Archive for November, 2013

The Pope: Role, Person, Power

NUGGET : Watch how the pope keeps his humility and human perspective while juggling the perks and pomp of his powerful role. It’s a leadership lesson in progress.


The stunning humble behavior of the new Pope Francis is interesting and media worthy. But now that we are beyond the novelty, I think we will find ourselves challenged to become more aware of what formal authority is and how we relate to it. How similar to and different from the people they lead should institutional leaders be? What are the appropriate perks and accouterments of power for people in this and other leadership roles? Why do some “followers” feel let down when people in power refuse to be “regal” and want to “be just like everybody else (or, in the case of Francis, like the poorest among us)?” On the other hand, why do some followers seem to relish finding and amplifying faults in people with position power?

The role of Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most positionally powerful on the planet.

The person in that role is the head of a vast hierarchy of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, monks, deacons, nuns. The role is one of spiritual and institutional leadership over 1.2 billion people found on all continents. The voice of that role, when speaking ex cathedra on spiritual matters is considered the infallible voice of God. In other words, it has a lot of formal, institutional authority.

But the role is not the person – a point that becomes acutely clear when we compare the early behavior and choices of Pope Francis with the stereotypical behavior and choices of many popes in the past. He pays his own hotel bill. He wears a wooden not a gold cross. He sometimes rides the bus rather than the papal limo. He wears cheap shoes not the expensive red leathers. He jokes around with people around him, regardless of their social class. He carries his own bags.

No matter how humble and how desirous Pope Francis is of being “just like us,” his role requires something else from him. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the person, seems to want to be one of the poor of his constituency. But Francis the Pope is the head of a vast institutional enterprise and the target of whatever projections and expectations of power that he and all of us attribute to that position. In spite of our romanticized views of the power equalization of the Web or the Arab Spring, this pope can no longer simply be Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. By virtue of his disproportionate power, he has disproportionate responsibility as a steward of a vast empire. We expect him to use it with awareness and wisdom. As Pope, he is NOT simply himself.

So far, Jorge Mario Bergoglio seems to be doing a good job of dealing with the institutional leadership responsibilities, historical expectations, and power-relationship distortions that come with being Pope Francis. Will he continue to retain his humility and perspective as he moves more fully into his ermined role.

Only time will tell.

Pat Mclagan

Let’s Move Beyond Our Love Affair with Charismatic Leadership

NUGGET : Don’t put any leader on a pedestal.


A mainstream view of leadership is that the best leaders (people with institutional power) have lots of charisma. They use it to instill vision, values, and culture and to make sure people are aligned, committed, and acculturated. These charismatic leaders are the heroes, even rock stars, of many leadership books.

But is charisma all it’s touted to be? An interesting, scholarly book on leadership encourages us to wake up from the charisma trance. I’d like to share some of its insights (note: I hope to serve you, my busy reader, by sometimes being a research forager and translator). The book is The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, by Dr. Dennis Tourish. It exposes the “cult-leader” dark side of charismatic leadership, raising again the question, “what kind of leaders do we need today?”

For a while I thought this might be another book that bashes formal leaders. But, no. Tourish accepts that business organizations have purpose and need people in leadership roles. But he warns about what lurks in the shadows of an organization dominated by an ethos of heroic leadership.

His chilling conclusion? The charismatic leader is often a kind of cult leader: worshipped as a hero, dominating with a compelling vision, relating through manipulation and benevolence, shaping behavior with rewards, managing thought through indoctrination rituals and a strong culture, and personally benefiting from an imbalance of power.

He warns us about the “high potential for abuse” when both leaders and followers buy into the charismatic view — and he reminds us that we are especially vulnerable to this kind of leader-follower relationship during times of stress and uncertainty. I think of studies showing how citizens are more likely to give up their freedoms and power during times of threat and uncertainty.

He offers practical advice that we know but often don’t take: keep both positive and negative communication flowing, put processes in place that prevent abuse and that bring goal and value tensions into the open for resolution, help leaders to become more aware of their own power and the dynamics of power as they play out their leadership roles.

Years ago a book, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him reminded us about the dark side of putting people on pedestals. Every so often, it seems, we need a reminder!