The start of a new year gives leaders an opportunity to start fresh with their teams. Here’s an interesting thought – maybe it’s time to “give ’em hell”! I’m inspired by reports that Pope Francis, in his 2014 end-of-the-year address to his employees, delivered a scathing review of their behaviour. In business circles, we might say he “named the elephant in the room” – and did it for all the world to see. This seems in direct contrast to the usual leadership advice to celebrate success and inspire followers with praise and words of confidence. Is the Pope a bad leader? Not at all. Here’s what Pope Francis did right.
He waited. The Pope has been in his job for almost two years, and he has had ample opportunity to experience first-hand what goes on in his organization. He made a study of the norms of the culture, and was able to list with confidence the 15 ailments most troubling to him. His patient observations increase his credibility.
He based his assessment on values. It goes without saying that the Vatican employees should represent the best Christian values in their behaviour. This would not include gossip, power-mongering and careerism. As in any organization, leadership behaviours institutionalize the culture, and an expectation of leadership is that you model the stated values. Pope Francis gave specific examples of behaviours that are dysfunctional and harmful to a team, and he referenced the Bible in his footnotes.
He gave the benefit of the doubt. The Pope used the expression “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and he expressed his view that they had forgotten to be joyful men of God. By giving the benefit of the doubt, Pope Francis allowed for personal change within a system that is in trouble. He understands that group norms and systemic issues can mold people’s behaviours – and that even the best of us can be caught up on the inside.
He asked for what he’s willing to give. The most incredible thing about the Pope’s address is that he speaks without personal duplicity. He is not asking his leaders and staff to give him special consideration. Instead, we have seen Pope Francis demonstrating what it means to be humble, loving, and a team-player – all from the most powerful position in the place!
He showed bold leadership. According to the media, Pope Francis’s speech was met with tepid applause. He modeled courage. He chose to tell the hard truth, even if it meant he would be unpopular or less well-liked. Leadership requires that you “name the elephant in the room” when no one else is able or willing to do so.
How are things in your workplace? If 2015 is the year for you to be direct and speak the hard truth, use Pope Francis as an example of how to do it right.