- On May 26, 2015
I was in Rome last week and received last minute tickets to the Wednesday papal audience with Papa Francesca (Pope Francis I).
Although I couldn’t understand the language he used, as I watched the Pope speak on the Jumbotron, the content and intent was very clear. In his short address to the crowd, I experienced passion, logic, compassion, generosity, humor, humility, grandeur, vision, vulnerability and genuineness.
I didn’t need a translator to tell me what his message was. I saw and heard leadership. Not the leadership that comes from holding the highest position in a global enterprise. The leadership that comes from making a genuine attempt to understand people and help them find a way to live to their true potential.
I am a recently lapsed Catholic and went to the audience not for reasons of faith so much as for ‘when in Rome…’ it’s the thing to do. Although I never was any closer to the Pope than about 50 yards, the aura of purpose, genuine concern, and fulfillment was palpable.
And when my husband–logical, analytical, composed, and not Catholic–says that those couple of hours on St. Peter’s square where the best thing we did the whole week in Rome, I knew we had been witness to something significant.
What did I learn about leadership from Papa Francesca that day?
- Leadership is not about position or the trappings of power. It would be easy to think that with the priceless art and treasures on display at Vatican City, that this privilege would grant an edge to the one on charge. The opulence of the setting had nothing to do with the generous presence I felt. How often do the trappings of a position make us lose sight of what we are there to do?
- Leadership is about staying in touch with your followers. Pope Francis has chosen to live in a simple two-room apartment in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the elaborate Apostolic Palace so that he may remain closer with the needs of the people he serves. How do we keep in touch with the needs of the people we lead?
- Leadership is about acknowledging and appreciating. The Pope spent about 30 minutes riding around St. Peters Square in the pope-mobile before the address to shake hands and confer blessings. This is a man who does not keep the people waiting, who shows up on time and is accessible to the many who want to connect with him. How do we show our appreciation for our followers?
- Leadership is about genuineness and authenticity that inspires even non-believers to open their mind to new possibilities. People are willing to follow those who they feel they can trust. Is the leadership we attempt characterized by genuine care and concern?
Photo: Jane Maliszewski. This balloon cross bounced over the crowd throughout the papal address. Its whimsy contrasted with the historic tradition of the grand St. Peter’s Basilica behind it. To me it exemplified the humanity that is the essence of Pope Francis’ strong leadership presence.