Teresian leadership: A historical analysis

Mathew Azhakath, Fordham University


Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Carmelite nun, is recognized as a mystic, a spiritual director, a writer, a reformer, a founder, and even a Doctor of the Catholic Church. Was she also a leader? This title or designation is one not attributed to her by researchers and biographers. This study, therefore, was an effort to focus a research lens on a previously overlooked perception and understanding of Teresa of Avila. It examined her life and activities from the perspective of modern leadership terms and theories. The methodology used in this study was a qualitative descriptive method. It enabled the researcher to conduct a cross-examination through several research perspectives: the lens of the historical context of Teresa of Avila's life and work; the lens of Teresa's own voice from her abundant writings; and the lens of scholarship and research on leadership. This analysis of multiple points of view offered an expansiveness and depth to this research in understanding Teresa of Avila as a leader and what distinguished her in exercising her leadership. This historical analysis in search of Teresa's leadership revolved around the following key questions: (1) What led Teresa of Avila to be a reformer and founder of Discalced Carmelite Order for both women and men? (2) How does Teresian leadership style compare to contemporary definitions and styles of leadership? (3) What made Teresa's leadership effective? (4) What can be learned by the leaders of Church and society in the 21st century from the leadership style of a 16th century female leader of the Church? To answer the above questions the following major themes were examined: the historical background and context of Teresa's life and activities, the biography of Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila as reformer and founder, perspectives of leadership, and a distinctive Teresian style of leadership. Based on the investigation, the researcher deduced that Teresa was a transformational leader and her leadership was engendered from her inborn leadership qualities, and emerged and was sustained by her mystical encounters with God. This study also confirms the fact that leadership is gender neutral. One is born with leadership qualities, but those qualities must be developed. Leadership is to uplift the followers to better meaningful life. For the effectiveness of leadership, it is fundamental to have deep and continuous relation with the source of one's leadership that is God.

Subject Area

Biographies|Religious history|Educational leadership|Management

Recommended Citation

Azhakath, Mathew, "Teresian leadership: A historical analysis" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3494716.