Pope Francis lesson #2 Leadership is not a technical skill

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This is a sad, sad story.  Once upon a time, when I was a pastor in a United Methodist Church (which is part of a regional district) far, far away, I was summonsed to make myself present at a district event. (This means that other pastors in that geographical location would make up the audience.)  It was mandatory.  Being a good foot solider, I cleared my day to make room for this well plugged happening.  Due to the gravity of the event, it would have been considered rude to read a book during the proceedings.  Therefore, I set about the business of people watching.  This is what I saw.

Seated up front and middle isle was the head pastor of the largest church in our district.  He had reached the upper echelon of our gathering by maintaining a reputation of administrative talents.  He dutifully sat with his eyes fixed on the speaker, arms crossed and head slightly cocked to the side.  Sitting in the pew behind and diagonal to this head pastor was another young pastor, fresh from seminary.  I noticed that the young pastor mimicked every body movement of the older, head pastor.  He shook his head when the older guy did, crossed his arms and turned his head the same way.  When it came time for questions and feedback, the young pastor asked follow up questions or comments only on the coat tails of this head pastor’s questions or comments.  Poser?  Possibly.

If leadership is defined by being schooled in the latest leadership models, attending workshops on the gritty “how-to” or owning an extensive electronic library of leadership books, this guy is not a poser.  He is working hard to get somewhere.  And he is following the path of those who have gone before and making alliances with those elders. However the question does loom:  why?

Only 36% of employees believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity. – FrankinCovey

When posing “why?” to the picture I just painted, an uneasy feeling comes over you, doesn’t it?  Author Chris Lowney claims that we are all victims of the “leadership industry” in which workshops and books are seen as the pillars of good leadership (Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads).  If so then why do we distrust our leadership?

2.  The example Pope Francis sets teaches us that leadership is not a technical skill.  It is a soul skill that embodies trust.

Leadership begins with self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-love.  For Christians these spiritual modes are amplified by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  When a leader trusts in themselves (their emotions, decisions, actions, intentions) as well as having a great deal of trust in God, they are prepared to be present among the people, radiating their spiritual experiences.  Also, the leader who is well invested in the emotional journey of their spirit is able to give him/herself to the people by being truly present.  This means we preach, teach, lead, service and listen with depth and authentic concern.  The essential elements of making decisions on behalf of other people are self- trust, God-trust and followers that trust and share with their leader.   Some call this pastoral leadership.

Pope Francis has demonstrated that he has this kind of trust in God. He didn’t seek his office! “Obviously he’s not a self-promoter,” Mr. Lowney said of the first South American and first Jesuit priest to become pope. “He didn’t fish around to have his name known in clerical circles. He went back to Buenos Aires and worked with poor people.” (Chris Lowney in an interview for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette)  Pope Francis trusted his inner emotions and desires.  He returned home to be who he was/is – God’s co-worker.

What does Pope Francis teach the United Methodist Church?

Reanalyze how we mentor leaders.

I propose the mentoring process not focus solely on the mentee’s ability to uphold “the system”.  Rather the goal of the relationship is to be one of safety and trust.  Spiritual conversations about emotions, relationships and theology are to be capitalized and central.  Mentors are required to report on “progress”.  I suggest they be selective so that the mentee can feel that confidentiality is honored.  Furthermore, I suggest that the reporting process be verbal with mentor and mentee in a room with third person.  The third person fills out the paperwork.  This gives the mentor accountability and an opportunity to build trust.  The mentee can decide from the outcome whether or not to continue in the process with his/her mentor.

If we want leaders like Pope Francis, we must create a safe place for them to fail.  If they feel safe, they will learn about themselves, as well as the situation.  If they do not feel safe, we are just teaching them how to “cover their tracks”.

Add a self-care component to all District and Conference continuing education events.

Conference and district events are laden with leadership model teachings.  I suggest we dial that back…dramatically.  Let our gatherings reflect a #1 priority – soul care for the leader.  This application is made to clergy and lay.  Conversations about emotions, intentions, and self-care create an environment that welcomes leaders to set aside their worries and focus on themselves.  The interactions that will be produced will unify those in leadership as sharing a common spiritual journey.  If done well, I predict that Pope Francis-like leaders will emerge.  And those that are burnt out or do not have the skill set for pastoral/lay leadership will step aside on their own accord without hurt feelings. Instead, they feel cared for and valued by their colleagues. 

If we want Pope Francis-like leaders, we must create a culture that honors the basis of his leadership style – soul care.  Continuing Education is not about the head, it’s about the heart.

Give power to only those who practice these spiritual understandings.                           

Seek out those who do not run for office. Mentor them in the way of self-care.  Build a relationship of trust.  Empower them to affect others, radiating God’s love (not fill a job description).


Why I want a copy of the papal conclave’s playbook


Pope Francis offers the world something that is in short supply these days:  unity.  This past week, the Pontiff completed his first year of leading the oldest Christian community, the Catholic Church.  And I have noticed that no matter the company of conversation I choose to keep (conservative or liberal), the person across the table speaks fondly of Pope Francis.  This is a rarity.  I am part of a Christian denomination deeply divided and poorly organized.  Most of my conversations about the church, politics or religion in general are problem solving oriented (So many problems!).  Yet when it comes to Pope Francis, the conversational tone is more observant. 

So I have observed this new Pope.  Here are the lessons I think he teaches us in his first year:

1.      A component to spiritual maturity is being comfortable in your own skin.

Sitting across the table, cradling a hot tea, was a best liberal friend.  She shared with me how touched she was that Pope Francis had placed his head in the lap of a homeless man.  Then she followed up the praise with a wish.  She hoped that Pope Francis was indeed everything that these images relayed.  Her shoulders sunk as she reflected.

I understand the concern.  With Photoshop, the insatiable thirst for celebrity gossip and the Internet in general, we have been made weary.  Not all seen, read or heard can be truly trusted.  But my friend, whose theology has been shaped by personal tragedy and theological education, had a deeper concern.  She hoped that Pope Francis was not faking self-leadership (an internal process).  I am convinced he is the real deal.

St. Ignatius 1491-1556

Pope Francis exhibits a deep knowledge and acceptance of himself that allows him to offer authenticity beyond any other leader currently on the national stage.  I believe this is possible because Pope Francis first leads himself, meaning his emotions, his thoughts and his actions.  He is comfortable with world leaders as well as homeless men and curious children because (I believe) he sees a part of himself in each.  This type of self-leadership comes from the communal and personal philosophy of St. Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits.

“The heart has its reasons of which the mind knows nothing.” – Ignatius Loyola

Pope Francis is a Jesuit.  This stream of thought and practice in the Catholic Church follows the example of St. Ignatius.  The major tenant of spiritual renewal for the Jesuit focuses on the heart, over intellect.  It assumes that we do not always understand our actions and reflection upon them in the light of our accompanying emotions reveal great internal knowledge.  This knowledge gives us insight into God’s hand in our internal world as well as the external world. The other component to this spirituality is faith in action. St. Ignatius left his followers with writings on imaginative prayer, spiritual reflection, self-scrutiny and generous service to others.  Pope Francis exemplifies these teachings in a very public way.

The new Pontiff refuses “special treatment” like red slippers or a papal palace.  I can assume he is a nightmare to those in charge of his safety.  This Pope finds himself in and among the people by eye to eye contact, physical touching and serving in person and on spot.  Is this all an act?

The evidence suggest no.  Pope Francis is who he has always been:  a priest with a track record of humility and servant focused, hands-on work among the people he was sent to serve.  Knowing what I know about the spiritual life and the Jesuit way, I believe Pope Francis’ Jesuit spirituality has made him aware of his shortcomings and taught him how to allow Christ to love him anyway.  That is the key principle behind his hunger to be among “the people”.  He wants to convey this life changing love.

Pope Francis gifts us with a component of spiritual maturity that is essential for religious leadership today.  We are hungry for authentic leaders who first embrace themselves and allow Christ to love them.  They openly claim shortcomings and approach success with humility.  These leaders operate from their spiritual journey of healing, rather than a need to prove something.

 Pope Francis teaches the United Methodist Church

 First things first, my hat goes off not to Pope Francis.  I am impressed with the papal conclave (the gathering of cardinal who chose Pope Francis).  Can we get a copy of their play book, please?  This papal conclave’s actions speak directly to those who choose leaders for our churches.  Here is the take-away:

  1. a.     For those serving in our churches at whatever capacity, seek out spiritual maturity in your own life.  Consider a study on the Jesuit way.
  2. b.     For those serving in our pulpits, (follow step a then) preach, teach and lead people into spiritual maturity, choosing those on this path to be church leaders.  Order worship so that times of reflection are employed, use language of forgiveness, not judgment, speak in terms of process not behavior modification models, teach with times of conversation about emotions…refocus on the internal life.
  3. c.    For district superintendents and bishops, (follow step a, and step b then) reorganize everything in your sphere of influence to reflect this pursuit.  Begin meetings with spiritual reflection readings and silent reflection times, invite clergy to round table discussion on emotions and the internal spiritual life, and work at being comfortable with listening to clergy struggles.
  4. d.     For those who are chosen to elect leadership for our church at the Jurisdictional conference level, (follow step a then) sift through bishop candidates by determining who is authentic and who is running for the office with less than authentic intentions.  Push for talk back session with the candidates and ask questions about internal self-leadership.  Study the CV each candidate presents. 

One last thought:  Chris Lowney wrote a book on Pope Francis called Pope Francis:  Why He Leads the Way He Leads.  From Chapter 5, we find this quote:  “Be comfortable in your own skin.  Know who you are, the good and the bad.  And find the courage not just to be yourself, but to be the best version of yourself.  These are the foundations of self-leadership, and all leadership starts with self-leadership because you can’t lead the rest of us if you can’t lead yourself.”

Look forward to the next post about more lesson from this Pope….