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Leadership in conflict zones

An international group of Jesuits and colleagues gathered in Drumalis Retreat and Conference Centre, Larne, County Antrim, for the final session of training in the Ignatian Leadership Programme.

The programme seeks to explore natural leadership within a faith perspective, help participants develop interpersonal skills and abilities, and assist reflection on a spirit-led organisation that can deal fruitfully with conflict.

Joe Greenan, HR Director of Irish Jesuit Province, completed the programme in 2015-2017 and is now one of the trainers. Since the last module took place in Northern Ireland, it began with a tour of Belfast exploring the theme of leadership in conflict zones. Read below Joe Greenan’s report and what the programme is about.

Leadership Training Ignatian Style

As we walked along the Falls Road in Belfast, we were guided by a representative of the nationalist community. We walked through a gate in the peace wall and were guided along the Shankill Road by a representative of the loyalist community. This was the start to Module 4 (Leading into the Unknown) of our Ignatian leadership Programme (ILP).

Each of the guides we met had a different story. It struck me how their understanding differed so much. Their experience and their perspective shaped their reality. While peace has been achieved through the Good Friday Agreement, we could feel the tension between the different narratives which were shared.

The origin of our Ignatian Leadership Training Programme began in Asia. John Dardis SJ (General Counsellor for Discernment and Apostolic Planning in the Society of Jesus) brought the programme to Europe to train 27 people (Jesuits and lay persons) in Ignatian Leadership. The training took place between 2015 and 2017.

Many of the participants of this training were asked by their Provincials to bring the training back to their Province. This resulted in an Ignatian Leadership programme for the North-West Europe region (Belgium, Flanders, Britain and Ireland). Leaders of Jesuit schools, retreat houses, refugee centres, parishes and other Jesuit apostolates came together in July 2018, January 2019, July 2019 and January 2020 (for a week each time) to be trained in Ignatian Leadership.

Here were some of their comments at the end of the programme;

  • I would unreservedly recommend the ILP for people in leadership roles in Jesuit works in the Province.
  • The ILP would be of enormous value to Directors of Works and to Provincials. It is very Ignatian and relates well to more universal leadership tools.
  • The programme has made a better leader of me in many aspects.
  • I’d recommend the ILP strongly. Keep it going. Target individuals in a focused way, scholastics, lay people and others in preparation for future roles.

The following is an overview of the ILP:

Module One is titled ‘Called as a Leader’. This module explores one’s natural leadership style and shows how to develop it, within the context of a faith perspective. As distinct from secular leadership training, God is spoken about as present, active and leading (I am the vine and you are the branches Jn. 15:5). Discernment (listening to the Spirit) is the basis of reflection, exploration and sharing of a wealth of input from presenters, guest speakers and fellow participants.

Module Two is titled ‘Called to Lead Others’. In this module, participants reflect on interpersonal skills and abilities. Drama triangles (dealing with conflict), ladders of inferences (how easily we make assumptions) and U theory (suspending current perspectives and tuning into emerging possibilities) were some of the insightful concepts introduced to participants. Within a context of discernment, processes such as Empathy walks (walking with together to understand better) and Case Clinics (team members listen deeply to assist a team member to respond to a challenge) were entered into by participants with great generosity.

Module Three was titled ‘A Spirit-led Organisation’. We had this module in the birthplace of St Ignatius of Loyola in Spain. This sacred place provided a very meaningful place to reflect on St Ignatius and Pope Francis as people who have led spirit-led organisations. Both men emphasise putting Christ at the centre and letting reform occur from there. We were encouraged to begin processes rather than fill spaces, to convert hearts and minds and to do this through discernment.

Participants were introduced to concepts such as McKinsey’s 7S (reviewing our organisation through the lens of Structure, Strategy, Skills, Systems, Style, Staff and Shared values) and Communal discernment (listening to the Spirit together), an important Ignatian value.

Module Four was titled ‘Leading into the Unknown’. Based in the North of Ireland, participants met with different people, who have led people out of great difficulties. The focus of this module was on leading out of troubles rather than become overcome by them. Inspirational guest speakers (Jesuits and lay persons) shared how they have led out of challenges, emphasising the need to look after themselves during these times.

It has been a privilege to have been involved in Ignatian Leadership training.

Joe Greenan (HR Director, Irish Jesuit Province)