The Leadership Model of Pope Francis

pope_headshot-bannerThe news this week is saturated with coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the US. He is here currently in Washington DC, and soon will move on to continue his visit. I am not going to any of the events. I am not Catholic; I do not believe in many of the things the Church, and this Pope, espouse. I understand why many people (including myself) have serious issues with the Catholic Church. Why then am I writing about the Pope? I didn’t intend to. I was really trying to avoid it,  but I do find that as someone who studies leadership, I am drawn to his style. He is fascinating to watch.

He demonstrates open and authentic leadership.

Watching this Pope in action is a lesson in authentic leadership. He is an example of a true servant leader. Historically, as I understand the papacy, it has elements in common with European monarchies in its traditions. Distance, pageantry, protocol – all combine into an almost “untouchable-ness”. The Pope has a palace and a thick cocoon of Vatican bureaucracy built up over almost 2000 years. Not to mention that whole infallibility thing. And yet, this pope rides in economy cars and takes selfies with teenagers. He regularly reaches out directly (by phone, no less!) to people who write to him. He understands that to lead is to see and value each and every person regardless of their rank or importance. Not only that, the Pope had a Harley! And he auctioned it off to raise money for a shelter and soup kitchen in Rome.

Pope Francis – “Depicting the Pope as a sort of Superman, a star, is OFFENSIVE to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person.”

He leads by example.

My understanding of Jesus and his teachings of Christianity involve qualities like humility, service to the poor and infirm, and love of all people equally. (I’m paraphrasing.) Unlike past popes, he chose not to move into the palace, but rather chose to live in a small apartment. When he traveled to the Vatican for his installation as the Pope, he paid for his own hotel room. He is regularly reported to decline meetings and events with political leaders and society to dine with the poor. There are so many examples where he just sits with ordinary people and shares their world, rather than impose his. He appears so comfortable with the neediest of society around the world. He lives the beliefs his organization preaches.

Pope Francis – “Among us, who is above must be in service of the others. This doesn’t mean we have to wash each other’s feet every day, but we must help one another.”

He demonstrates openness to new information and the ideas of others.

He declared the internet a “gift from God”. He recognizes science as consistent with the preaching of his church and a source of knowledge of our world and a potential reliever of suffering here on earth. He reaches out to experts and leaders of other faiths and traditions. Regardless of whether you agree with his conclusions or not, he gives the impression of being a leader who loves to listen and learn, and incorporate new ideas into his organization.

Pope Francis – “This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”

He leads by positive encouragement – not by fear.

He leads not just by charitable actions, but by encouraging language as well. He declines personal judgement, affirming the basic good and worthiness of all mankind. He has chosen to focus his attention of encouraging all people to do better, to serve others, to care for all of creation. While the organization he leads has strong “rules”, and in declaring himself a “son of the Church” he affirms those rules, he has specifically said that “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” He focuses instead on inclusiveness. He is a vision-based leader, showing us his vision for a better world. Whether you agree with his policies, he demonstrates a purity of vision, and charges his followers with a noble goal. And in nearly every picture I see of him, he has that lovely smile.

Pope Francis – “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.”

As leaders we could do well to follow his example. We can live our beliefs, support and encourage others, and expend our energies demonstrating the value of everyone at every level. We can endeavor to be authentic in our dealings with others rather than donning the trappings and privileges of the “elite”. We can lead for the good of all, rather than the good for ourselves.