Pope Francis, whether your a Catholic or not, is a significant world leader. He’s been on Fortune’s Worlds Greatest Leaders List list two years running and has made a significant impact in the two and half years since he became pontiff.
Born, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in Buenes Aries, Pope Francis was ordained in 1969 and served as Bishop from 1992 to 2001 and as a Cardinal from then until his election as pope in 2013.
His impact as a leader is distinctive and I believe based on not so much on personality but on how he leads and these attributes are what every leader can learn from Pope Francis.
Renowned business thinker Gary Hamel, writing for the Harvard Business Review about Pope Francis says, “He understands that in a hyper-kinetic world, inward-looking and self-obsessed leaders are a liability.”
Hamel’s article, “The 15 Diseases of Leadership, According to Pope Francis,” is based on an address Pope Francis made to the Roma Curia, the body that administers the Catholic church. It shows Pope Francis has a real understanding of leadership and is able to clearly articulate his vision in this area to those he is leading within the Vatican.
This understanding on leadership comes I believe from two things. Firstly, he’s grounding in psychology, a subject a he taught earlier in his career. We can all take time to learn about leadership, study the science of psychology which underpins it as preparation for taking a role as a leader.
Secondly, it’s something he’s practiced.
Put in the service first
Whilst Francis may seem like an overnight sensation nothing could be further from the truth. Being Pope has been a long and often difficult journey for Francis, nine years as a Bishop and twelve as a Cardinal. Depending on the scale of the leadership you aspire to, don’t rush to get there but put the service in first, deal with the tough challenges which will help you prepare for the future.
Instead of being overambitious, look for the opportunities to lead and serve where you are now rather than aiming for advancement too quickly.
An example of Francis’ work as a Bishop was to reorganize the banking arrangements of the diocese so that a higher degree of fiscal discipline. Without that experience would he had the confidence the more challenging administrative issues of the Vatican?
Be outward looking and relevant
Whilst Francis isn’t shying away from dealing with the internal workings of the Vatican what’s clear, and why he’s in headlines, is that his leadership style is outward looking. This again is a continuation of his earlier work where he has been a strong track record of ecumenism (working with other branches or Christianity) and promoting links with other faiths.
If you only look inside you organisation then you will become too narrowly focus and risk becoming irrelevant.
And Pope Francis is highly relevant. His famous 2015 encyclical on the environment (laudato si’, subtitled “on care for our common home”) is important whether you’re in the Catholic church or not. It has been a seen as a good thing by environmentalists outside the church. One such person is veteran environmentalist Jonathon Porritt who, despite strong reservations about Papal teaching, wrote, “as a growing and already hugely inspirational presence in our environmental world, there’s so much to admire about what this man is saying and doing.”
By being relevant and outward looking you connect with people, even those who might not be your natural allies and think exactly like you. So as leaders we need to think, connect and act broadly.
“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads … to those who have quit or are indifferent.” Pope Francis.
Eschew the trinkets of office
The irrelevant inward looking leader is often the one most worried about the size of their corner office or their rights to a parking place.
It’s no surprise that Pope Francis has chosen to live more modestly in a one bedroom apartment rather than the Apostolic palace that he could have, again repeating how he’d lived as a Cardinal.
As leader people are watching you. If they see a fat cat feathering their own nest then they won’t be inspired.
“An example I often use to illustrate the reality of vanity, is this: look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth… Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them.” Pope Francis.
Pope Francis throws the status model of leadership on it’s head and it’s something we can all do. Maybe it’s as simple as asking if your flash office or prime desk position could be better used by someone else?
Use the resources you have wisely
Whatever resources you have at your disposal they should be used to the best purpose. Whether it’s a desk or a Vatican bank account it needs to be managed well. It’s not there just for you to indulge yourself. Francis’ focus in improving banking and administration is to good purpose as in frees up resources to be better used.
Pope Francis’ motivation for a more simpler existence is exactly this; the resources can be used specifically for the charitable purposes of the Catholic church.
If we take unnecessarily from an organisation we lead, whether they are charitable or not, we can undermine the purpose of the organisation by depriving funds from where they might be badly needed.
“Money has to serve, not to rule.” Pope Francis.
And you don’t need a gilded sanctuary if you’re out there meeting your people.
Get out more
You won’t meet many people if you don’t get out. As Bishop in Buenos Aries he was dubbed the “Slum Bishop” because of number of priests he sent into the poor areas. Also he would regularly go out on his own.
Pope Francis’ external outlook as been cemented by his getting out and meeting people. This has created opportunities for him to address audiences on subjects important to him and make an impact.
“This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is criss-crossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.” Pope Francis
In conclusion Pope Francis is remarkable as a leader because he’s actually doing what we want from our leaders. We don’t want self interest but rather someone engaged in the real world who acts with real humility. And that’s what every leader can learn.
Featured photo credit: Papa rock star / Edgar Jiménez via flickr.com