Created to last:Lessons in Talent and Leadership

Leadership that builds legacy

By Roopen Roy Jul 17 2012

Tags: Op-ed

WHERE THE HEAD IS HELD HIGH: To unleash the latent creativity and energies of people, the corporate cultural ambience must be one of mutual respect to take a leaf out of Loyola’s philosophy

In this column earlier, I had analysed how the centuries old “Co­mpany of the Jesuits” had survived and gr­own. Which aspects of their DNA led to this organisational longevity? The first one, as we saw, was their ability to live within the community like fish in water. They called it “ inculturation” (steeping deeply in the community). They mastered the local language, customs, religious beliefs and culture, blended seamlessly and enriched the cultural milieu. The second aspect was their ability to ad­apt, innovate and take advantages of opportunities and “market gaps” to the fullest. In our third and last column, we will examine the organisation’s unique philosophy towards talent. We shall also ask the question — is the philosophy adaptable to the modern corporate world, or, is it unique only to a missionary order that is dedicated to the service of humanity?

Culture is created by not what we say, but rather, by what we do. The core value of the Jesuits in their approach to talent is embodied in what the founder of the Society of Jesus said and did. The credo was: “Refuse no talent, nor any man of quality.” We must remember that Loyola had a military background and the age in which he lived was not one that celebrated diversity or meritocracy.

Loyola proved that these words were not merely platitudes. He chose a successor purely based on his capabilities and not his background. In the historical context, it was a bold and courageous act of leadership. When we were children, we remembered the year in which Columbus (a native Italian from Genoa) sailed on his voyage of discovery by the following verse: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The voyage was financed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Sp­ain. Eventually, he discovered the New World and America, instead of India or the East Indies. But, the royal couple were not just successful venture capitalists, they were also ruthless rulers at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. They were militant anti-Semites who passed a decree in the same year (1492) that required all Jewish people to either convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Some 150,000 Jewish people had to leave because they refused to convert. About 50,000 converted and were called ‘Nuevo Cristiano’ or the ‘New Christians’. The New Christians were derisively called “marra­no”­(swines) in private. They were socially ostracised.

Who did Loyola handpick as his chosen successor and why? He chose Diego Lianez. Diego came from a wealthy family. He joined the Jesuits and embraced a life of austerity and service to humanity. He was, however, the great grandson of a Jew. In the era of the Spanish Inquisition, he was a “marrano” and an outcast. On the other hand, he was a brilliant individual with vast knowledge and erudition. One of his peers described him thus, “He is endowed with a singular, almost divine intellect…miraculously informed with the subtleties of various branches of learning.”

The founder, Loyola, had smartly figured out that the startup company now required a different kind of leader. To expand and consolidate, the new ‘general’ had not only to be bold and charismatic, but also, talented and versatile with a capacity to build a robust global organisation. Incidentally, Loyola, in contrast, was described by one of his peers as a man of “limited eloquence and learning”.

Loyola embraced diversity for another reason. The New Christians, who were persecuted by the establishment, joined the Jesuits in droves and brought with them powerful networks and valuable relationships. Loyola’s office sent this message: “If in consequ­ence of the attitude of the court and king, you deem it impossible to admit converts in Spain, send them here (Rome) as long as they be of good character. Here we do not trouble ourselves as to the origins of a man, only his qualities.” It is difficult to choose better words to describe meritocracy.

Loyola also had the cou­rage to stand up to the bullying of the anti-Semitic establishment. He did not mince words when he said, “Your lordship is displeased that we admit so many New Ch­ristians to our company. The company must not exclude anyone. It may refuse no talent, nor any man of quality, whether he be New Christian or noble, knight or another, if his religious comportment is useful and conforms to the universal good.”

In nurturing and blossoming talent, Loyola established a refreshing style of leadership. He evangelised a love-driven leadership through the “unity of hea­rts”. In the Society of Je­sus, terms like “up or out” and “swim or sink” are alien. Leading by love and affection is very different from managing by authority or fear. In describing how Jesuits would lead, Loyola said that one should run the institutions with “all the love and modesty and charity possible” and with “gr­eater love than fear”.

One may argue that this style of leadership can only succeed in an organisation held together by a missionary zeal. However, in global organisations, which deploy knowledge workers, we know now that fear and authority do not prevail. To unleash the latent creativity and energies of the people, the cultural ambience must be one of mutual respect. The culture we must try to foster is one of coaching and not commanding, leading and not managing. May I venture to add that companies should take a leaf out of Loyola’s book and learn to manage through greater love and not fear.

(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India. These are his personal views)