As we gathered at Theodore House, Stonyhurst College, there were headlines about poor leadership in Government, Ireland, the Banks, Europe and the Energy Industry. Could the Leaders in our Sixth Form Jesuit schools be inspired and leave with a feeling of hope among such doom?

“In taking students from across the UK, whilst amongst smaller other things, the unifying factor that was instantly perceptible was the fact that we had all come from Jesuit schools; all had the same core values; and all desired to be Men and Women for others in all that we do.”

When pondering the big question of “what makes a great leader? The students could not have had a more credible and proven example to help guide them. Chris Lowney, a one-time Jesuit seminarian, later served as Managing Director of J.P. Morgan & Co on three continents and now sits as vice chair on the board of CommonSpirit Health, America’s largest non profit health system with $29 Billion in revenues and more than 150,000 employees.

He led three sessions remotely with the students asking them to name some leaders and attributes and correctly predicted that they would all leave themselves out of the conversation. But “what about you? What do you do or have opportunity to do in your everyday lives to lead, to influence? How are the decisions and choices you are making everyday pointing to the person you are? How are they reflecting your values?” His skilful sessions led us to identify that if we carry the respect of others they choose to follow and contribute. Servant leadership where we must love those we lead was an inspiration and proved very thought provoking in reflection afterwards.

“Having a title or even being famous doesn’t make you an ‘effective’ leader.”

Colm Fahy from Jesuit Missions was once sitting where the students were as a former pupil of Stonyhurst, his journey in the last seven years has been about discovering “what gets you up in the morning” and engaged with the world. For him justice issues around mining were the trigger to focus his energy and make a difference. Again, the idea of how the choices and decisions you make point to your values. Colm shared his personal story and challenged the students to think about the experience of Jesuit Education as a lens to view the world with.

“I reflected on some of the roles I have within and outside of school and the importance of showing respect to the people I come across in my journey. Being supportive, seeking different perspectives, being approachable and helping to work in a united and respectful manner were big take home messages for me as a committee member and head of line.”

The opportunity to visit the Stonyhurst Collections, a vast array of artefacts, vestments, prayer books and treasures, each with their own tale of a great leader who made such personal sacrifices for others was a great experience for the senses. The history of the College, the suppression of Catholicism and the brave women who worked to ensure the faith continued were all expertly told by Dr. Jan Graffius.

Fr Robbie D’Lima shared his personal journey from schoolboy in Pakistan to novice with the British Jesuit Province. He shared how by understanding yourself and your needs you can become a better leader to others. By understanding  your triggers, your reactions, emotions and what fires your energy you can manage change more confidently. A necessary skill to have as we are living in what is termed “a VUCA environment. V- Volatile, U-uncertain, C-Complex, A- Ambiguity."

“If there’s one thing that stood out to me the most it would have to be in Father Robbie’s presentation where he taught that the reactive process in which one starts to lose control over their own thoughts and feelings can be reversed into a creative process by adopting positive habits, such as nourishing your body with a better diet, exercising regularly and getting the right amount of sleep.”

These young people will be entering the workforce at a very challenging time. The more they can know themselves the better chance they have of leading others.

“The discussions we had were varied and insightful; I learned a great deal from talking openly and hearing other perspectives on leadership. “

The opportunity to pray and celebrate Mass together allowed time for reflection and to bring our thoughts and experiences to the Lord. Chris Lowney emphasised how the daily habit of the Examen was an essential tool for the workplace, practical and insightful for use way beyond the classroom experience.

“I found the discussions about self-awareness very helpful for my own development. This emphasised the importance of having time in the day to stop and reflect and the importance of Examen in my life to appreciate my dignity and potential.”

Finally, the students paired with a fellow student from a different school to their own. They prepared a presentation choosing from a range of titles. The emphasis was on the process of working together, listening and sharing ideas and making decisions on what and how you would communicate the message.

“Throughout the conference it became increasingly clear that every single one of us are leaders in our own right, exemplified by the short presentation I delivered on the final day, called – ‘A boss has the title, a leader has the people’.”

Following the presentations, it was time for lunch and farewells, new friendships established and a support network for these young leaders to take with them as they finish their school career. The generosity in sharing ideas, the values shown in decisions and the positive attitude left me personally very hopeful about these future leaders. There is potential for true heroism among these young people.

“I found the whole conference empowering. I left with a knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses yet the confidence to strive higher, I attribute this to the guidance given and the support of my peers.”

Many thanks to: Kieron Andrews, Jelani Sadiwa-Webb, Frankie Browne, Oliver Xavier Creek, Emer Carne, Delip Gossall, Zosia Paddon, Daniel Boyle.

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