Chris Lowney on leadership: Get over yourself

From left, Gabelli School of Business Assistant Dean Vincent DeCola, S.J., author Chris Lowney and Gabelli School of Business Associate Dean for Academic Programs Francis Petit talk after Lowney's presentation on March 3.

From left, Gabelli School of Business Assistant Dean Vincent DeCola, S.J.; author Chris Lowney; and Gabelli School of Business Associate Dean for Academic Programs Francis Petit talk after Lowney’s presentation on March 3.

When you’re a leader, you need to get over yourself.

That was a generous part of the lesson that Pope Francis, through author Chris Lowney, is trying impart to all of us with the pontiff’s sometimes radical approach to his calling.

Lowney, an author of several books on leadership, spoke to an audience of Fordham University Gabelli School of Business students and faculty about the pope’s leadership by example during an appearance at the university’s Lincoln Center campus last week. Lowney’s talk focused on two main areas where leaders need to excel: staying in touch with yourself and staying in touch with the world around you.

Those are areas where Francis, the Catholic Church’s first Jesuit pope and the first leader from the Americas, has set examples for everyone, said Lowney, whose latest book is titled Pope Francis: Why He Leads The Way He Leads.

The lessons are important in part because of a “leadership crisis” in our society, as one of the slides in Lowney’s presentation pointed out.

“We seem to feel like we live in an environment that is very complex, fast-changing. You get environments like that, [and] you really need good leadership,” said Lowney, who trained as a Jesuit for seven years before leaving for a career in finance that led him to the upper echelons of J.P. Morgan. “And we don’t feel very good about the quality of leadership we actually have; in fact, we feel terrible about the quality of leadership we have.”

Enter Pope Francis, an Argentinian who eschews the trappings of his office, insists on breaking the barriers between him and the faithful and reaches out to the most vulnerable in our society. It is no wonder, then, that the popular Francis is seen as a new kind of leader.

But the pope’s leadership style is not new at all, argues Lowney, who now serves as chairman of the board at Catholic Health Initiatives. Rather, it is based in Jesuit traditions of humility and self-awareness that reach back 500 years. Lowney argues those traditions can help others become better leaders, too. Leaders, after all, should be serving a purpose greater than their own, he said.

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