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.


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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


8 Replies to “The Pope: Role, Person, Power”

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