As CEO of the Catholic Church, he has a daunting task: to try to change 1,200 years of inertia, dogma, and doctrine pastoring the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Yet in the nine months since Argentine Cardinal and Archbishop for Buenos Aires Jorge Maria Bergoglio was elected Pope, he has understood that his job as CEO is twofold: to affect change in the Church and to repair its reputation. From a public relations standpoint, Pope Francis is the Repairer-in-Chief.
It’s been no secret that increasingly, the Church has been out of touch on such issues as contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. Far worse is the issue of Catholic priests sexually abusing children—and the Church looking the other way at best, and at worst, covering it up to protect its own interests.
The task for the Repairer-in-Chief is monumental indeed.
The ways in which Pope Francis has made the Church change are very simple and effective. Best of all, they’re entirely replicable by CEOs wanting to effect change in their organizations. CEOs can modify and implement themselves.
Here’s just some of what Pope Francis is doing right:
Understand the value of public opinion. Pope Francis understands that in order to repair the image of the Church, he has to behave differently than his predecessors. People like Pope Francis. They never really warmed up to Pope Benedict. The goodwill that can be achieved by having people say they love the Pope is huge. Here’s the secret sauce: in order to make change in the Church, it’s hugely helpful if you’re liked.
A recent survey by Pew Research Centre says that only 4% of Catholics have an unfavourable view of Pope Francis.
Lead by example (a.k.a. “walk the talk.”) Pope Francis started doing thing differently. He didn’t seek approval from the Catholic version of the Board of directors. He didn’t seek anyone’s permission. Right after he was ordained Pope, Pope Francis refused to move into the luxe papal apartments provided to him. Instead, he opted for the more spartan Vatican guesthouse.
Send clear signals. When asked about gay priests, Pope Francis famously said: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” In mid-December, Pope Francis removed Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Archbishop of St. Louis, a conservative who has been an outspoken critic of abortion and same-sex marriage, from an important Vatican committee and replaced him with a more moderate voice.
Connect with people. Pope Francis does a lot of “walkabouts” where he shakes hands, talks to people, including the sick and the afflicted. He spends less time in the popemobile than his predecessors.
Speak in simple language. Don’t preach, but instead tell stories that people remember and connect with. Pope Francis tells the stories of the Bible, of acceptance, compassion and brotherhood.
Speak from the heart. Unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis seldom reads a prepared text or uses a Teleprompter. The job of getting people excited does not need speaking notes written by someone else. A CEO should be able to remember to be genuine and engaging. No one ever attends a rally or a convention to hear someone read for 35 minutes; they can read on their iPads later.
Get with the technology. The Pope’s Twitter account has 3.4 million followers.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. There are photos around of Pope Francis with a red clown nose and taking “selfies” with his smartphone. When was the last time your CEO donned a clown nose? When was the last time an employee wanted a photo taken with your CEO?