Leadership Ultimately in Discipleship

[Personal Sharing on the Occasion of the Launch of the Leadership Center of the Jesuit Higher Education Commission]

Thank you for this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on leadership.  As requested by the organizers, I will speak on defining moments in my leadership journey; and on how these work relative to the JHEC Leadership Framework.  The latter includes a discussion on the relationship between Ignatian spirituality and my leadership.    That is quite a bit for a short hour.  But let’s try.

1.  Some defining moments in my leadership journey.

I owe a lot to the people who were part of my formation.  Fr. Roque Ferriols, S.J. always insisted on “insight”, getting his students to think their own thoughts and see.  He helped me to trust in my own insight.  Dr. Ramon Reyes and Fr. Joe O’Hare, S.J., introduced me to modern philosophy and to the writing of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and of the young Karl Marx.  It was an introduction which eventually led me to my doctoral studies.  Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J., though never my teacher formally, impacted significantly on my formation.  At that time he took cudgels in the Philippines to explain liberation theology.  Revelation, he said, has to have something to say about the misery and injustice of the poor.  Eventually, I went to Austria and Germany for special studies in philosophy.  Through my mentor, Fr. Walter Kern, S.J, I learned the meaning of systematic thought:  Hegel’s insight that truth is in the whole, and the part is grasped in the whole.  I learned the meaning of dialectic thought:  not the simplistic thesis-antithesis-synthesis but the more profound Hegelian “being is non-being and therefore becoming.”

Out of that I’ve drawn, as one of my life’s big lessons: an idea or an intention or an ideal which stays in your head with all of its clarity needs to be negated qua idea, to become real.  The idea of a “university” that lives just in one’s head is in the context of truth false, idle, vain.  It must be negated qua idea, alienated from itself itself qua idea, to be worked into the messy, dirty, chaotic world of the real.  Working the idea into the real takes much effort, labor, determination and travail.  When however the idea is finally realized in the real, when “the university” is no longer just an idea but real, it is recognized, recovered, appropriated not just as real chaos, but precisely as “the university.”   “The university” however is now no longer just a universal idea in itself;  it has passed through alienation into a chaotic real and has been re-appropriated as “the university,” now no longer merely an abstract universal idea, but a concretized idea, a concretized universal.  The dialogue between the idea and the real, and between the real and the ideal, mediated by work, by risk, by freedom, by courage, belongs to stuff of human creativity and historic achievement.  For me, this has been part of a spiritual framework in my life for leadership.

Dialectic thought which includes the Idea, Nature and Spirit, I call a dialectic idealism; this tends in the direction of a pantheism. Dialectic thought which begins with the reality of man, like “species being”, nature, and concretized species being, many call a dialectical materialism;  this tends in the direction of an atheism, no matter the admirable humanism involved.  For me, this has been a framework of working positively with people of different persuasions, theists and atheists.  I never viewed the dialectic whole to be driven mechanically;  I always took the position that it is driven in spirit, in freedom accepting necessity, or in spirit jumping “out of the box” in freedom.

In dialectic thought, conflict is a matter of course, the reconciliation of opposites belonging to the stuff of history.  The “K-12 educational reform”, in moving from ideal to real, necessitates conflict.  But it is also in resolving conflicts that the reform is realized.

One can also speak of “magis” as being a driver of the dialectic, the free commitment of persons to the greater, the higher, that which is raised (aufgehoben) in pursuit of the more, in working out of the less.  For me, the relentless and, in many cases, exhausting or overwhelming drive to more, “magis,” must be balanced by what Fr. Emerich Coreth, S.J., called, Mut zur Unvollkommenheit.  He would bellow, “Man muß Mut zur Unvollkommenheit haben! … One must have courage to imperfection!”  For sometimes the relentless demand for the better, is the mortal enemy of the good.  As a leader one must be driven by magis to  the achievement of “the better” in freedom and responsibility, not to paralysis which out of despair of achieving perfection renders one impotent.   In the dialectic between the ideal and the real, the real, the magis, is marked by imperfection.  One takes consolation, however, in imperfection not being final, and being itself a challenge to fullness and completion.

All these insights into leadership were in my life accompanied by a rich experience of various leaders.  My father was a leader.  He had great convictions, energy and passion, and he worked relentlessly against obstacles to make the idea of “cosmetics custom-crafted for the Filipina” into the reality of  “Beautifont,” in its heyday the largest direct-selling marketing outfit in the Philippines.  My teacher in first year high school, Fr. Ernie Javier, S.J., was a leader who challenged our class to cooperate, to strategize and to compete to win.  Fr. Paul Limgenco, S.J., worked with me personally to stretch academic achievement, and rewarded me for initiatives taken in the spirit of magis.  My idol in senior year high school was a college student, Wahoo Taylor, the mestizo American from Forbes Park, soft spoken and simple, who led me onto public busses to the relocated urban poor of Sapang Palay.  I followed Wahoo in whatever he did, even when it meant taking up a hammer and trying to help build shelters for the elderly and helpless.  That was a true encounter with my imperfection.  But also an experience of a quiet leader who through his witness intimated to me how unjust and inhumane the situation of the relocated urban poor was.

When I had  already become a Jesuit, I experienced the quiet leadership of a senior scholastic, then Bro. Tony Ledesma.  We were both involved then with the Laymen’s Association for Post Vatican II Reforms (LAPVIIR).  With the other members of this organization, we were so convinced that implementation of the reforms of the Vatican Council in the Archdiocese of Manila was so exceedingly slow that we picketed the residence of its ordinary, Rufino Cardinal Santos, to demand quicker reform.  In producing propaganda for our position, I remember balking at using a machine to reproduce our manifestos lest it be broken.  Bro. Tony responded that machines are tools not to be preserved, but to be used for the apostolate.  That was a little lesson I learned for life from the future Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro.  Tools are meant to be used for our purposes, not to be stored and contemplated.

I also  experienced the leadership of another senior scholastic, Bro. Ed Garcia, S.J., who started a Gandi-inspired active non-violent movement, Lakasdiwa.  It was a movement Christian activists could blend in with, opposed to injustice, but distinct from the class-warfare fomenting organization Kabataan Makabayan, then being organized by Jose Ma. Sison.  It was in the context of the latter that the Philippine Province under Fr. Benigno Mayo felt an expert in Marxism was necessary.  For these studies, I was sent to Leopold Franzens University in Innsbruck Austria and the Jesuit Graduate School for Philosophy in Munich Germany.  I ended up doing a study on “the Future” within the Marxian “system.”  This was, of course, Marx’ adoption and adaptation of Hegelian dialectical idealism into his dialectical materialism.

Doing these studies in Germany and in Austria was certainly a defining moment in my leadership.  Immersion in other cultures and having to operate in others’ languages is helpful for the leader; one must appreciate other legitimate ways of seeing and doing things; one must allow cultural meanings to be questioned and criticized;  one comes to appreciate one’s own culture more deeply.  For this discussion, it was important for my leadership in education that I experience the milieu of higher education in Germany and Europe.  There, the student is more self-driven in pursuit of the foci of his studies than ours;  the better students eschew “wasting time” going to class, and regularly attend only the classes where the professors are doing cutting edge research and developing material that is as of yet unpublished.  There, the faculty members are driven less by the drive to teach, and more by the eros to do research and publish.   A university being dictated on by a government body like the CHED as to what to teach and how to teach it would be be an abomination for them.  Academic freedom is a key assumption of the European university.

Superiors are leaders, and in general, I have been profoundly blessed in my superiors.  Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J., the noted historian, accepted me into the Society of Jesus.  Understanding history, as Provincial, he did not order Jesuits picketing the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila back to the barracks, but quietly backed their protest.  Fr. Benigno Mayo, S.J., once the high school Prefect of Discipline whom we would call “mouse” because of his small round face and big ears, became as Provincial the key exponent of “the Faith that Does Justice,” and called on Jesuits and their co-workers to immerse themselves in the lives of the poor and in faith to work for justice.  Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., allowed me to extend my mission in San Pedro Relocation to two years, but when the time was ripe also sent me back to studies in Marx in Germany.  Fr. Ben Nebres, S.J., as Provincial led the Philippine Province through the troubled waters of the People Power Revolution;  it was he who missioned me to full-time work with the the urban poor community of Commonwealth.  Fr. Romeo Intengan, S.J., as Provincial, missioned me to leadership in the Ateneo de Naga University, and challenged all to work for political reform.

In Missioned Leadership

Leadership develops because one leads.  Beyond natural leadership, the Society of Jesus missions to leadership.  Just a word then on what these leadership missions in my life taught me:

I have been fortunate to have been missioned to work with the urban poor.  For two years after my ordination, I lived and worked with the urban poor of San Pedro Resettlement Area in San Pedro, Laguna.  I was a new priest then, with a Masters in moral theology from Innsbruck, who had to enter the Filipino culture of the “resettled” urban poor.  There was no use for my German, little use for my English, so I had to learn to interact with my “people of God” in my own brand of Tagalog.  Having had to say as many as five Masses on Sundays, daily Masses, take care of baptisms, mass weddings, funerals and burials, build a church and promote livelihood within the community introduced me to the Catholic priesthood among the People of God in the Philippines.

I was missioned by Fr. Provincial Ben Nebres, S.J., to the urban poor community of the National Government Center (NGC) in Quezon City from 1976-1980.  These were not resettled “defeated” urban poor as in San Pedro Resettlement and in Sapang Palay, but urban poor still fighting for their homes.  My years here as priest-in-charge of the Sabayanang Kristyano ng Kristong Hari were very rich.  Beyond the ordinary duties of the parish pastor, I learned here of the methods and power of community organizing through Dennis and Alice Murphy’s Community Organizers of the Philippines Enterprise (COPE).  I worked closely with the Sama-Sama, the NGC’s urban poor people’s organization.  I learned of how to dialogue with people with multiple needs and demands, help organize them for power around an issue, and walk with them in pursuit of agreed-upon goals, and occasionally to fight alongside them.  The major issue then was how to win land for the urban poor.  The Vatican’s Justice and Peace Commission had just come out with its document on housing, “What Have You Done For Your Homeless Brother?” based on Mt. 25: 31ff..  But the government under Cory Aquino was itself trying to understand how to govern on principles of People Power towards a more socially just society.  When Sitio Kumonoy in QC was suddenly demolished by the QC government under Mayor Jun Simon on behest of Filinvest, despite the fact that we had been working with its people to benefit from the national urban housing programs under the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, we resolved to put an end to such unjust and inhumane demolition.  We marched to Mayor Jun Simon’s office in QC.  When he refused to see us because he was busy in a conference about the city’s trash, we forced our way into his office, gamely risking arrest, and declared we were more deserving of his attention than trash.  We went to Cardinal Sin for help;  we went to the Bishops’-Businessmen’s Conference; we allied with the Jesuits’ John J Carroll Institute for Church and Social Issues.  More important, we further organized our NGC ranks, and networked with other urban poor organizations.  Based on the moral imperative of the right of the urban poor to shelter, we joined the power of the poor with the power of the elite.  We showed that we could deal with politicians and hostile pundits and angry landowners.  We packed the halls of Congress with our numbers.  The result: the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279).  This was an act that demanded that cities plan for and shelter their urban poor.  It was also the law which prescribed the rules governing just and humane demolitions.   The experience had important lessons for leadership:  turning a major reversal in Sitio Kumonoy into a battle cry, horizontal and vertical organization, the power of the poor when organized.   They are especially important in Jesuit university leadership which believes its pursuit of truth impacts on the reform of unjust social structures which violate human rights or are destructive of the environment.

When I was missioned after General Congregation 34 to the Presidency of Loyola School of Theology, I was happy because it was still compatible with my urban poor work in Commonwealth.  The special mission given me by Fr. General Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., was to attend to the application for the ecclesiastical status of LST with the Sacred Congregation of for Catholic Education.  That was a mission that earned happy results with LST receiving this status in 2000, after a large majority of the CBCP had voted in favor of the petition.  But my big learning in LST was that I could handle difficult Jesuit professors.  Difficult Jesuits are never “just teachers;”  they belong to the club, they push, pressure, complain, cajole.  In one case, a Jesuit came to my office to complain for the nth time about this or that.    I responded by saying, “Father, your mission is to teach.  Teach!  My mission is to administer.  Allow me to administer.  You teach, I administer.  Good day!”  The Jesuit was less difficult after that!

Mission to Education

I was missioned to leadership of Ateneo de Naga University (ADNU) by virtue of a resolution of its Board of Trustees that was confirmed by Fr. Provincial Romeo Intengan, S.J.  I did not expect this appointment.  I had been told my name on the three-person shortlist was a pure formality.  But the great Fr. Rolly Bonoan, S.J. had passed away.  ADNU had just achieved university status.  It had been achieved through the aggressive leadership of Fr. Rolly that rallied untiring forces within Ateneo and beyond in government and industry towards this corporate goal.  When he passed away, ADNU glowed in the limelight of its university status, but there were a lot of loose ends that needed attention.

I learned how to be a university president at ADNU.  I could converse with you about the nuanced meaning of Aufhebung in Hegelian dialectic, but I did not know how to read a financial statement, how to build a curriculum, what the difference was between level II and level III PAASCU accreditation, and fresh out of the comfort zone of Manila with my special relation with the urban poor and with Cardinal Sin, in this new milieu I did not know who my friends and who my enemies were.  Coming into ADNU was not like coming in to a bed of thornless roses.  The thorns showed themselves quickly, and the thorns hurt.  But there were more roses than thorns in ADDU.  People were very, very patient and supportive.  They were thoughtful and considerate, desirous of revealing to me the knotting challenges of ADNU in gradual doses – so that I might not be discouraged.  Eventually, I learned about where the finances were, what the Technical Working Panels of CHED did, how to support the groups ambitioning excellence towards level III and institutional PAASCU accreditation.   I learned how to deal with university people and structures.  We improved facilities, and separated the high school from the college and graduate school.  We discovered that if you want research, you have to fund it, and you have to give it a status in the university that is equal to instruction;  it was the same with the outreach function of the university.  That was the reason why we created three University Councils and declared them equal to one another:  the Academic Council, the Research Council and the Outreach Council.   We built research and outreach into the rank and promotion system of ADDU.

As I had experienced with urban poor organization, I re-discovered the importance of networking in ADNU – working with the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, the Bicol Association of Catholic Schools, the Bicol Foundation for Higher Education, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations.

Perhaps the most important achievement at ADDU was the creation of a formation program based on Ignatian spirituality.  Based on an original framework created by Fr. Vic Baltazar, I approved the general lines of a program that would be correlated against rank and achievements in instruction, research, outreach and formation.  This program was worked out in detail by Deputy Academic Vice President Janet Badilla.  Through it, I also encouraged the empowerment of our lay co-partners to learn to give retreats through the Center for Ignatian Spirituality.

After 12 years in Naga, as the giants of Philippine Jesuit education, Fr. Ben Nebres and Fr. Ting Samson, retired, I was missioned to leadership in the Ateneo de Davao by Fr. Provincial Jojo Magadia, S.J.  Once again, despite my considerable experience at ADNU, I was moving into territory unknown.  I feared having to deal with four unions.  I feared entering a situation where I did not know who would be supportive, and who destructive.  I feared the challenges of Mindanao.

Leading ADDU is still very much a work in progress.  But we started off with gathering some sixty people in the university who had something to say.  We wanted the passionate people, the one’s who were not afraid to stand up and state their case based on their convictions.  We asked three questions:  “Are you able to express your passion at the Ateneo de Davao? If so, why?  If not, why not?”  They were questions which occasioned frank, open, and tearful manifestations.  “I had learned my sense of social justice from the Jesuits,” a union leader said referring to the past “dark ages” of the ADDU.  “I could not believe that we were now sitting on opposite sides of the table in or quest for justice.” Through this exercise though, we were able in this shared passion to find our shared vision.  The vision of a university of instruction, research and outreach achieved in academic freedom was articulated.  The correlated mission to serve the faith, do justice, be culturally sensitive, engage in interreligious dialogue, environmental protection, the creation of renewable energy, and educational reform, and create leaders for the Church and for Mindanao was shared.  The vision and mission statement which was later articulated based on this shared experience was easily formulated, and is now recognized as “the soul” of the university.  It is also the basis of ADDU’s efforts to form “ADDU leaders sui generis,” leaders uniquely formed through ongoing commitment to the common good indicated by the particular vision and mission of ADDU.

The challenge to the leader is to push this ideal into the realm of the real, and to support all who contribute to this effort.  This means empowering people to contribute where their contributions are meaningful.  Ongoing is a momentous effort to improve our academic delivery, to improve our instructional capacity, to align the actual work our experts do with their expertise, to enter into new academic fields that support the mission and vision, e.g. environmental science, Islamic studies, tropical risk reduction management, and entrepreneurship for agro-business.   The idea of robust research and relevant outreach has had to be realized as well;  we have set up Council structures at ADDU parallel to ADNU.  But at ADDU the prophetic challenge seems to be more palpable.  This has had its costs.  Research challenged the scientific basis of the Environmental Impact Statement of SMI/Xstrata Mines;  were the mine to be built and operated, research concluded, the water and food supply of all of Mindanao would be compromised. This has cost us the support of some dear friends.  Research has mediated outreach which promotes inter-cultural and inter-religious peace.  Research has enabled us to model and promote solar energy in an environment which rejects it as too expensive.  Research has enabled us to participate actively in educational reform – in support of the K-12 enhanced basic education reform and in the promotion of genuine tertiary-level quality assurance.  All is yet a challenging work in progress where leadership is privileged to support and empower competent people contributing to the realization of the same mission and vision.

Ignatian Spirituality and Leadership

Perhaps the framers of the Leadership Formation and Development Framework can articulate better than I how my experience relates to their framework.  Obviously, I was not consciously trying to implement this framework as I met the challenges of the leadership missions given me.

Necessarily central to this framework is the leader I have become out of a mix of personal qualities and Ignatian spirituality.  I identified early with priests in our parish – and I wanted to be a priest; I was a balikbayan from the U.S. in Ateneo de Manila’s high school; I was disturbed early by the squalor and injustice of the urban poor families I saw from the window of our relatively comfortable home; I was deeply influenced by the outlook of my friend, Wahoo Taylor, who brought me to Sapang Palay; as a Jesuit I was given extraordinary opportunities for personal development, extended exposure to the poor, exposure to Europe,  exposure to community organizing, and ample opportunities for missioned leadership.

The Ignatian spirituality is part of that leadership, even though explicitating why may take more space than can be allowed here.  Let me simply say that with every annual experience of the spiritual exercises there is a deepened fascination with existence, my own blessed existence and the created existence of all else.  There is deepened confusion and shame at the fact of sin in my life, with which I continue to struggle.  But there is deepened awe at the experience of the Crucified Lord expressing through his passion on the Cross the compassion of his Father.  It is an ever deeper experience of Jesus’ love.  Then, of the inevitable question:  “If you have done this in love for me, Lord, what have I done for you? what am I doing for you? what ought I do for you?”  This is the question that lays the groundwork for discipleship in the meditation on the Kingdom;  it prepares for the contemplation of the Lord refusing to turn his back on people in our ambivalent world, but saying yes to them, saying yes to be part of them, saying yes  to take on their flesh, their plight, their suffering, their struggle.  It prepares us for asking the Lord for the privilege to be at the side of Jesus still carrying his cross telling his people, ourselves included, of the love of his Father.

This has everything to do with leadership.  In this context, our leadership is discipleship.  It is willingness to follow the Lord to where he wills to proclaim his Kingdom, to place our talents, strengths and weaknesses at his disposition.  This may be in the inner-city slums among the urban poor, it may be in campuses among the urban wealthy, it may be in the land of the T’Bolis threatened now by small scale mining.  It is willingness to follow our Lord even to places where his Kingdom of Light confronts darkness and evil.  It is commitment to follow his lead, but in following, ourselves to use our minds, our hearts, our talents, our strength, our discernment, and our own leadership, missioned by him, to realize his Kingdom.

This said, all of one’s abilities contribute to one’s functional competency – including one’s ability to learn new things.  All of the Presidents have confessed to certain areas of ignorance in accepting the leadership missioned to them; all  have acknowledged their debt to co-laborers in mission in finding the new knowledge and new skills necessary for leadership.  I used “Accounting for Idiots” to help me make heads and tails out of the financial statement;  I had to learn how to engage CHED and DepED “on the job.”  In the end, it is the mission which insists that one acquire the new knowledge and skills required by leadership.

It is also the vision and mission which informs strategic and operational planning, and motivates the leader to acquire the skills necessary for this.  The university must know where it is going;  the university must function so that it gets there.

It is also the mission which requires the leader to hone his relational competency.  This is crucial.  In a large organization like a university, one must be able to manage performance, install systems of quality assurance, manage conflict, develop teams, give feedback effectively, and communicate well.  The leader must connect to his people, inspire them to follow his lead, reward them when they do well, encourage them when they fail – and always be able to learn from them.  Especially in the Philippines, the leader must communicate he and his people are on the same side;  all are disciples of the same Lord.  He must be able to understand his people’s concerns.  In times of need, he must as far as possible be of help.  And be grateful when helped.

These are my own convictions in leadership; they have served me well.  May they be of help to others who lead in discipleship of the Lord.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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