Silence on the bus after our visit to the JRS Telyani school in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. The group, consisting of 15 participants and the 5-person planning team, was lost in thoughts. The images of smiling children in the dark classrooms with sprayed heating and electricity (built 10 years ago to be temporary), the cheerful quotes on the walls, the powerful commitment of the school management moved on to the desolation of the infinite refugee camps around the school, the poverty in the streets, the tense relations between politicians and the population, between Muslims and Christians, the unsustainable mobility of the Lebanese pound. We were in a VUCA world par excellence (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity).

The meeting with the refugee school children and later with the workers of the Arc en Ciel sheltered workshop confronted us with our own limits and forced us to push them back, to broaden our vision. For this step into the unknown, we needed courage and confidence… And that’s what this ILP was.

Our road to Lebanon started about three years ago and would guide us through four modules. Each module gave us theoretical models and practical tools, drawn from the rich experience of the planning team. There was a good balance of input, meetings, individual reflection and sub-group discussions. We also heard first-hand from some Ignatian leaders how they have shaped their leadership.  Between modules, we also met regularly online.

The first module took us to Rodizio (Portugal) in the autumn of 2021. The programme began with an investigation into a better understanding of what drives us to integrate leadership in our school contexts in an Ignatian way. Nikolaas Sintobin SJ made us reflect on the two norms: which dynamic have we entered, the one of evil or the one of Good? Antonio Allende, delegate for education in Spain, told us how he had grown up in Ignatian leadership, and how he and his collaborators were writing Ignatian history with the long-term patience of a cathedral builder: brick by brick, and with many others.

In the spring of 2022, in Loyola,  we were called to lead others. We found the strength and confidence to do this in moments of reflection and prayer, but also increasingly together: we also contacted each other outside the modules, both in joyful and difficult moments. At Loyola, we focused on social and emotional intelligence, and on how we could move forward and increase trust in the team by actively listening. “Our” Mark Desmet sj spoke to us about fragile leadership, the importance of plasticity and common distinction in a changing world. We practiced spiritual conversation and went home with the task of trying this in our school context as well.

When we shared these faith conversations six months later, in the autumn of 2022 in Gozo (Malta), it turned out that the hunger had been awakened! We discussed what it meant for us to be leading a Spirit-led organisation. What connects the school team and how do we navigate the dominant polarities? Jimmy Bartolo SJ, Rector of St. Aloysius College, explained how the headteacher and his team can create an Ignatian school culture and organisation in which men and women with and for others are formed.

Spring brought us to Taanayel in Lebanon, into the unknown. We wanted to grow in confidence and courage to dare to lead our team into this unknown as comforting leaders. Not only the meeting with Charbel Batour sj, rector of the Collège Notre-Dame de Jamhour in Beirut, and Michael Zammit sj, regional superior, clarified the tensions in the Lebanese society.  Meeting the bus driver, the kitchen princesses in Taanayel, the sheltered workshop workers, the guide in Baalbek and Anjar, the hospitable woman and her husband in Deir Al-Qamar (Come in and have a coffee) showed us, alongside the despair, small glimmers of kindness, hospitality, hope. This brought us seamlessly into the meaning and power of adaptive leadership (Heifetz). How can we mobilise our team to take on innovative challenges in our own contexts?

The Ignatian Leadership Programme abled us to grow in Ignatian leadership. By going together, we strengthened our vocation to push the limits, to lead the team entrusted to us in a comforting way, and to put Ignatian spirituality at the centre of this leadership.

Text: Anne-Sophie De Decker & Fr Bart van Emmerik SJ