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Fathers Know Best

How Jesuit priests built an organization that has lasted 569 years.
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Leadership

Perhaps the only institution more discredited than corporate America is the Catholic Church. Yet Chris Lowney, a seminarian-cum-financier, thinks CEOs can learn a lot from the Jesuits, an order founded in 1534 by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The author of Heroic Leadership (July) dubs the Jesuits "a start-up founded by a handful of guys with no capital that became the most successful company" of its time. Here are Five Commandments of Jesuit management:

I. THOU SHALL TAKE RISKS: Education wasn't one of the order's initial goals, but Jesuits soon decided to plow resources into building colleges. They had 30 of them by the time Loyola died at age 65. He was canonized in 1622.

II. THOU MUST KNOW THYSELF: Jesuits are trained to reflect on their performance and goals throughout the day. And they sit down with a superior each year for an "account of conscience" -- reinforcing a sense of the common good within the order.

III. THOU SHALL THINK GLOBALLY: The order went international very quickly and "Loyola insisted that priests be educated in the language and culture of the peoples," says Father Gerald Cavanagh, a management professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

IV. THOU SHALL NOT BE A WEASEL: Father William J. Byron, formerly of Georgetown University, urges execs "to identify their non-negotiable principles," just as Jesuits do.

V. THOU SHALL NOT BE THE SPHINX: Even a strong leader will falter if he ignores the ideas of subordinates. The Jesuits, says Byron, believe "the leader shouldn't be at the top of the pyramid, but rather at the center of a circle."


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Last updated: Jun 1, 2003




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