3 lessons from a disruptive leader, Pope Francis

by | Sep 29, 2015 | Blog | 2 comments

globePope Francis is a great role model for modern-day leaders, including organizational leaders.

While many may think of Pope Francis as a religious figure first and foremost, he teaches valuable lessons that apply to others.

For example, consider the Pope’s recent visit to the United States, his first in this country.

Pope Francis is leading change by being a disrupter and shaking up the status quo. Think about his writings on climate change, his views on immigration and his work to normalize relationships between the US and Cuba, among other actions.

Even better, he’s leading by personal example.

Consider these three actions, which apply to the world outside of organized religion:

1. Traveling more. Before Pope Francis became Pope, he preferred staying close to home in his adopted Argentina. After being selected Pope, he understood that his role dramatically changed, along with the expectations that others have of him.

At 78, he’s disrupted himself and become a globe trotter, even though the travel may be physically taxing. He recognizes the value of face-to-face communication and going to where the people who want to meet with him are.

2. Continuing to involve others. While in Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia, Pope Francis met with diverse groups of people, including the President, Congress, members of the UN, Catholics, the poor, the imprisoned, and others along his travel route.

He also turned the tables and said “I ask you all please to pray for me. If there are among you any who don’t believe or can’t pray, send good wishes my way.”

This request brought back my first memories of him. In his first act as Pope just about two-and-a-half years ago, he asked the crowd of 150,000 to bless him.

Pope Francis is a master at “micro-involving,” a way that leaders can build rapport and connections with stakeholders through small, meaningful steps that don’t require huge time investments. Plus, look at his smiling face. For more about this, see Start micro-involving to build stronger connections.

3. Using symbols to reinforce his words and actions. A black Fiat 500L and a Jeep Wrangler were the Pope’s vehicles of choice for his US visit. True, both models are made by Fiat, an Italian car company. However, they’re modest compared with the big town cars and SUVs that are generally used as limos.

Pope Francis is a humble man who wants the church to use its resources to do good work rather than provide luxuries to its leaders. The symbols of the simple cars, modest apartments and coach airline tickets among others strengthen his messages and values.

For many years until it disappeared during one of my moves, I kept a tattered piece of paper taped to my computer monitor that read “Leadership = examples + sacrifice”. It served as a great reminder that actions speak louder than words, especially when you want to influence people.

Pope Francis is a natural at leading by example, including making personal sacrifices.

Even if it’s harder for the rest of us, we need to try—not just for the sake of sacrifices but for sacrifices that reinforce what you’re trying to achieve.

Leaders need to role model the behavior changes they want from their stakeholders. That shows the leader’s commitment to the change, as well as provides a clearer, smoother path for others. Plus, it adds positive, social pressure, which makes people feel more accountable.

If you’re asking people to make changes that take them out of their comfort zone, you’ll increase your chances of success by showing them the way, plus making it as simple as possible.

How can you disrupt yourself to make a clearer, smoother path for you and others to follow?


  1. Ben

    Love this one, Liz! Allowing ourselves to disrupt and be disrupted is so important. One way that comes to mind is to practice humility and vulnerability

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Ben! Agree with you that being humble and vulnerable are excellent practices. They help you be empathetic, relate well to others and come across as “more human.” All that helps you be perceived as likeable and trustworthy. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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