Home / Columnists/ Lead with humility: Leadership lessons from Pope Francis

Lead with humility: Leadership lessons from Pope Francis

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 27 January 2017 00:00


28.The connection that exists between a leader and those being led is, like most relationships, seldom easy to understand or take out. The satisfaction that leaders derive from having an impact over others is not easy to unpack. 

Generally, there are two kinds of power. “Personal power” gathers energy and excitement from winning, from standing over and above others as champion and winner. This brand of power reflects a deep need for total control, for being the one who takes charge of things and gets things done. 

A second kind of power is what is called “social power.” Social power is likewise consumed with having impact over others. But its primary intent is not to throw around one’s personal strength and influence. Instead, it aims to elevate others in a way that cultivates and help their followers to realise their full potential. 

It draws on inspiring connections and symbolic actions to help people find their own power, both individually and collectively, and to use it to positively affect their world. Social power generates energy and enthusiasm to get things done but in a way that is collective and inclusive. 

The current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis exemplifies this second kind of power – what social power is and the impact it intends. In his time so far as leader of a fragmented church and a weakened hierarchy, his bold challenge to ignite social reform, reveal an untiring effort on changing hearts.

Apart from his words, his actions offer even clearer evidence of this driver at work. His choice of name and a more humble home reflect a simple recognition that change begins first and foremost from within – a stunning admission, even for a religious leader.

On the other hand President Donald Trump is a classic example of personal power. More than any other public figure in recent memory, his gleeful chants of “winning at the polls” alongside the endless revelling in his wealth and achievements and also conquests represents personal power disrobed and on full display. 

Meaning of leadership

Leadership is very hard to define, mainly because it means different things to different people. We know it requires knowledge, 30competence, courage and empathy. We expect leaders to be just, to share our values and provide direction. For me, it is what leaders like Pope Francis represent. 

An encounter with Pope Francis leaves you inspired and spiritually moved. The Pope is warm, inviting, and sincere. From choosing to live in a simple apartment instead of the papal palace, to washing the feet of men and women in a youth detention centre, Pope Francis’s actions contradict behaviours expected of a modern leader. 

He shows how his words and deeds reveal spiritual principles that have helped him to lead the Church in the past and present and also to influence our world—a rapidly-changing world that requires leaders who value the human need for love, inspiration and purpose. 

Father Jorge Bergoglio

Many people who knew Pope Francis as Father Jorge Bergoglio, talks of a man whose passion was to be with people, of all walks of life. He offers a stirring vision of leadership to which we can all aspire in our communities, religious institutions, companies, and families. 

In our interconnected and complex world where so many complain about a crisis of leadership exist, Pope Francis, is a leader focused not on status but on a mission. He is an example for leaders of all types, religious and for political leaders, who recognise the need to cultivate character and the ability to hold competing values as we navigate change, whether in business, organisations or society itself. 

Inspiring leader

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as the 266th pope of the Catholic Church in March in 2013 — taking the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi — he immediately showed the world he would be different from that of his predecessors. 

He said ‘no’ to the fancy red loafers favoured by Pope Benedict XVI, opting for simple black shoes. He declined the papal limo for a bus ride. For living quarters, he chose the Vatican guesthouse over an apartment in the Apostolic Palace. 

Since his election, Pope Francis has defied all the papal traditions and charmed the world. He offers hope and insight into what an inspiring leader can look like. We have many politicians globally who don’t really govern but focus on self-promotion, with little thought of making the world a better place. And we have bosses and managers leading as a means to get ahead, ignoring the importance of the people they are expected to lead. 

Pope Francis has shown the world that if you place your own self-interests aside, the people around you will work harder for you and loyalty will increase. Leaders would do well to take a leaf out of Pope Francis’ book on how to be a true leader by actions and not just words. 

He welcomes the homeless for lunch, shows infinite patience to a child running around while delivering a keynote speech and responds personally to people who need him. He has so far shown the world that leadership is all about serving others faithfully and what good leadership should look like; as summarised below:

Six key lessons for leaders

1. Make others feel better about themselves ... he seems to make others believe they can be better after they meet with him.

2. Model what you preach ... he lives the values of service and charity... incredible personal example

3. Focus on a few things ... he is not trying to be all things to all people, but to focus on the few key things that the church stands for

4. Make tough calls... he has relieved some of the cardinals of their position when they don’t follow his example

5. Keep learning ... he is evolving church positions to adapt to changing times, but he keeps the traditional values

6. Inclusive... he does not want to exclude anyone from the blessings of his faith and message 

In conclusion, inspiring leaders do not take the blind path of ignorance and are not afraid to lead by example, with conviction, visibility and honour and they clearly demonstrate that in leadership, humility is always more important than strategy. 

(The writer is a thought leader in HR.)

Share This Article

Facebook Twitter


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

Whither Sri Lanka?

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

On Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, suicide bombers from an extremist group caused carnage in six separate locations in Sri Lanka. Over 250 lives were lost and as many injured. The magnitude and co-ordination of their operation indicate several months o

Our Cricket Board simply cannot deliver – why not they all quit honourably?

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

“It is necessary, therefore, for the Government to pay serious attention to the doings of Sri Lanka Cricket [board] and take immediate action to lift their game for the progress of our glorious game.” Question for Sri Lanka Cricket (board) Sri La

Yesterday Tamils, today Muslims and tomorrow who?

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

From the time of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s election victory in 1956, one and only one issue had dominated political party campaigns in this country; and that was communalism. The Tamil community was the main focus of these campaigns for over 50 years

Those who go by social proof are easy prey to crafty schemers

Monday, 17 June 2019

Going after social proof Swiss writer and novelist, Rolf Dobelli, in one of the essays in his 2013 book ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’, has given a fine warning to his readers. He has warned against going by ‘social proof’ or ‘majority view

Columnists More