He’s graced the cover of Rolling Stone. Named TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year. Been carved in chocolate. Boosted tourism to the Vatican by 180 percent. Sold his Harley Davidson for US$300,000 (proceeds going to a soup kitchen). And is looked on favorably by nine out of 10 Americans. He’s Pope Francis. The most popular Pope in living memory. But why?
The media, who are never afraid to cut anyone down, still hasn’t worked the Pope out. They don’t know how to position him. Because, put simply, he’s not a Pope. He’s first and foremost Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He’s the man he’s always been, and he’s refused to let the pomp of his title change him.
His leadership style is simple. He believes in setting the example through his actions. That doesn’t explain his popularity though. In my view, he’s popular because he’s real. He’s approachable. Responsive. Impulsive. Kind. Genuine. He entered the Vatican with a goal to return it to the people. After all, its people that make up the Church. Not buildings. Nor robes.
Undoubtedly, his popularity has been closely tied to the swiftness with which he has transformed the battered image of the Catholic Church. These were the hallmarks of an institution Pope Francis inherited. So he dealt with them and changed the conversation. It’s an illustration, and lesson, for any leader. Particularly in business. Some firms are simply toxic, in practice or culture. The best leaders aren’t shaped by the environment they enter; they seek to change that environment for the better.
Too many managers, at all levels, believe they have to adopt a new persona to be effective or respected. Pope Francis shows exactly why that’s a fallacy. He’s his own man, and the world loves him for it.