Leveraging Ignatian Spirituality for Leadership Development

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Justice and Ecology Network Africa has developed a program dubbed purpose-driven leadership development Programme (PLDP). This program is unique because it is anchored on the Ignatian Spirituality. The programme is designed for young people to introduce and explore concepts of purposeful, passionate, responsible and ethical leadership.
The Spirituality-Leadership Nexus:
Latest research shows that, today’s best leaders are spiritually and emotionally intelligent, purpose-driven, passionate and authentic people. These are people who have a sense of call and an inner compass that guides their daily actions and enables them to earn the trust of their subordinates, peers, and stakeholders. Added to this sense of call is the fact that each person seeks to know who they are, what they are here for and each person’s inner compass is different (it is built on each individual’s personal life experience: the successes and failures that shape one’s values, passions, and vision). This is because there is a part of us that yearns for self‐fulfillment by way of responding to one’s highest aspirations and to a developed sense of purpose. We call our awareness of and response to our inner aspirations as spirituality.
Beyond this personalistic focus, authentic purpose‐driven leaders have a relational orientation, a deep sense of the inter-connectedness and dignity of humanity and a deep desire to make a difference for others. In scholarly literature, the traditional paradigm of leadership has been one that includes hierarchical and pyramid‐type structures, a personalistic focus on the leader, and a utilitarian and materialistic ethical perspective . However, with the realization that this traditional paradigm cannot solve many of the problems we confront today, a number of leadership scholars and writers have begun to emphasize the importance of values such as collaboration, the common good and global concern as important components of leadership for the twenty-first century.

A consistent element in the emerging theories of leadership is that leadership is a relational process that involves “collective action grounded in the shared values of people who work together to effect positive change” .Positive change refers to the betterment of others, the community, and society. A further transition in this new paradigm is that a leader is “not necessarily a person who holds some formal position of leadership or who is perceived as a leader by others,” but rather, a leader is the one who is able to effect positive change. Therefore, all people can be considered potential leaders if they are willing to work to accomplish this greater purpose.
Thus, in recent years, leadership scholars have come to emphasize the importance of spirituality as a critical element of leadership For example, Kiefer contends that “the essence of leadership stems from the soul rather than from his or her behaviour” Likewise, Harung asserts that, “leadership potential is unfolded by the experience of transcending” Also, Astin and Astin also state that “future leaders will not only need to possess new knowledge and skills, but will also be called upon to display a high level of emotional and spiritual wisdom and maturity” . All of these perspectives illustrate how leadership is closely related to one’s spirituality through a growing awareness of self and others. In other words spirituality has an essential role in leadership. Spirituality makes people free; free to avoid idleness, to innovate, to find new opportunities to serve or even make a difference, and free to be more creative and to make things different and new. It makes people free to accept criticism, free to live with the vicissitudes of life and the political arena. By focusing on spirituality, we can provide the African society, political and business organizations with interiorly free individuals and we can develop leaders of all walks of life, executives and professionals who understand that their purpose is greater than themselves.
Furthermore, Hooks contends: “spiritual life is…about commitment to a way of thinking and behaving that honours principles of inter-­‐being and interconnectedness”. Accordingly, the more aware a person is of the sanctity of the web of life, the more pro-social the person may become. Such a person “broadens one’s concept of self, increases the role of morality and strengthens the individual sense of responsibility towards the world” .And this sense of responsibility is likely to move people to take action for peace and social justice. The life stories of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, and many other peace activists are examples of how the inner cultivation of personal spirituality can lead to leadership for social change.
The rationale of this project rests on four (4) premises:
(i) First, the long- term success of an organization, community or a country depends on good, responsible and ethical leadership, not just on technical proficiency and skillful management.
(ii) Second, good leadership must be grounded in ethical values.
(iii) Third, there are tensions between personal values and goals, on the one hand, and organizational, community or societal values and goals on the other. Purpose-­‐driven and Ethical leadership involves recognizing and reconciling those tensions.
(iv) Fourth, although leadership is a complex form of human behaviour, most of what we think of as leadership is learned and, therefore, can be taught. However, very few colleges and universities in Africa and even elsewhere teach leadership, and very few institutions provide it.
The PLDP will go beyond the traditional focus of leadership training and development that is placed on the development of leadership skills for their own sake. Therefore, the PLDP will provide leadership formation to young people not as leaders but as human beings in their beliefs and behaviours, their thoughtfulness and self-­‐respect. In this light, the programme introduces participants to such concepts of self-­‐leadership as purpose, meaning, passion, self-innovation foundation beliefs, morals, values, principles, commitments, promises and relationships. The programme will also introduce the participants to concepts of leading others by training participants in purposeful and passionate leadership and transformational leadership styles, working in teams, initiating and leading change, conflict management and much more. The programme will therefore assist the participants to define their ‘primary purpose’ from the perspective of the personal, professional and community or societal realms.
The PLDP is built on the strong belief that leadership can and should be developed and that it can be developed in three ways. First we believe that people can be developed into leaders not as leaders, but as human beings, in their beliefs and behaviours, their thoughtfulness and self-respect. This means that the process of leadership developing through personal development must begin the early years just as we raise children and don’t just end up having them. In order to do this we need to promote a culture that prizes basic human values and educates children to think for themselves and grow in learning to do what is fundamentally right and just.
Second, leadership can be fostered, just like we foster economic development. This means that by raising young people with a different consciousness, we can foster the conditions that give rise to responsible, purposeful and value-­‐driven leadership.
Third, we can develop managerial practice, in the development of leaders. In this regard, the PLDP will seek to help participants realize that managerial practice is not separate from leadership but is intrinsic to it. The main import of this aspect of the PDLD is to stress that leadership is not separate from the daily functioning of society and organizations but is very much part of it calling the leader to creativity, to adapt and marshal the needed courage and wit to respond to new situations as they come.

Article by Charles Chilufya SJ


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