Book Review: How to Lead Like Francis

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Pope Francis has set the world spinning around the Catholic Church in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time. Like all great leaders, he has also inspired criticism from some quarters, most of it, ironically, from devout Catholics who fear change.

I understand these discomfited change-fearers. When it comes to the Church, I’m a bit of a change-fearer myself. I draw comfort from the liturgy and the teachings. What some people see as intransigence on the part of the Church, I see as stability and strength; something I can count on in this crazy world.

However, the Church is a living organism, the great Body of Christ in the world. As a living organism, change, however slowly it happens, is part of its essential nature. The key to successful change is the guidance of the Holy Spirit, primarily, but not entirely, through the leadership of the Pope.

Everywhere I look, everyone I read, is chattering about the Catholic Church these days. The reason? Pope Francis’ straightforward leadership style of going to people and meeting them where they are.

It is a simple fact that you can’t be a leader if nobody follows you. In our power-hungry world where so-called leaders insulate themselves from everyone except other leaders of their same rank and place, true leadership, as opposed to simply holding a position with a leadership title, is rare.

Witness our latest Congressional debacle. Was there any leadership in it? None that I saw, not from either side. It was a pie-throwing contest in which the pie throwers absolutely did not care if anybody followed their so-called leadership.

In truth, no one can be more alienated from their “followers” that those who occupy positions of “leadership” in commerce, industry, politics, and yes, religion, in America today.

That, more than anything else, is why the whole world is responding to Pope Francis. He is reaching out to them, and they are responding by reaching back.

Pope Francis: Why He Leads The Way He Leads, analyzes Pope Francis’ leadership through the author’s knowledge of Jesuit formation and the Holy Father’s own biography. As such, it is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to learn more about our pope. It is also just plain good advice for those who want to lead other human beings.

I have a master’s degree in management, and I’ve spend 18 years of my life holding a leadership position in the public sphere. I have never seen a better book on how a true leader gets people to follow him or her.

It’s simple actually. Leadership is service. Leadership is about the people you want to lead, not you. True leadership begins with a foundation of personal character and segues into a focus on serving others.

What that means is building products, providing services, writing books, making movies, enacting laws, preaching sermons, repairing plumbing and planting crops that enrich and elevate the people who use your wares. In commerce, it means that if you build a better mousetrap, it will sell. In child-rearing, it means that if you spend time with your kids, they will flourish. In politics, it means that if you put the people first, the country will thrive. In faith, it means that if you reach out to people in love, as Pope Francis is doing, they will reach back.

The author makes a strong case that Pope Francis’ leadership style is heavily influenced by his Jesuit training. But I believe it is even more heavily influenced by that other hands-on leader — Jesus of Nazareth.

He, like the Pope, did not refuse to dine with sinners, to speak complex truths simply, to reach out to sinful people in ways that the more persnickety of the religious of His day found scandalizing.

Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads is an excellent analysis of our Holy Father’s leadership style. It provides insight into the origins of this pope’s thinking in a format that connects all this to our own leadership challenges in our workaday lives.

Pope Francis is more than just a rule-meister who issues guidelines like thunderbolts. He is a leader who gets down in the pits with the rest of us and leads by example and by inclusion.

This book makes that explicable. I highly recommend it.


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