How would you lead an organization of over one billion people?
Believe it or not, there’s one person doing this very well: the new pope, Francis I.
In less than a year, Francis has differentiated himself from all other popes in recent memory. He has vacated the luxurious papal apartments, traded his limousine for a compact Ford, donned simple robes, and made headlines by publicly embracing lepers, washing convicts’ feet, and fixing sandwiches for his hungry Swiss guards.
Since his election in March of 2013, “The People’s Pope” has revitalized the image of the papal office and encouraged Catholics worldwide to focus on humility and charity. He's also inspired the secular world: in December, Time named Francis Person of the Year.
In last month’s blog, I discussed how “little things” can make a big difference in leadership style. Pope Francis's example provides an excellent lesson in how actions—the little things and the big things—are crucial to good leadership.
How can a leader ascend to pope-like greatness? Even if you don’t have a calling from a higher power, I’d encourage you to keep a few points in mind.
1. Listen more. Great leaders like Francis set their own needs aside and are patient and attentive to their followers. “Listening” may seem like it equals passivity. But good listening is an action: the ability to devote your complete attention to a team member or colleague.
2. Encourage and support your team. Like Pope Francis, great leaders don’t hog the spotlight. Instead, they quietly act as a support to their employees, rather than expecting it to be the other way around. British comedian John Cleese, who produces instructional videos on management, says that an “ideal leader” is “the one trying to work to make himself dispensable.”
3. Be aware of everything you do. You're being watched. Francis knows that his goal to make the Church “a poor church, for the poor” begins with him. Like a pope at the pulpit, a leader is visible to everyone in her organization. Team members and colleagues will emulate the leader’s behaviors. Those looking for guidance will not only hear what you say, but also watch what you do afterwards.
4. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves. During Christmas Eve mass, Pope Francis insisted on carrying a statue of baby Jesus down the aisle himself – a job normally left to a papal aide. My first editor in Vermont would deliver papers alongside the paperboy during snowstorms. His willingness to pitch in when the going got tough sent a clear message – soon we were all helping deliver in bad weather. Actions like these always speak louder than words.
5. Nothing is below your pay grade. Like Francis sneaking out of the Vatican at night to serve the poor, a leader should be ready to personally do any job required.
One boss I know takes time every afternoon to straighten up the washrooms of his successful business. Even though he is the top guy, his total commitment from the ground up means he’s willing to do anything and everything to make it work.
“Preach the gospel at all times,” St. Francis of Assisi once said, “and, when necessary, use words.” His namesake is living this advice to the fullest.