Pope Francis’s trip to the United States has been almost universally heralded, and left an after glow that may change the tone, dialogue and mission of many people he inspired. During his visit, he was omnipresent and riveting: he dominated the news, addressed Congress, spoke at the UN, prayed at the 9/11 memorial, canonized Saints, ate with the homeless, embraced the disadvantaged, and elevated the family, all while connecting with everyday people.
In our book, Winning the Long Game, Paul J.H. Schoemaker and I profile Pope Francis as a strategic leader who epitomizes the imperative to challenge the status quo. He challenges us to embrace a higher standard of compassion, and challenges the assumptions and priorities of the Church, his greatest focus always on caring for those in need. He shows tolerance for those who are different, or who stray from the Church’s doctrine. He challenges political leaders to refocus on healing, immigration, clean air, income inequality and family values. He is not afraid to raise tough issues and deal with the fallout. At the same time, he brings people together.
During his stay, the Pope continued to challenge on hot-button issues like immigration, climate change and income inequality. He challenged the clergy to achieve a higher mission of service and pastoring. Yet his style has been kind, humble and engaging. He touches people at a deep, emotional, personal level. The bar is set very high, but his message is uplifting, He rallies all of us to a higher purpose of spiritual revitalization while building bridges across political and religious divides. He steps above and below the fray to pull diverse groups together while uniting them to a common cause.
To promote alignment, one lesson we can all take from Pope Francis is to disagree without being disagreeable – his manner and presence is disarming. Another lesson is to purposefully engage all stakeholder groups to a shared mission, from the most powerful to the most needy and unlikely. A third lesson is to surface and bridge differences, as he did in facilitating the opening between the US and Cuba. Lastly, the Pope is a master of symbolism and simplicity; just driving in his Fiat sends a powerful message.
Challenging and aligning are two critical strategic leadership capabilities. In Winning the Long Game, we introduce a framework based on six disciplines – anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align, learn – that leaders must cultivate to succeed in a dynamic world.
For a fuller portrait of Pope Francis’s leadership style, please see Chapter 2 from the book and our article in last December’s Philadelphia Business Journal.