Ignatian leadership is an invitation to act in a way that reflects our most deeply held beliefs, affirms our vocation, and serves others, particularly those in need.
Ignatian Leadership: Faith, Vocation, and Service

April 5, 2017 - by Seán P. Sanford

(During this Lenten season, we are taking time to reflect on some of the values that are fundamental both to the Ignatian life and to our organization. We will take a look at spirituality, spiritual direction, collaboration, leadership, and mission, focusing on how these values are understood in the Ignatian tradition.)

My initial exposure to Ignatian spirituality came at a very young age. My childhood parish’s visiting priest was a Jesuit from Fordham who came to the New Jersey suburbs every weekend. Fr. Joe became a dear friend to my parents and an extended member of our family. His kindness, wit, and charisma were such that, as a child, I hoped to become a Jesuit someday. Though I ultimately chose a different path, Fr. Joe introduced me to the ideas of prayer and vocation, and he instilled in our family a deeply held belief that, as people of faith, we are called to be women and men for others. Over the years, vocation and a concern for others, particularly the “least of these”, became more than marks of a spirituality, but synthesized into a standard of leadership that has had a profound impact on my personal and professional lives. 

In 1 Corinthians, we read, “We have received the Spirit that comes from God, to teach us to understand the gifts that he has given us.” Leadership is one such gift and leadership infused by Ignatian spirituality orients us to our deepest vocation. In the first principle and foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius explains: “I ought to desire and elect only that which is more conducive to the end for which I am created.” We are created to serve God – that is our first vocation. But how do we do so? How we choose to lead reflects how we understand our vocation. Do I lead for my own ends or for the greater glory of God? Whose interests am I serving? The concept of vocation is an important check against the tendency to think of leadership as a vehicle for personal advancement. Recalling that our leadership is an expression of a deeper vocation encourages humility, charity, and integrity – which also happen to be qualities of strong leaders. 

Ignatian-inspired leadership is other-focused. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, instructed us that our work must form women and men for others. Being a leader “with and for” others means considering the needs of those we are serving. It is a model of leadership that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better communities, and creates a more just world. It requires a practice of discernment that allows us to act thoughtfully amid trying circumstances or competing goods. And it asks that we foster an awareness of our emotional state that frees us from impulse and permits genuine affirmative communication with others. Being a leader in this tradition means, as Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, tells us, we must be men and women marked by “competence, conscience, and compassion.” Once again, Ignatian spirituality fosters characteristics valued among great leaders. 

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius tells us that actions are to be preferred to words. Ignatian leadership is an invitation to act in a way that reflects our most deeply held beliefs, affirms our vocation, and serves others, particularly those in need.

Seán P. Sanford is our Director of Leadership and Young Adult Programs and can be reached at

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