Leadership Development through Examen of Conscience

Published On: September 1, 2023 09:00 AM NPT By: Fr. Augustine Thomas, S.J.

Fr. Augustine Thomas, S.J.

Fr. Augustine Thomas, S.J.

Father Augustine Thomas has a PhD in ‘Leadership Studies in Organization Development’ and currently serves as the Principal of St. Xavier’s College, Maitighar, Kathmandu.

What most leaders seem to struggle with is, though they know the traits of great leadership, they are unable to attain them. How can leaders consistently grow to balance their IQ and EQ? How to redress the emotional impulses within and choose constructive behaviors? One cannot negate that knowing the leadership style and being an effective leader are two different wings. It’s like reading the detailed process of swimming and mastering the steps cognitively, only to end up drowning by jumping into deep water without actually learning to swim. Therefore, a leader should rise above ‘knowing leadership’ to ‘being a leader’, which is possible only through practical tools.

Leadership Development

A comprehensive understanding of the term ‘leadership development’ can be defined as a process of becoming an effective leader by optimizing the managerial skills and psychological aptitude. A commonly practiced tool for leadership development is ‘mentoring’, where a trainer or a senior leader guides an amateur leader to be mature and effective in leadership roles. There are also ways where a person can self-develop one’s leadership aptitude.

The tool Examen of Conscience (also known as Examination of Conscience) for leaders is a way to self-directed leadership development. “Examen of Conscience”, prescribed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 15th century, was started as a spiritual practice, but soon it was adopted in various disciplines and walks of life. The best-seller book, Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, adapted the essence of the Ignatian philosophy into organizational leadership, and the corporate leaders were soon drawn to the Four Pillars of leadership introduced in the book.

The Ignatian Examen of Conscience has much to offer to leadership development, especially when not enough self-manageable framework is easily accessible in the personal and professional growth of the leaders. Various research conducted in different parts of the world has testified to the efficiency of the Examen of Conscience in personal and professional life and management life (Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion, Vol.19, 2022)

The philosophy of examination of conscience in leadership development

Just as the old quote attributed to Plato goes, “An unexamined life is not worth living”, the Ignatian Examen of Conscience systematically puts forward a way of looking back at one’s own leadership journey of the day. It is seeing the events of the day through the lens of a meditative and calm mind. It is the perception of life from a ‘balcony view’ with the intention of seeing the events of life in all honesty and integrity. The very act of perceiving itself initiates subtle change leading to a holistic transformation of the leader. A person in a leadership position is cognitively engaged in working through the nitty gritty to the master plan of the vision and strategic plans of the organization. And the usual practice of reviewing one’s leadership journey is merely looking at the events that stand out as a failure or success. But the invisible and yet impoverished spiritual and psychological cracks in the journey and the silver linings of hope and growth in life can be perceived through the Examen of Conscience. It is a psycho-spiritual exercise.

An Examination of Conscience of the self can be done at the end of the day or twice a day. The analogy of Examen of Conscience is that of building a concrete foundation for a temple. This foundation strengthens the psycho-spiritual footing of the person. The first two steps are preparatory ones for entering the conscience-level journey of the leader.

Step One: Desire for a Clear Perception: Reimaging from being a good leader to a great leader lies in the genuine desire to see the truth in you. This step is a moment to surrender your own ego and prejudice and see life with utmost honesty and genuineness. Pray to the divine and inner powers to assist you in this short exercise. It's like preparing a field to sow the seeds for a great harvest.

Step Two: With Gratitude Towards Truth: Gratitude in this process is like the moistened soil that is rich for a plant to grow. The setting that facilitates the process of leadership development through Examen of Conscience is the positive disposition created with genuine self-awareness. With a sense of gratitude and openness to grow, with all humility and grace of the soul, intentionally but without judgment, agree to look at the life of the day.

Step Three: Rewind the Day: One should slowly and with the purity of intention of self-understanding go through one’s leadership journey of the day. Just for the current day. Perceive your actions from three levels. First, what actually happened? Rewind the action without interpretation, justification, and judgment. Second, what prompted you to behave the way you did? This is a step in understanding the event from its root. Third, was there a pattern of conduct that connected the dots of various behaviors?

Emotions are the powerhouse of a person, which are interconnected with all the quotients of the person. Therefore, scan your day with a special focus on your emotional domain that moves your choices of behavior. It is good to identify if the source of the action is of a compassionate yet prudent nature or a reaction from old hurt, prejudice, or a rigid mindset. An action results from a deliberate choice of decision or a compulsive outflow of impulses stored in the psyche of the person.

Finally, understand what the gut feeling after the incident was. In the silence and awareness of the Examen of Conscience, a leader is able to get in touch with the gut level and see the true picture. You will notice consolations and desolations created by the events of the day. Cherish the positive feelings. Accept and understand the negative ones.

Step Four: Self-reparation: Reconcile with the moments that have not been the best of your performance or behavior. Leaders can turn into toxic bosses by storing their unpleasant experiences and hurt feelings and developing destructive traits if they don’t reconcile with them in time. Unless you reconcile yourself in time, the worldview created in your mind can be distorted and far from the truth. Therefore, this step is so crucial to embark on growth. This step also calls for a practical approach of apologizing to someone with all honesty and integrity and even forgiving yourself for being a lesser version of yourself.

Step Five: A New Dawn: Begin anew with a new understanding of oneself. It’s like a mason who levels the concrete, examining each part and identifying the corners where more attention is needed to strengthen the foundation. He pays more attention to fixing the hollow areas of the concreted floor. Similarly, you have perceived your attitude, action, and lingering emotions and leveled them by authentically accepting the flaws and regaining the purpose and strength for the leadership journey forward. Now you have moved one tiny step forward in your leadership development.

When you constantly put yourself through the process of Examen of Conscience, a self-regulated leadership style surfaces to be integral on the professional and personal front. When workshops and leadership talks provide you with ideas of greater importance on the topic of leadership, the task of attaining them is solely up to you. And it is attainable through a practical tool, and the Examen of Conscience is a great one!

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