Whether you’re Catholic or not, the Pope’s first visit to American soil was a big deal. As I followed the stories and read some of his speeches, there were three things that struck me about his leadership.
First of all, Pope Francis stayed true to his vision and to himself. We hear regularly about the importance of vision and integrity for leaders, but how often do we see leaders compromise on central issues to be more popular or to move forward on a different goal? Far too often.
Pope Francis never wavered. Many reporters, bloggers, and analysts spent the whole week trying to figure out where the Pope leans politically: whose “side” he is on. It never fazed Pope Francis. He stuck with his vision for the Church and simply articulating Catholic teaching. That’s his job as leader of the Church. It would have been easy for him to give some sort of endorsement to a party or group in order to try to gain popularity with Americans, but he never did. Because he’s not on a side of America’s political or cultural landscape. He’s the Pope. He’s on Jesus’ side. He represents the Catholic Church. And he never forgot it: he stayed true.
The Lesson: Even in the face of pressure, stay true to your vision and to your values.
Hand in hand with that came another element of leadership, one that often gets overlooked in our highly opinionated culture. We often get caught up in whether or not we agree with someone on an issue. If we agree, then we stop. We let the status quo be. “Oh, you think x, y, or z; me too. That’s great.” And the conversation ends. But a true leader doesn’t ever accept the status quo, even from people in perfect agreement. A leader always seeks improvement.
Pope Francis has said many things that shake up that status quo in everyone. Whether you agree or disagree with the Pope on various issues, no one who really listened to what the Pope is calling for in the world and in America was left feeling comfortable. He is a great leader because he challenges EVERYONE to grow.
The Lesson: A leader isn’t hard on some and easy on others. A leader doesn’t play favorites based on agreement or support. A leader challenges everyone to grow in some way.
Finally, I was struck by the fact that the Pope has always been so aware of the people that he leads. He spends his time seeking to be in tune with his followers, especially those who don’t have anything to give him. This was highlighted for me in the fact that after addressing Congress, the Pope went to have lunch with the poor, not the politicians.
How easy and tempting would it have been for the Pope to spend that time with politicians, trying to gain sway for his ideas?
But the politicians make up an extremely small portion of the Church, which puts not its trust in princes (cf. Ps. 146) and knows that God lifts up the lowly (cf. Lk. 1).
According to Pew Research Center, almost two thirds of Catholics live in developing countries where what we consider poverty is the norm. In light of this, I think it can be fairly stated that the poor make up the bulk of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis knows that. So, having spoken to Congress, Pope Francis chose to spend time with the people who make up the majority of the Church he leads. The Pope has given a great example to follow of a leader who listens to his followers and takes the time to empathize with them.
How many of us have seen or been in situations where the people on top, the leaders, are out of touch with the on-the-ground operations of an organization? It can be infuriating and demoralizing. For the organization, it can even be lethal. The Pope’s example shows us how to avoid that mistake.
The Lesson: Leaders must listen to and be in touch with those whom they lead. Only then can they be effective leaders.