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On the Seventh Annual Servant Leadership Day, April 4, 2018, the Center for Vocation and Servant Leadership and the Office of Mission & Ministry at Seton Hall University, invited Chris Lowney to discuss “21st-century Servant Leaders: How They Think and What They Do.” The event celebrated Seton Hall University’s commitment to forming students as “servant leaders in a global society.” Chris Lowney was a former Jesuit seminarian that served as a Managing Director of JP Morgan & Co in Singapore, Tokyo, London, and New York for seventeen years. He currently chairs the board of Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the largest healthcare systems in the US, with more than 100 hospitals and annual revenues of more than $16 billion. He is the author of five books, including Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads, and the bestselling, Heroic Leadership, which has been translated into eleven languages and named to the recommended reading list of the US Commandant of the Marine Corps. Lowney started his talk with Martin Luther King Junior’s words wondering about his own funeral. King wanted to be remembered not for having a Nobel Peace Prize, but for serving and loving others.

Lowney says: “Everybody leads. If you are influencing one person to do something, you are already leading. According to the dictionary, the definition of lead is to guide on a way especially by going in advance; to direct on a course or in a direction; to serve as a channel for; to guide someone or something along a way. Therefore, we are all leading now. We lead to our beliefs, moral settlements, and ways.” Lowney presented a survey conducted in 2007 by Yankelovich Inc., where the numbers show that Americans have more confidence in education leaders and religious leaders than they do in political leaders and business leaders. Then, he asked the audience to identify some leaders they admire as well as their qualities and attributes. Names like Warren Buffet, Jimmy Carter and Pope Francis came up. As for qualities an attributes, the audience mentioned courage, integrity, empathy, confidence, humility, modesty, flexibility, inclusiveness, and being a good listener. Great leaders motivate people around them, love those who they lead, and do it for a greater cause. The quality the stands out for Lowney is modesty, which is sometimes misplaced. He said we have a broken stereotype that leaders are arrogant buffoons it is not true. To be great, leaders who possess an air of modesty have shown to produce higher quality work and to drive higher quality performance in the following ways.

The reason he asked the audience these questions is that when we think of leaders, automatically we think of someone famous. In fact, leaders are everywhere. We need to understand this concept correctly. When we think of leaders, we have to think about ourselves first. For Lowney, becoming a leader means to serve people. If you are a leader, you should ask yourself what you can do to make your people happier, more successful, and so on. Lowney says: “Leadership is making sense of reality, not blaming other people for your failures, but taking responsibility and accountability for your own actions.” In resonance to that, General Eric Shinseki said: “You must love those you lead to be an effective leader.” This concept sheds light on servant leadership. Leadership is not a primary status, it is how we behave. We are leading now, about our thoughts, beliefs, and moral sentiments. Lowney quoted Isaiah 6 – the Bible passage where Isaiah gets the call to become a leader. It helps to explain the paradox of leadership. Isaiah records the “call” of the young prophet to the difficult task of preaching a message of judgment to the nation. Leaders come from the people and remain part of the people. Leaders serve a purpose greater than themselves, which means that leaders sacrifice their lives in detriment of the group on behalf of the people they serve.

Discussing examples of servant leadership, Lowney shared a story about Pope Francis. He met some Jesuit priests who lived with the Pope Francis, then known as Reverend Jorge Bergoglio. At that seminary time, they had to cut back somethings so everyone needed to help. Thus, Reverend Bergoglio said that the seminarians were a family, and each person had to do his share of the chores to support the other family members. Reverend Bergoglio did laundry. Despite the fact that Reverend Bergoglio was their leader, he was the first one to roll up the sleeves and work. Pope Francis, in his first Easter as the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, washed the feet of some prisoners at a youth detention center in Rome as part of a Holy Thursday Mass ahead of Easter. The pontiff poured water over the young offenders’ feet, wiped them with a white towel and kissed them. How does a leader win the confidence and respect from others? By giving the example. Pope Francis did it to underscore the point that authentic power is service. If you are managing people, you are serving them, not the other way around. The leader should manage these people in such a way that they can perform to their best human potential, so we can all complete our mission together. Servant leadership is not related to religion, being in a leadership position provides the opportunity to enhance the lives of others. Thus, as we seek to be leaders in our family, workplace, or in our communities. We must love people and serve them. Then we can lead. We need a servant mentality on how we approach our job. To strengthen your own leadership performance, Lowney shared some practical takeaways from this very interactive discussion:

  • Remind yourself each day that you have a leadership opportunity and responsibility
  • Ask yourself how you are winning your colleagues’ confidence and respect
  • Take two breaks daily, think about gratitude, lift your horizon and reviews the last few hours
  • Remind your colleagues that they are all leaders.

He concluded the talk with Nelson Mandela’s words, “my greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself. I was afraid to be who I am.

This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a first-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia graduated in Business Administration and she holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, a Social Media Associate at the Journal of Diplomacy, and an Associate at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management. 

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