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What Every Leader Should Learn From Pope Francis

What Every Leader Should Learn From Pope Francis

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.

Understand leadership

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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

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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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