Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Heroic Leadership: How to work with people different from yourself

16 Feb, 2022

Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World

Review by Brian Grim

As I reflected this week on the value of working with people different from myself, I came back to a point made by Chris Lowney in Heroic Leadership. With the provocative subtitle, Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, he offers insights that benefit any organization – business or otherwise.

Chris Lowney vice chairs the board of CommonSpirit Health, America’s largest nonprofit health system with $29 Billion in revenues and more than 150,000 employees, and previously served as a Managing Director of J.P. Morgan & Co. on three continents.

But it is his stint as a Jesuit seminarian before his business career that influenced his approach. And the 450-year-old “company” is the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits (Pope Francis is a member), founded in 1534 by St. Ignatius of Loyola and his companions.

Reflecting on the large number of companies that were extolled in the 1982 “Best-Run Companies” book by Peters and Waterman, that are now no longer in business (e.g., Eastman Kodak and Kmart), Lowney offers a Jesuit insight.

Given that excellence is not a “timeless plateau that once attained is never forfeited … succeeding in this world requires individuals to cultivate the personal skills needed to thrive in an environment of near permanent change” (pp. 148-49).

One way that Jesuits cultivated the skill of such thriving is to “see God in all things.” This not only includes the people we encounter but each moment of the day, each sense and sensation, in the consolations and desolations we experience. This approach was in contrast to the monasteries and convents of Ignatius’ day, that found God within the walls, walls which were often viewed as providing protection from the vagaries, temptations and dangers of the world.

The principle of seeing God in all things means that we are actively seeking to see the good and excellent, and even the spiritual, in all we encounter. It embraces the messiness of the world rather than seeking protection from it. Such a skill breaks down barriers and creates workplaces that are innovative, trusting and collaborative, where people can adapt, create and respond quickly.

An example of this is the tremendous interfaith collaboration at one of today’s most successful global companies, Intel. To see it in action, check out the discussion between leaders from their Christian, Muslim and Jewish employee resource groups from our 2021 Faith@Work Conference: Today’s need for greater empathy and “thicker skin”.