Even though I’ve been an atheist most of my life (now, spiritual), I’ve been glued to the coverage about Pope Francis’ visit to the US. This 78-year old man has maintained a grueling schedule but continues to light up every time he greets his flock. In contrast, I couldn’t help noticing that when doing the handshake and photo op, Francis seems to fade. His preference for the common man over power and influence is no act, folks.
This genuine humility and concern for the common man almost makes me want to join a church for the first time in my life. Apparently, I am not alone in terms of the secular appeal of the Pope; 63% of people with “no religion” approve of Francis. At a worldwide 70% approval rating, this Pope seems to have captured the goodwill and attention of the world. Though it is unclear whether Francis’ popularity will reverse the decline in the Catholic population, polls have shown that the strength of affiliation among current Catholics is significantly higher than during the pre-Francis reigns. He also has stabilized the retention rate for Catholics which has been declining for 4 decades (see this article for more information).
Francis’ universal appeal is noteworthy given that religious differences, even between sects, continue to fuel discord and war across the globe. Other leaders that claim to be guided by their religious beliefs often divide, whereas Francis unites as he espouses Catholic principles.
Francis is a leader unlike any I have seen in my lifetime. Francis is accomplishing what seems to be the impossible: bringing people together from all backgrounds and beliefs. He is deeply authentic: he lives by his values and morals in both word and deed. He is the first leader that makes me believe 100% that he is here for me, even my atheist-leaning self.
Consider Francis as a model for business or politics. What would be the impact of this type of leadership on how employees/customers/voters feel about an organization and their jobs? What would you do for people or organizations that lived by the doctrine that your wellbeing was their first priority? What would our society look like if we genuinely embraced that belief?
Businesses and even our government often operate by a mentality that focus on profit, money, or power
regardless of the cost or consequences to the customer, community, employee or environment. Francis is showing us that an organization can be successful and appealing, even to those outside the target demographic, when it focuses on and prioritizes people and the Earth.
I’m not saying this type of leadership is easy. As much as I would like to emulate Francis, I do not have his purity of heart. I may not wear the Gucci papal slippers but I’d at least try them on. Dine with Obama and Nancy Pelosi? For sure! However, I can learn as much as I can from this extraordinary leader and find my own way of living by his message.
The Pope has been ending his speeches with, “if you are not a believer, wish me well.” Francis, I wish you well, am cheering for you, and will do all that I can to follow your example of leading with love and authenticity.