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More on leadership, according to Pope Francis

Jul 19, 2015 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Last week I introduced Pope Francis’s refreshing take on leadership. We focused on the “diseases” that afflict the egos of leaders around the world. This week I want to dwell on the maladies of leadership that manifest themselves in the work of leaders, and those that are particularly prevalent in this part of the world.

First, let’s consider the disease of excessive “busyness” as described by Pope Francis. We know this one well, do we not? Look at how busy corporate leaders all think they are. They imagine that their importance creates indispensability: they are needed everywhere because of their superior wisdom; and that only they can do what they do. Pure delusion. You are as busy as you allow yourself to be. Being too busy is in fact a dysfunction: it reveals your inability to allow others to grow and develop, and your obsession with being personally at the heart of everything.

Next, the Pope refers to the disease of excessive planning. I’ve met many such leaders in my time: those obsessed with planning everything down to the very last detail; creating tight budgets and strait-jacketed business plans. As Professor Gary Hamel pointed out in his review of the Pope’s address, excessive planning comes at the expense of spontaneity and serendipity – two very powerful things to cultivate in today’s fast-changing world. You think you can plan out the next five years of your organization? Good luck. You’d be better advised to stick to principles and standards, not plans, and let creative adjustment do the rest.

The disease of poor coordination comes next: or what Pope Francis entertainingly calls “an orchestra that produces noise.” Leadership lies in the whole, not just the parts. A great leader creates a sense of kinship and camaraderie across the entity, and connects the dots every day. A poor leader focuses on one dimension at the cost of the other, and makes units compete rather than collaborate. The result? Noise, not melody.

Let’s also consider the ailment of the lugubrious face. This refers to those leaders who think authority comes from severity and seriousness. This is a particular bugbear for Pope Francis, who seems to exemplify a light and easy approach to leadership. Actually, people who are too stiff and formal are displaying an insecurity: they take themselves too seriously because they fear no one does. Real leadership lies in positive infections: a good leader can ignite enthusiasm in others, and create zest for a common cause. Dour and sullen leaders simply depress everyone.

Lastly, the disease of idolizing superiors. That’s an early test of those who will make bad leaders: how sycophantic they are with their own superiors. Those who praise incessantly and clap loudly at every utterance by their boss are opportunists who only rise through cronyism. If they become leaders themselves, they will expect the same of their juniors. And they will transfer their own vapid praises to their own appointing authorities. Watch out for this one: it’s an indicator of hollow leadership to come.

Pope Francis has done us all a favour by highlighting these leadership ailments. Let us end this two-part article by placing our attention on the leaders who are mostly free of these afflictions. Those who are in it for the collective, not for themselves; those who keep their egos in check and recall every day that they are but dust, and will return to dust; those who understand that the leader’s work is to make others work, with joy and zeal; and those humble enough to understand their own fallibility and limitations.

These “disease-free” leaders do exist, but we have become so used to equating leadership with big egos and big cars and big pronouncements that we often miss them in our midst. And so our societies are busy electing and appointing exactly those leaders who will lead us nowhere.

Leadership is a responsibility, not a reward. Being granted leadership is an opportunity, not an accomplishment. It is time we started being aware of the many diseases of the mind leaders are prone to, and selecting those who should lead us with more discernment.

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