What is it About Pope Francis?

by Danielle Irving

I am Catholic. And my faith is the single most important thing in my life. So, I must admit that I have been absolutely giddy this week as we welcomed our Holy Father to the U.S. However, one thing that has surprised me is how this man who is so revered by his Catholic followers seems to have captured the imagination and hearts of so many of our Protestant and Non-Christian brothers and sisters. In this article, Matthew Bell puts it this way: “There’s something about this pope. Everybody seems to be head over heels for Francis.”

So what is it about Pope Francis?

What can we as leaders in the non-profit sector learn from this greatly beloved world leader? Here are a few suggestions:

-Pope Francis is relatable.  As soon as he was elected pope, he chose not to be driven away from the conclave in a limousine by a private chauffeur and instead said he’d rather just “go with the guys on the bus”. And his first stop was at the guest house where he’d been staying to pay the bill. He chose not to stay in the luxurious papal residence that was prepared for him and instead chooses to live in a relatively basic apartment. He often walks or catches a ride on the bus and is commonly referred to as the Pope of the People. He encouraged priests, who are often referred to as shepherds, to “smell like their flocks.” In other words, he wants them to spend their time among the people

.How does that relate to you? If you work at a nonprofit that supports the homeless, do you spend time with those whom your organization is supporting? Or if your foundation specifically helps kids in danger of dropping out of school, are you meeting with these kids regularly and hearing about their struggles? I know when I worked at Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities, the very best days for me were the days where I took the time to walk down to the school and see the kids in our Pre-K program or visit the residents who lived with us. It was energizing and motivating and helped me re-focus on my “why” I came to work each day. When is the last time you visited with the folks you work every day to support?

- Pope Francis is not afraid of facing tough challenges head on. He has taken on controversial issues, such as the Vatican’s finances and the Mafia, and confronted them boldly. Pope Francis went as far as demoting and excommunicating members of the clergy who broke their vows of poverty. And he has worked very hard at reforming the Vatican’s finances to instill greater transparency.

Are you bold when confronting the issues in your workplace? Do you take swift and effective action, when needed to, whether it’s a personnel issue or sweeping change with how you report your financials? Taking on controversy is usually not everyone’s favorite part of having a leadership role; however, it’s the mark of a strong and effective leader.

- Pope Francis is a model of humility.Soon after he was elected pope in 2013, he visited a prison in Rome during holy week where he knelt down to wash—and then kiss—the feet of several inmates. He exemplifies the model of servant leadership. In one of my early jobs out of college, I had a supervisor who wore many hats and he would literally clean the bathrooms if that needed to be done. That made a huge impression on me. He would never ask anyone who worked for him to do a task that he wouldn’t do himself.

Are you that kind of leader? The one who rolls up his sleeves and gets in the trenches with his workers? Because that’s the kind of leader who inspires those who work for him.

So, as we follow the tremendous press coverage surrounding Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States, I hope some of this insight into his leadership style has been helpful.

Viva il Papa!

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