So, you’ve recently been appointed CEO to one of the largest multinational organisations in the world. You operate in every corner of the globe, but your HQ is in Europe where the numbers reveal a serious downward trend. Worse, the culture of opulence, formality, pomp and ceremony that is so embedded in your organisation in Europe is out-of-step with the needs and expectations of the continent that is experiencing the most growth – Africa. Your appointment comes following decades of revelations of scandal and corruption and an accumulation of wealth that is completely at odds with the core values of the organisation.
Your predecessor was number 5 in the Forbes list of most powerful people in 2012. In the year you were appointed, Time magazine awarded you Person of the Year 2013. You have a Titanic that needs turning and a weight of hope and expectation resting on your shoulders, which , is an almost-guarantee of failure – ask . Barack Obama.
What should you do?
In case you haven’t already guessed, this was the situation facing Pope Francis – the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church – when he was elected on 13 March 2013. Since then much has been written about what he can teach CEOs about leadership. As a lapsed (read: spiritually lazy) Catholic myself, he’s the only Pope in my lifetime who has even made me consider whether I want to be more actively involved in the Church. This surely fulfils Forbes definition of good leadership: “the ability to move people in a new and better direction.”
Some of the qualities about Pope Francis’s leadership that have struck me and so many others are:
Walking the walk; Living the values.
Since his election, there has been a constant stream of “humble Pope” stories. They can sound like carefully conceived bits of theatre, but in fact we only get to hear about those that are witnessed. He neither confirms nor denies other stories but there’s a growing body of evidence that this behaviour is authentic. Pope Francis is living the life he believes in and you get the impression that pomp and ceremony and all the rigmarole that surrounds the Holy See doesn’t sit comfortably with the new Pope’s view of his mission. Stripping out the apparent hypocrisy imbues his leadership with personal authority to supplement the role’s inherited power.
Choosing your battles.
The Pope’s statements on economic inequality and his challenge to the “trickle down” theory have brought him into direct conflict with politicians, economists, sociologists and, it has been said, could impact U.S. politics. His comments, are dismissed as naïve and/or ignorant by some, and hypocritical by others who point to the incredible wealth of the Catholic Church. But, they are not said in an attempt to jump on a populist bandwagon, but reflect longstanding, basic tenets of papal preoccupation: helping the poor and combatting inequality.
Engaging with people on a personal level.
Many CEOs appear remote and protected from their employees – the archetypical “ivory tower syndrome”. I can remember being involved in preparing presentations for a CEO’s site visit as part of his annual “world tour”. This was an opportunity for the CEO to engage with the business from the bottom up but every aspect of the tour might have been designed to prevent this from happening. Detailed briefs were circulated weeks in advance prescribing not only the type of content the CEO should see in these “informal presentations” but also the type of response you should prepare for the ensuing “challenging dialogue”. I’m sure the CEO completed the world tour feeling that he had got a good insight into and understanding of the business and the various locations but it was a huge missed opportunity in terms of employee engagement and motivation. Pope Francis, though, seems genuinely comfortable in the real world and is the embodiment of the Catholic doctrine that “the last will be first and the first will be last”.
Through his words and his deeds, Pope Francis is giving relevance to a tainted religion in an increasingly secular world by rededicating the pontificate to the causes of economic justice, equality and peace.
And by his example, he is giving CEOs around the world a new role model of leadership.
Inspiring reads on Pope Francis’s leadership capability:
What Pope Francis can teach CEOs about leadership – TODAY, 18 March 2013
The New Pope’s Real Business Challenge: Supplying Accountability Is Francis’ Defining Job – David Reimer, 17 March 2013