‘Heroic Leadership’ author puts leading within everyone’s reach

by Farzana Ali (GSB ’15)

Pause. Mentally go over the last few hours and find a lesson that you learned. Use this lesson to help you for the next few hours.

This advice is unusual to hear at a business school. Yet in the Jesuit tradition, Gabelli School of Business students are taught that the best investment you can make is in knowing yourself. It was the perfect message to come from recent speaker Chris Lowney, a Fordham alumnus and the author of Heroic Leadership, the book that inspired the design of the Gabelli School’s Ignite Program.

Lowney began by framing a problem: Compared with 30 years ago, the world today is faster-moving, more complicated and full of decisions to be made. This environment demands ingenuity and solid leadership.

What’s leadership? We used to think of it as being in charge. But Lowney defines it as a kind of behavior. He asked the audience to name living individuals whom they consider to be leaders. Answers ranged from Warren Buffett to Muhammad Yunus to Beyoncé Knowles, but, as Lowney pointed out, no one in the crowd nominated himself or herself. Leadership isn’t restricted to CEOs or high-powered individuals, he counseled. Leadership is influencing others toward a way, direction or goal. We show leadership all the time.

After years of dreaming of being a megastar or CEO of a company, it may be hard to digest that we’ve been leaders the whole time. We must ask ourselves: What opportunity and responsibility do I have, and what do I want to make of it? As Lowney put it, “Your claim to leadership is not your status; it is what you do with your status.”

This is where Lowney’s approach on leadership reflects his background as a former Jesuit. Leadership should benefit others. To be a great leader, one must love the people he or she leads. This Jesuit value of love drives the trust between leaders and their counterparts.

Aside from love, what makes a good leader? Lowney said self-scrutiny is the answer. He encouraged us to think about our worst moments — a crisis, a low point — and reflect on them to draw strength from them. We all have secret résumés full of things we don’t tell others: maybe a past substance-abuse problem, a tough situation at home, or a troubling mistake. The fact that we’ve survived these experiences is part of our power.

Lowney, who spent many years in lofty positions in the finance world, directed the end of his presentation at students who might want to pursue finance careers but are hesitating because of the field’s moral hazards. He advised them: Know who you are. Finance firms house many hardworking individuals, challenging work and wonderful learning opportunities. Reaping these benefits is possible, and corruption avoidable, when students enter the workforce with a secure knowledge of why they are there: to use their skills for a greater good.

Fordham can be our laboratory to figure out who we are and what we will stand for.

 

 

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