During his recent trip to America, Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. And the truth is leaders of all kinds have a lot to learn from him.
Francis is enormously popular. But whatever we personally think about this particular pope—pro or con—or the Catholic Church, it doesn’t change the fact that he has been a standout leader worth studying.
What makes his leadership style so effective? Based on what I’ve seen and heard, I’d say it comes down to three primary elements.
1. He Keeps a Healthy Schedule
Managing personal energy is one of the key practices of effective leaders. When we’re on a tear for too long, we get torn up. Time for rest, recuperation, and reflection should be regular parts of a healthy schedule.
Even while traveling Pope Francis follows a fairly rigid schedule to manage his energy. “Whether it’s at the Vatican or he’s traveling, he’s got discipline,” said one Vatican spokesman.
[periscope]I’ll be discussing “3 Winning Elements of Pope Francis’ Leadership Style” today at 12:30 p.m. CDT on #VirtualMentor.[/periscope]
Up at four each morning for prayer and meditation, Francis regularly naps during the day and retires each night at nine to read before sleep. He also avoids packing too many functions into his schedule, leaving buffer time throughout the day.
Francis has even critiqued fellow Catholic leaders for their busyness and failing to take enough to rest. Leaders who waste hours with pointless activity will find they don’t have the energy they need for the stuff that matters most.
It’s also not surprising to find that Francis hasn’t watched television in twenty-five years.
2. He Tackles the Tough Stuff
Leaders cannot afford to put off tough conversations, difficult decisions, or controversial initiatives if delay will harm their organizations.
Francis “plans . . . to make the Vatican into a global model of best practices in financial administration,” says journalist John Allen, “not just as an end in itself but as a way of leading the Church at all levels to clean up its act.”
It’s an example of how taking care of the big, thorny issues early on can help leaders build momentum for continued progress.
3. He Models His Values
Long before he became pope, Francis modeled the kind of humility and simplicity he now demands from other Catholic leaders. He sees it as essential to embody the values he preaches.
By modeling his vision, he not only inspires followers but also shows them how they might embody these same values themselves. On his U.S. visit, for instance, he took time out of his schedule to dine with the homeless and visit prisoners.
And it has an impact. “For a man of that stature to love the whole word, that’s unbearable—in a good way,” said Scott Quarles, one of the homeless men who saw Francis. And to underscore the potential impact of modeling your values, Quarles isn’t even Catholic. He’s Muslim.
This kind of leading by personal example is something all leaders must embrace if they desire to be effective.
Pope Francis is famous for several other important aspects of effective leadership, such as seeking counsel and taking risks. But without managing his energy, leaning into tough circumstances, and modeling his values, he wouldn’t be nearly as effective as he is.
And without adopting these three elements, neither can we.