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Lead with Humility
12 Leadership Lessons From Pope Francis
By Jeffrey A. Krames
AMACOMCopyright © 2015 Jeffrey A. Krames
All rights reserved.
Lead with Humility
A recent Harvard Business Review blog post noted, "We have scores of books, articles, and studies that warn us of the perils of hubris ..." and then added, pointedly, "Yet the attribute of humility seems to be neglected in leadership development programs." Perhaps this owes to some feeling that humility would hold a leader back, these mavericks and sui generis leaders who dislike being restrained. Some other leaders might feel they're already humble enough so they would not need to develop the trait of humility. And many might feel that humility, like integrity or character, cannot be taught or learned. You have it or you don't, so reading a book on it would not add to their "humility quotient."
Pope Francis would disagree with all of them.
He believes that authentic humility empowers leaders like no other leadership quality. "If we can develop a truly humble attitude, we can change the world," wrote Bergoglio before becoming pope. And he misses no opportunity to show that a person can never be too humble and that people can learn to be more humble. In doing so, he has altered the standards by which we measure our leaders.
* Humility Changes Everything
Long before he was elected, Bergoglio set his sights on changing the culture of the Vatican, though he knew it would take years. In one of his best-known homilies, Pope Francis explains the problem: "In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial, and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances." In other words, Francis believes that today's society places too much value on material things, the "visible" and "immediate" and "superficial." This is certainly not the world he envisions or desires.
Francis has said that humility and a life of material wealth are incompatible. "We have to be humble, but with real humility, from head-to-toe." To execute the cultural change he sought, Francis knew that he would have to set an unambiguous example as a pontiff who favored the real over the illusory, who valued substance over style, and who favored the poor over the rich.
A more humble pope emerged within minutes of his election at the conclave. One reporter described Bergoglio's elevation to pope one day after being elected: "His humility is already becoming legendary. Even when he was to be presented for the first time, he declined the use of a platform that would have elevated him above the other cardinals, instead preferring to remain at the same height as they. Ill stay down here, he is reported to have said. He then asked for a prayer for himself before administering a papal blessing to the crowd, yet another break from tradition."
In that simple gesture, he showed his humility, and not just for humility's sake. He wanted the world to know that he did not perceive his role as someone above the rest of humanity; Francis believes that no one is greater than any other human being, and that includes nonbelievers as well. A younger Bergoglio speaks of the importance of believing in the greatness of all people—and treating all with respect and dignity: "As I am a believer, I know that these riches are a gift from God. I also know that the other person, the atheist, does not know that.... I respect him and I show myself as I am. Where there is knowledge, there begins to appear esteem, affection, and friendship.... I am convinced that I do not have the right to make a judgment about the honesty of that person.... Everyone has a series of virtues, qualities and a greatness of his own."
Francis's earliest acts as pontiff offer several important leadership lessons. First, if you are fortunate enough to lead people, never use that position for selfish reasons. Take care not to do things that signal to your direct reports and other workers or colleagues that you are above them. That may mean moving out of the corner office to an inside office or even a cubicle. Many effective leaders have done exactly that.
According to Forbes magazine, a CEO who opts for a cubicle over a plush office sets a powerful example. That act says, "I am not above you; I am one of you, and I make mistakes, get angry, and live through the same things you do."
Forbes contributor Helen Coster, citing April Callis, president of a management consulting firm, explains the cubicle strategy, " 'If the CEO's goal is to make sure that everyone knows he's part of a team, sitting in a cubicle is an excellent way to demonstrate that.... You hear things that you wouldn't hear if you were ensconced in a corporate suite. Being in a cubicle gives you a strong dose of reality.'"
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman occupied a small cubicle when she ran the company from the firm's San Jose base. The same was true of Michelle Peluso when she was the head of Travelocity. Zappos chief executive Tony Hsieh chose to work out of a cube in the firm's Las Vegas head office—and not just any cube, but one in which he was visible to all company visitors. At investment research firm Morningstar, all desks are placed side by side, and its CEO's desk is right alongside everyone else's in the investment services group. Even billionaire Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, used a cubicle when he was on the job.
There are other things leaders can do to demonstrate authentic humility. For example, they can lower their own salaries. There is a growing list of leaders who take $1 a year, since they usually make millions in stock options (especially if the company performs well). The $1-a-year salary helps to send an important message to employees: "If we all don't succeed, then I don't deserve a fat salary." Leaders who opted for the $1 salary include Larry Ellison of Oracle; Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt of Google; Elon Musk of Tesla; John Mackey of Whole Foods; and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Others include N. R. Narayana Murthy, cofounder of Infosys; Pantas Sutardja and Sehat Sutardja of Marvell Technology Group; and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who accepted only one rupee as the first governor-general of Pakistan (and also refused all other forms of compensation).
You can also demonstrate humility by spending company funds more wisely. If you tend to spend an inordinate amount of money for office or holiday parties, simplify them, scale them down, and let your employees suggest and vote on a good cause to which the extra money could be contributed.
Similarly, if you host a monthly leadership dinner at an expensive restaurant or fancy resort with other executives, curtail that practice and urge your leaders to host simpler, less expensive events such as monthly breakfasts with the folks closest to the customers. The two-way communication that results from those informal gatherings can yield great benefits that transcend but include the boosting of morale.
* The Most Humble Focus on Service
If Francis's focus on the least fortunate in society was not clear to everyone with his first acts and decisions, there was little ambiguity remaining after he delivered his first homily at the inaugural mass six days after becoming pope on March 19, 2013. Pope Francis proclaimed:
Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope, too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service.... He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete, and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. Only those who serve with love are able to protect!
In his first month as pope, Francis expounded on the necessity of service and how that imperative included him as well. He said, "Christians are called to do the great work of evangelizing to the ends of the world in a spirit of humility rather than an attitude of conquering." He also asserted, "Preaching the gospel requires humility, service, charity, brotherly love. To approach evangelization with an imperialism or attitude of conquering doesn't work."
The pope as a servant to the people he leads almost seems like a contradiction, but not to Pope Francis, and it shouldn't to any effective leader, for that matter. For the pontiff, serving his people—serving all people—is expected and the way to become closer to the Highest Being. Bergoglio wrote, "Jesus says that the one who rules must be like a servant. For me, that idea is valid for the religious person in any denomination. The true power of religious leadership comes from service."
If you change your view of your role as a leader—from one who gives orders to members of your team to one who serves your reports—you open up opportunities that did not exist before. This change doesn't have to be formal or regimented. In fact, Francis, similar to other great CEOs, has shown us that there is great power in informality.
To see the opportunities informality can create in action, ask each of your employees to share a cup of coffee in the company cafeteria or local coffee shop, either as a team, one at a time, or both (first meet with all, then one at a time; always go from macro to micro). Make it clear that you want to do everything within your power to help them achieve their goals. Also, make it known that you have a 24/7 open-door policy and that they are free to come see you at any time. Then just sip coffee and talk.
One former Fortune 100 CEO was known for keeping a huge bowl of candy and chocolates on his desk for his employees. They were told to come in as often as they wanted to grab as much candy as they wanted. That proved to be a very effective way to get people to stop by his office so he could simply ask, "How are things going?" That often led to far lengthier conversations that helped both the CEO and the employee to learn things neither knew before—and helped the leader engage the employee in a meaningful dialogue.
Engaging people in an in-depth conversation is near the top of Pope Francis's leadership to-do list. However, dialogue can happen only when both parties are open to it and respect the other. In 2010, Bergoglio said, "Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion, and their proposals. Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a preemptive condemnation. To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defenses, to open the doors of one's home and to offer warmth."
However, Bergoglio has always been a pragmatist and understood the roadblocks to successful communication. Here, he details all of the negativity that could interfere with meaningful conversations. When you read these words, make a mental note of how many of these barriers exist in your organization. "There are many barriers in everyday life that impede dialogue: misinformation, gossip, prejudices, defamation, and slander. All of these realities make up a certain cultural sensationalism that drowns out any possibility of openness to others. Thus, dialogue and encounter falter."
Here are a few ideas to help you get your feet firmly on that path to greater humility:
* Don't Abuse Your Power As a Leader: There can be no humility in leaders who place themselves above the people they are paid to serve. If you think that you might be taking advantage of your position, sit down with your boss or manager and ask for his or her opinion. Chances are your boss knows the truth. Like the $1-a-year CEOs, come up with your own ideas for showing the people who work for you that you are not only their boss but a colleague as well.
* Eliminate Any Barriers That Set You Above Your Employees: Look around your office. Is it inviting or intimidating? How far away is it from your employees? Is it closed off, while the rest of the office is open? How many gatekeepers would someone have to pass to get to it? Do you use the common kitchen and bathroom, or do you have private facilities? How many of the employees who are below your direct reports in the corporate hierarchy do you pass in the hallway each day? How many would you like to pass? Do you say hello to any of them? Remove the figurative papal thrones from your office. All of these things can be fixed to bring you closer to your people.
* Refrain from Ultraexpensive Dinners That Only Top Management May Attend: Instead, encourage all of your leaders to host a monthly breakfast with their direct employees. This will prove to be a much better use of your budgets and your time. If you are accustomed to hosting off-site meetings solely for senior managers, consider off-site meetings for middle managers and their direct reports as well.CHAPTER 2
Smell Like Your Flock
One of the most oft-quoted Francisisms is his directive to "smell like your flock," which means immersing yourself deeply in whatever group you lead, or aspire to lead, and in a meaningful way. Like so many other things, this leadership principle has deep roots in his career. To understand its evolution, let's go back to the time Bergoglio became known as the "Bishop of the Slums."
* The Bishop of the Slums
When Bergoglio was "made an assistant bishop, back in the city of his birth," talented Francis biographer Paul Vallely explains, "an extraordinary journey had begun. It was to transform Jorge Mario Bergoglio into the Bishop of the Slums, a passionate defender of the disenfranchised, an unwavering enthusiast for dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds and beliefs."
According to those closest to Bergoglio, his years in the slums were decisive in making him a vocal defender of the least fortunate in society. One of Bergoglio's key priorities was to significantly increase the Church's involvement in the poorest, most dangerous parts of his jurisdiction. His war on drugs in the slums of Buenos Aires best illustrates how.
Paco—a cheap and dangerous form of cocaine—was the drug of choice for the poor in the slums, and it was everywhere. To combat this evil, several of Bergoglio's priests established programs to cure as many of the drug-addicted as possible. They established Hogar de Cristo, a rehab center, as well as two farms where addicts could work while they were kicking their paco habits.
Since nearly half of the inhabitants of those slums were under the age of 16, the priests launched a number of educational programs in order to give those young people a chance for complete rehabilitation. They included a scout group known as the "Explorers." Yet the most successful course of action was the apprenticeship program. That plan proved to be a way out of the slums, as the kids could apprentice to become anything from electricians to stonemasons or metalworkers. Suddenly, "parroquia (the parish) looked [like] an alternative to paco."
Bergoglio's mission in the slums was not without its hazards, however. One day, one of the most seasoned priests of the slums, Padre Pepe, was stopped in the streets and threatened by a strange He was told, in no uncertain terms, that if he did not stop his anti-drug activities, he would be finished.
Excerpted from Lead with Humility by Jeffrey A. Krames. Copyright © 2015 Jeffrey A. Krames. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION: From Bergoglio to Francis, 1,
CHAPTER 1: Lead with Humility, 7,
CHAPTER 2: Smell Like Your Flock, 15,
CHAPTER 3: Who Am I to Judge?, 23,
CHAPTER 4: Don't Change—Reinvent, 31,
CHAPTER 5: Make Inclusion a Top Priority, 41,
CHAPTER 6: Avoid Insularity, 50,
CHAPTER 7: Choose Pragmatism over Ideology, 58,
CHAPTER 8: Employ the Optics of Decision Making, 65,
CHAPTER 9: Run Your Organization Like a Field Hospital 74,
CHAPTER 10: Live on the Frontier, 81,
CHAPTER 11: Confront Adversity Head-On, 88,
CHAPTER 12: Pay Attention to Noncustomers, 95,
Source Notes, 103,
About the Author, 125,
Free Sample Chapter from The Leader's Pocket Guide, 126,