4 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis

Ask Jeffrey A. Krames, author of Lead With Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis, about the pope’s influential style and he’ll tell you it transcends religion.

As the pontiff demonstrates his ability to lead both Catholics and non-Catholics (need proof? Krames is Jewish), the author says entrepreneurs and small-business owners can leverage the same mindset to reap big rewards. “Take a page from Pope Francis’ playbook: be humble first, and let everything follow from there,” he says.

So what are Pope Francis’s best leadership tenets? Here are four that can lead you to high approval and success:

1. Lead with humility. Early in his position, the pope did something unprecedented: he assembled his own team, which Krames refers to as his "board of directors." “Dubbed ‘the V8’ (or Vatican 8), Francis carefully selected eight cardinals with only one from Europe,” he says. “He's the first pope to put together such a consulting board as he creates new ideas and listens to theirs.”

This marked an egalitarian style of not putting himself above anyone else, thereby becoming one of his trademarks. Plus, he’s constantly meeting and influencing people. “He’s not sitting in Vatican City confined to four walls or living a life of luxury.”

Krames suggests leaders and small-business owners avoid confining themselves to four walls as well. “Create a circle of friends, experts and mentors,” not unlike the V8 to serve as a consultative body or informal body of directors, he says. The creation of an informal board is a way of demonstrating humility. “It is an acknowledgement that you do not have all the answers.”

2. Avoid insularity. The pontiff practices what he preaches, according to Krames. Case in point: For his 77th birthday in December 2013, Pope Francis could have had lunch or dinner with absolutely anyone. Who did Pope Francis choose? “Four homeless people—his people. No cameras were present or necessary. One of his greatest regrets as pontiff is that he cannot slip unnoticed in the night to tend to the poorest and neediest of his flock.”

Leaders can share this principle by volunteering their time to local charities and encouraging others to share the experience. “The key is to teach others that selflessness can pay handsome dividends.”

3. Live on the frontier. No other pope has pushed himself to the outer boundaries of what a pope should do like Pope Francis, who has refused some of the traditional trappings of Vatican life, walked out in the open with his people, and even danced the tango in Buenos Aires. Krames calls it the “Francis frontier.”

“It’s about getting outside your comfort zone like Francis recently did in Manila by breaching security in order to be close to the throngs of people assembled to see him.”

Essentially, he says, this means pushing many aspects of your business to the limit. Think boldly about your best products and services; create opportunities to launch a breakthrough product. “This does not mean that you should not be thorough in reviewing the protocols of any new product,” he cautions. “But in the end, only authentic boldness will reap the ultimate reward.”

4. Pay attention to non-customers. “The Pope’s outreach extended beyond people of the Catholic faith,” says Krames. “He went beyond his core constituents such as connecting with divorcees who may have previously felt chastised by the church.” And prior to that, he reached out to the LGBT community and told them they’re welcome in his church.

With this sense of inclusion in mind, entrepreneurs can take a page from the pope by hosting an offsite event with key team members. Krames suggests focusing on increasing the number of non-customers turning into customers. “Even the best companies—the ones that pay the most attention to their current customers—could learn from this leadership tenet.”

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Vicki Salemi

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