Forming Ignatian leaders for mission

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Are leaders born or made? This question has long been debated by experts around the world.  Some claim that some people are natural leaders while others insist that becoming a leader is a process.  Whichever the case, it cannot be denied that there are no perfect leaders and that, whether you are a born leader or had to learn how to lead, there is always room to become better at leading.  This is the premise that grounds the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific’s Leadership Development Programme (LDP) launched in December 2015.

“More and more we need more capable leaders in the provinces and regions in Asia Pacific, Jesuit and lay, men and women, who can effectively respond to the different needs of Jesuit apostolic ministry,” said JCAP President Fr Mark Raper SJ.  “We need leaders who are grounded in Ignatian spirituality, but they also need to have management skills to be able to plan strategically the way forward for their ministry or apostolic work and to guide their team in communal discernment.”

LDP participants with the Hti Htau Hki Villagers

The programme focuses on three main areas for leadership development: mission development, operational competencies, and managing change and continuous learning.  These are covered in four modules, each building on the previous module and conducted over the course of 18 months.

“At the centre of the programme is the focus on clarity of the mission, understanding the context of the specific ministry, spiritual growth and self-mastery,” explained Dr Edna Franco, Executive Director of Ateneo de Manila University’s Center for Organization Research and Development (CORD), which runs the programme in consultation with Fr Norris Seenivasan SJ, JCAP Delegate for Formation.

Embedded in all the modules are opportunities for individual reflection on how the new competencies the participants acquire may be applied in the context of their mission and the mission of the Society. The modules also encourage deep interaction among the participants as they engage in small group discussions through “learning circles”.

Quotes from LDP participants Most of the almost 40 participants are young Jesuit priests but there are also a few laywomen. They began their learning journey in the Philippines at the end of 2015.  The first module’s focus on context in leadership had the participants reflecting on their leadership in the context of their current ministry.  In 2016, they went to Thailand for the second module during which they learned about management as a process, covering areas such as creating the core team, setting directions and enabling execution, relationship building and conflict management.  Later that year, they gathered in Indonesia for the third module that was designed to increase their understanding of their leadership style, managing human resources and financial management.  The last module will be held in South Korea in May.  It will be an orientation to leading and managing change, and the creation of a culture of continuous learning and renewal.

It has been a true learning journey for the participants.  For example, many of the Jesuits did not know that embedded in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus is a human resource document.  Ignatius was indeed a man far ahead of his time.  His emphasis on cura personalis is reflected in contemporary HR management practices.  Fr Michael Tong-uk Ku SJ from Korea remarked, “I used to think that cura personalis simply meant personal care and good relationships. Now I am aware that it is about how to develop the human being.”

Jesuits and collaborators in leadership positions are called to do more than address the tangible aspects of leadership – the ability to work in teams, manage conflict and communicate. They are called to instil the enduring principles of Ignatian Spirituality in their ministries, to lead people along the path of finding God in all things rather than being guided by short-term goals.  As Fr Alvin Ng of the Malaysia-Singapore Region put it, “For the Christian, leadership is about defining and refining one’s call to be a good shepherd, fully aware of one’s imperfections but courageously striving and struggling in the footsteps of the Saviour in leading His flock onwards.”

However, they all acknowledged that communicating Ignatian Spirituality in their contexts is challenging.

As Fr Gregory Jacobs from Australia shared, “In thinking with the Church and working with the Church, the struggle is how to articulate our vision, mission and values to find out where we want to go.” Filipino Fr Joseph Emmanuel Liwanag asked, “What is our purpose in sharing Ignatian Spirituality? How do we navigate through these difficulties and differences in context when it comes to sharing Ignatian Spirituality?”  Fr Sidelizio Pereira of Timor-Leste posed the questions: “Do we work as a Jesuit or a social worker? How are we to contribute as Jesuits in our local church?”  Questions like these highlight the uniqueness of the Jesuit mission.

The inclusion of laypeople has enriched the programme for the Jesuit participants as they listen to their collaborators in mission.

One of these is Bernie Aton from Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan in the Philippines.  She shared, “What struck my heart most is the quote from Pope Francis – ‘When the Lord gives a mission, He always has us enter into a process, a process of purification, a process of discernment, a process of obedience, a process of prayer.’”