WORKPLACE DIVERSITY: LESSONS FROM POPE FRANCIS 

North America’s organizational leaders grapple on a daily basis with the best approaches to achieve workplace diversity and inclusion. Leaders in large, complex, and multi-tiered organizations all know that creating and sustaining a culture of inclusiveness as represented through its diversity is often a challenging task fraught with pitfalls. Resources and approaches are frequently sought to help steer initiatives to success.

Here is the question that this article attempts to answer: What do Pope Francis’ Pope Francis’ model of governance and leadership tell us about how to achieve workplace diversity?

Pope Francis has been on a mission to achieve the new vision of a more diversified Catholic church. It is safe to say that he is a change agent. So, what lessons can be gleaned from the manner in which he has approach this mammoth task. The Roman Catholic Church is a highly structured, hierarchical, stratified, formalistic and tradition-driven organization with branches located throughout the globe. It is an organization mired in rituals and symbolism. Apart from a military, and perhaps a paramilitary organization is it hard to conceive of an organization with as much tradition, rules and formalism as the Catholic Church. Indeed, adherence to traditions is an end, in and of itself, within the Church’s operational labyrinth.

Pope Francis is the first Latin America Pope in the history of the close to two thousand year history of the organization. That in itself was big news broadcasted throughout the world to religious and secular communities. Very soon after his selection his organizational transformative intentions started taking shape. Pope Francis election must be understood to be a desire of the church to engage in reforms.  In this sense, Pope Francis was elected to be the institutions change agent. Two years into his leadership, it is perhaps a good time to reflect and highlight some lessons from his playbook.

  1. Know and remain true to self at the helm: Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope on 13 March 2013 on the fifth round by a papal conclave. Whether he was the favorite to become the Pope following Pope Benedicts XVI resignation in February 2013 misses the mark, and is now highly irrelevant, except to those interested in papal politics. What matters now is that he is elected and he is the Pontiff. Long before his election, Pope Francis, a Jesuit with part of one lung excised, had built a reputation within church circles as a compassionate man who was not really into too many “bells and whistles”. Well prior to his election, Pope Francis was dubbed as a man faithful to the teachings of the gospel, the message of salvation, and the biblical purpose of the church to reach out to the masses, to the poor and needy and to win soul’s to Christ.  His Jesuit background formed his approach to the work of the church as an institution.  As a man of God, he himself has been marred by vicious allegations that for a while tainted him with criminal disposition.  Pope Francis, long before his election, held principled positions of the role of the church and having worked as a bouncer at one point in his formative years was man of the world prior to being ordained as a Catholic priest.  Why does all of this matter today? He is who he is. He believes what he believes and his leadership as the Pope reflects that. As Wikipedia notes: “Throughout his public life, both as an individual and as a religious leader, Pope Francis has been noted for his humility, his concern for the poor and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs and faiths”.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that now that he is at the helm of the Catholic Church his approach remains consistent. Everything otherwise would signal a departure from who he is, what matters to him and his own principles. So, the first less is be true to yourself in any change effort. Change the organization, not who you are.

 

  1. Craft public discourse not disgust: At the time of Pope Francis election, the Catholic Church was and continues to be, bitterly embroiled with sex scandals that rocked the institution’s inner core. How the Church dealt with the sexually abuse and molestation of young boys by some of its priest was cause for serious concern. Seemingly the Church, in an effort to avoid liability, mismanaged this issue and in the process appeared to condone sexual abuse of the vulnerable. The Church had lost its way on its core principles.  Two problems arose from this public appearance. First, the church appeared to be condoning criminal activity and hence appeared to be a den of crooks. Secondly, the Church in failing to denounce this conduct and take positive steps to rid itself of abusers led to serious theological conflicts. On the one hand the Church publicly denounces homosexual behavior, seemingly except when committed by members of its clergy in which case its godly principles seemed to be swept under the rug. Before his election it seemed that the church was labeled as a deceitful, hypocritical organization that preached about salvation but covered up sinful and criminal acts of sexual predators entrusted with the well being young, innocent and vulnerable boys.  Amidst this scandal, and criminal conduct on the part of some of its priest,  Pope Francis seemed to work some magic, changed the conversation, created a changed discourse and became a media darling.  Few will forget the well publicized images of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of ordinary people.  The scandalous issue of sexual exploitation of young boys by some of the Church’s priest has not disappeared. Rather, it has been neutralized and no longer form the crux of media reports about the Church.

 

  1. Build support from outside in and inside out: Two years into Pope Francis’ leadership, there remains a buzz about him, his leadership style and the direction he is taking the Vatican. Pope Francis has built sufficient support and following outside the Church’s quarters that the internal power of dissenting Cardinals has been significantly circumscribed. Pope Francis knows that mobilizing external support provides the impetus to drive the change agenda. External support keeps the organization accountable for its decisions and actions. He simultaneously broadens his support base within the organization.  How so? Well, within months of being elected he establishes an inner group of Cardinals to serve as his personal advisors.  His first canonization sends important signals on what and who will be rewarded. Similarly, his last appointments to the position of Cardinals broke rank and tradition.

 

  1. Come out signing and swinging: Gareth Morgan wrote a book called Images of Organizations. In it Morgan used a variety of metaphors to describe organizations. One metaphor failed to use was an organization as an orchestra. An orchestra is a fascinating metaphor to describe an organization.  The music has a pulse, a rhythm. It has a time signature. The many instruments, moods, movements, feel are all controlled by the conductor whose job it is to bring out the best in each musician, each section as they play each note for the sole purpose of making the music ring through as desired.  The metaphor of an organization as an orchestra lends itself to the singing/swinging dichotomy.  What is the singling in Pope Francis’ case? Few will forget the occasion on which Pope Francis kissed the head of that man with legions all over his head. One indelible image is that of Pope Francis showing love to a highly disabled child. Another lasting image is that of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of ordinary people. This is the song of love. It is a departure from secrecy. Its refrain is accessibility, a Pope of the and for the people. So, what is the swinging?  Pope Francis was elected on March 13, 2013.  Within three months of his election he changed the following: ??????.  There can be no mistake that Pope Francis means business. Like it or not, part of swinging is clearly to define the boundaries.  As such, Pope Francis  has restated the principles upon which his change agenda will be advanced and those religious, doctrinal principles (such as abortion) that remain constant and therefore for the time being certainty.  In recent weeks, Pope Francis has received scathing criticism for, among other things his views on abortion. One Journalist went so far as to label him two faced.

 

  1. Drive radicalism with simplicity: To say that Jesus, in his times, was a radical invites controversy and contention amongst theologians. Yet, Jesus was a simple yet complex man who, himself, advanced a change agenda. Jesus was functionally simple and theologically complex. He was born in a manger, for heaven’s sakes. Simplicity ought not to be confused with weakness.  By no stretch of the imagination Pope Francis brand of change is simple.  He takes the Church back to its core function as set out biblically.  Institutional building and insular, formalistic or political rituals are not biblical. So, they shall be changed. Pope Francis cannot be understood as a weak man.  By all accounts he appears to be a committed tactician organizationally. Brilliant tacticians and strategist all understand the power of simplicity. Shedding the institutional fluff brings the Church back to the basic question that must be answered.  Why does the Church exists, and what is the authority for the Church’s activities.  By all accounts, Pope Francis can be legitimately described as a servant leader.

 

  1. Make the clean up of the mess be your message: While some would disagree, the ample support for the proposition that Pope Francis inherited a mess in the ranks and activities of the Church. With such dysfunction, it appears that Pope Francis has simply converted the Church’s mess into his message. Pope Francis comments about the Church’s role in fighting issues such as poverty, income inequality, modern day slavery in the form of child and other trafficking sends

 

  1. Humble not Crumble: By all accounts Pope Francis is a humble man. Do not be fooled by his humility, though. He is obviously a man who listens, but takes the precaution to ensure evidence-based decisions. Take for example, his appointment of ???? to provide advice on ????.  Pope Francis’ humility is calculated to engendered empathetic and energizing dispositions.  Coming across as a caring, concerned and empathetic human being transforms him into a likeable figure. In many ways he is simply reproducing Jesus’ manners and mannerisms.  Jesus washed his disciples feet.  Jesus hung out with all manner of people. Jesus walked the streets and ministered to the masses.  Jesus appealed to the poor. Every miracle that Jesus performed responded to the immediate and pressing need. While it may be wrong to elevate Pope Francis to the same status as Jesus, it is plain and obvious that he, as a leader, is driven by jesus’ conduct as he ministered.

 

  1. Chip away at traditions inconsistent with vision

 

Yep. Sunday January 04, 2015 is a historic day because Pope Francis’s selection of  new Cardinals were shut out many of the traditional sources for appointing Cardinals.. Quoting from one report in the Los Angeles Times published the next day “The Cardinals came from so far-flung countries as Tonga, Cape Verde, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Thailand, , Vietnam and New Zealand”.  Five of the fifteen new Cardinals selected came from European countries; three each from Latin America and Asia; and two each from Africa and Oceania. Francis is obviously “hell-bent” on leaving a legacy as a transformational leader who paves the way for transformation to continue well after he passes on. Pope Francis selection from these geographical areas is a clear indication of an intention to diversity the inner circles of power within the institution. Pope Francis continued to chip away at traditions inconsistent with the change vision, a process he started almost immediately after his election.

  1. Shake Up, not Shock Down