seemed so counter-cultural. He proposed that the servant-leader was servant (not leader) first. It begins with the feeling that one wants to serve, then a conscious choice that one aspires to lead. In that order. He wrote:

‘The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant – first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?’

Back in the 1980s, our schools were invited to draw up those qualities they would like to see manifested in their students at the point of graduation. An ideal description of the graduate at graduation. In American shorthand parlance it became known as the grad at grad. There are nineteen of them. Two of them are:

  • begins to practice leadership skills, including vision, relating well and collaborating with others, and acting with integrity.

  • sees leadership as an opportunity for service to others and the community.

Tony Fauci is an exemplar of such leadership in his service of six American Presidents and his nation. He has modelled the grad at grad through an illustrious career. Whether by formation or by instinct, he lives out Greenleaf’s characteristics.
I think he would be too humble to say it, but I believe he also echoes Jesus: ‘Here am I among you, as one who serves.’ (Luke 22:27)

Fr Ross Jones SJ is Rector of St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point. This article first appeared in The Gonzagan.



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