In outlining his vision for the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said "The Pope, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into service.” He went on saying “Authentic power is service and the Pope must serve.” These were the words of the newly elected Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as he spoke to the world’s dignitaries during his formal installation and inaugural mass as the leader of an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. Before world and religious leaders, the Pope spoke of the protection of the poor, the social good and the environment. Targeting his homily at world leaders, he said "I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."
After his election as he stood on the Papal balcony before throngs of Roman Catholics and well-wishers, he asked for the people to pray for him and then bowed his head and led the crowd in Saint Peter’s Square in prayer. Francis took his papal name honoring the humble 13th century theologian Francis of Assisi whose ministry preached care for the poor and natural environment at a time when the church had to be built up amid chaos and division. Like his namesake, Pope Francis leads the Catholic Church during a period of turmoil, scandal and division. In him, there is genuineness and modesty in his manner that is refreshing. Another sign of the new Pope’s humility and unpretentiousness is his dress. Unlike Popes John Paul the II and Benedict the XVI who made their appearance in an ornate robe and stole, Pope Francis did not bother with the traditional red velvet robe and met throngs of supporters for the first time in a simple white cassock. The servant and values-driven leadership of the new Pope is not something that is new to him. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis led a frugal lifestyle refusing to live the ostentatious Bishops’ residence and instead, choosing to live in a small room and take public transportation to work. In his short time as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis walks into crowds talking to, kissing and blessing the faithful. This open and approachable Pontiff is all about service and connecting with others. Shortly before his inaugural mass and installation, Francis could be seen in an open jeep waving to throngs of well-wishers. At one point, he got out to bless a disabled man in the crowd much to the chagrin of his security detail.
The first Pope from the Americas is a staunch champion of the poor, social good and human rights. As a Jesuit, it should be no surprise to anyone that Francis is a strong advocate of social justice and human rights as this is what the Jesuit order promotes and believes in. Far from the formality and tradition symbolizing recent papal elections and installations, the election of this down-to-earth, values-driven servant leader who appears to be awkward with the formality and who vocalizes his concern for the social good and stewardship of the environment, has the Catholic faithful enthusiastic about the future direction of the Roman Catholic Church. This, despite some criticism that he did not do enough to suppress human rights atrocities in his home country of Argentina more than 30 years ago when he was a Jesuit Priest. The new Pope’s leadership philosophy certainly parallels servant or values-driven leadership that is becoming more conventional and strategic with business leaders today. The servant or values-driven leader helps others realize their full potential and abilities; placing others’ needs before their own. Servant leaders see a duty to assist and attend to others and place critical importance on sincerity and transparency rather than authoritarian control. Akin to the values-driven beliefs of Pope Francis, “the servant leader is a servant first.” If Pope Francis were the CEO of a fortune 500 corporation rather the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, he would see the integration of corporate citizenship, social responsibility and sustainable behaviors as an essential business strategy for profitability and competitive advantage.
What can CEO’s learn from Pope Francis’ values and way of life? CEO’s of corporations across multiple industries should take note of the quiet, humble and down-to-earth leadership of Francis who is values-driven and a servant leader that places more importance on the welfare of society than self- interests. For years the new Pope has put his personal comforts and ego aside to live in modest accommodations and take the bus where he can be with the people rather than be driven in a limousine. Vatican experts and authorities on leadership agree that the values-driven servant leadership of Francis is necessary if the Catholic Church is to regain its legitimacy and standing in the world. In recent days, it has become clear that Francis’ mission and envisioned future of the Catholic Church is putting self-promotion and interests aside in favor of value-driven and servant leadership principles that cares for the poor and indigent, promotes the social good and protects our natural environment. At the core of values-driven and servant leadership is “mission first and self-interest last.” Notwithstanding their commitment to servant leadership and value-driven principles, the egos, self-promotion and narcissism of business leaders can get in the way of balancing shareholder value and the social good and in the end, their own self-interest. Ultimately, their selfish desires come first and the mission is secondary – negating values-driven servant leadership.
Two case studies come to mind that illustrate the negative impact on reputation of those leaders thought to be values-driven. The first is Frank Borman, the former Astronaut and Chairman of now defunct Eastern Airlines who made critical errors in judgment when he was discussing the financial instability of the airline and asking long-time employees for concessions. The otherwise caring and likable chairman released an impersonal video to employees discussing the financial setbacks of Eastern and talking about the future of the airline. He did so from the comforts of a spacious office; the proverbial “ivory tower.” What’s more, he did it with a grin and an “I told you so” attitude, causing ill will between him and employees. Frank Borman needed to be seen as authentic and caring; qualities that he personified in his time at Eastern. Instead, he came across as disinterested, insincere, fake, and invulnerable to the feelings of his employees. Accordingly, his pleas for employee concessions were ineffective and seen as deceitful. Why did the reputation of a normally caring, authentic, and approachable leader suffer? Simply, he sent an inconsistent message to his employees. Known for being caring, welcoming and trustworthy, Frank Borman chose to relay the bad news of employee concessions via a detached and cold video that he sent to employees, This and the real or seeming notion that he was either unable or unwilling to answer questions and criticisms about his actions or that his ego and self-interests would demonstrate an apparent lack of personal responsibility would forever tarnish his image. In another example, Marissa Mayer, the recently chosen Yahoo Chief Executive has gotten strong criticism from working parents who find fault with the company’s recent decision to eliminate work-from-home policies that would bring employees back into the office. This, despite a recent commentary the Yahoo CEO purportedly built a nursery for her newborn adjoining her office. This is yet another example of a leader thought to be caring, approachable and values-driven sending mixed messages to her employees. These actions denigrate the mission first, self-interest last underpinnings of values-driven leadership that is quickly becoming the refrain of this unassuming Holy Father who believes the servant leader is a servant first.
Like Pope Francis, values-driven and servant leaders recognize that “leadership is action, not position” and that they lead by “influence and example.” The above examples of leaders thought to be values-driven who have fallen from grace got there because at a critical time, they put their position, ego and self-interests first. To the contrary, the new Pontiff and leader of Catholics around the world does not just talk about caring for the poor. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio regularly would reach out to the underprivileged and needy, eating dinner with the homeless and the poor. His simple, unassuming and basic lifestyle is a case in point of leading by influence and example. Furthermore, his uneasiness with the baroque traditions, the elaborate dress and grandeur that surround his office suggests he wants his legacy as leader of the Roman Catholic Church to be action through service to others rather than the solemnity of his office. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict, the new Pope’s leadership style is quite different. Francis wants his pontificate to serve the poor and those in need. Speaking to world leaders at his inaugural mass, Francis said “the Pope must serve and be inspired by the lowly.” The Holy Father wants his ministry to go to the people and bring them together. He wants to reach out to Catholics, non-Catholics, and non-believers alike promoting his message of values-driven and servant leadership for the benefit of the social good and natural environment. With this in mind, he is reaching out to other religious leaders to begin interfaith dialogue, which the Jesuit order supports and is an important aspect of their mission. At a time when the church is again in disorder and discord, Pope Francis sees service to others and the common good as an essential component in the future direction of the Catholic Church, amidst scandal and division in the church and Vatican.
In stark contrast, Chief Executive Officers say they are values-driven and servant leaders but they do not “walk the talk.” Business leaders of some of the largest and successful corporations today are cut off from their employees and the corporate cultures of companies they lead. The elevation, pampering and bolstering of egos of CEO’s serves only to broaden this disconnect between business leaders, their employees and the companies they run. They take corporate jets and demand lavish lifestyles and salaries. Indulging and over inflating leaders’ egos also advances self-interest and promotion of individuals at the expense of values-driven servant leadership and the common good.
Francis is the “Pope of the people.” His unassuming nature, ability to connect with people, values-driven principles and servant leadership have given Catholics hope his pontificate is the rebirth of the Catholic Church. Company CEO’s and world and religious leaders should follow the lead of this unpretentious Bishop of Rome and engage in values-driven and servant leadership to build their local communities, states and nations. The values, ethics and servant leadership of Francis will be essential for rebuilding the Catholic’s Church’s integrity, influence, credibility and standing in the world. So to, the value-based servant leader builds their business by connecting with employees, influencing others, helping grow communities and the social good and in the end, balancing shareholder and stakeholder value, ensuring market growth and competitive advantage.