4 Lessons From Pope Francis On Embracing People And Uncertainty

May 29, 2014 | English, Ideas, Ideas for Organisation, Ideas for Strategy, PurposeCORE

Tweet Line: Learn from Pope Francis to embrace people, uncertainty and competition to change your organisation.

This March, the most improbable thing happened, I was selected to join a group of interfaith leaders to meet Pope Francis in a private audience. The meeting almost did not happen as he was late for about an hour. Then without fanfare, he walked in.

After a brief welcome by Cardinal Tauran, the Holy Father simply explained that one of his tooth had chipped during breakfast so he needed to go to the dentist to have it fixed. Everyone laughed and with that icebreaker, a family atmosphere quickly permeated the room. Then the Pope leaned forward with that characteristic smile said,

I am happy to meet with all of you. What matters is that we continue to walk together, to keep walking to go ahead”

There were 20 of us lined up in a modest hall in Domus Sanctae Marthae. As he went down the line to greet each person, some asked if they could embrace him, he replied yes. Along the way he embraced a woman who is an Islamic scholar, an Imam, a Jewish Rabbi, a Hindu teacher. I was the last in line and when it came to my turn, he smiled at me and I asked if I could embrace him. He leaned forward and we embraced. It was an unforgettable moment.

Takes courage to embrace people and uncertainty

Embracing people might seem to be the easiest thing to do but over the years, after journeying with so many leaders from business to public service, I know it takes courage. I have known many leaders who prefer to keep to themselves and to the same routine. So it is not so much about the gesture but a state of mind. But when leaders adopt this pro-active approach of embracing people and uncertainty, you bring about renewal and a spirit of openness which provides a fertile ground for creativity.

Pope Francis, through his actions and plans, has certainly jolted an organisation that is two millennia old. From the time he became Pope, he refused to be caged in and sought to reach out and embrace the people around him. This has triggered a dramatic renewal for a Church that was under siege from numerous scandals just a year ago. Here are 4 lessons we can learn from the Argentine Pope in renewing our organisations to be courageous and take on an uncertain world.

1. Embrace your management team

One of the first dramatic gestures by Pope Francis was his refusal to stay in the Apostolic Palace, electing instead to stay in the modest hotel within the Vatican, Domus Sanctae Marthae. The media have hailed this as a sign of humility but in fact it was more than that. Because most of the visiting prelates, the leaders of the Church from all around the world stay there, he could interact freely and understand the issues firsthand.

His action is akin to that of a CEO who decided to move from his corner office to where the action is. Few CEOs would choose to spend time with the staff in canteens during lunch. This is a missed opportunity because, no matter how many town hall meetings or retreats you can have, you will never achieve the intimacy of knowing someone over a meal or a casual conversation.

So are you staying in your ‘palace’, and are you having trouble getting reliable feedback? If yes, then it might be time to move yourself and go to where the action is.

2. Embrace uncomfortable facts

The Catholic Church is known for her staunch position on divorce, gay marriage and other issues related to the family. Therefore it was surprising, when last year – in preparation for a global meeting of bishops on the issue of the family – a survey was sent to Catholics all over the world. It was the first time, Catholics were asked for their views on uncomfortable issues like divorce and other challenges confronting the family in today’s environment.

Many organisations, especially those in Asia, are uncomfortable about conducting internal surveys to seek feedback. And whenever a feedback session is conducted, some companies will look out for trouble-makers and try to keep them in check. This is why so many people are cynical about feedback sessions and see no value in participating.

Pope Francis was asked if he was concerned about arguments among the leaders in the Church and he said:

I would have been more worried if there hadn’t been an intense discussion in the Consistory, because it would have been useless. The Cardinals knew that they could say what they wanted, and they presented different points of view, which are always enriching. Open and fraternal debate makes theological and pastoral thought grow. That doesn’t frighten me. What’s more, I look for it.

Do you look forward to intense discussions in your organisation? And are people comfortable with discussing big ideas in your midst? If not, then you will need to reach out, embrace the uncomfortable facts to foster a better environment for discussion.

3. Embrace the neglected ones

During the weekly general audiences, Pope Francis has made it a point to reach out to the least when he goes around in his PopeMobile. As he moves around St. Peter’s Square, he keeps a look out for the sick and the weak, occasionally stopping the vehicle, to go down and embrace the person. He has embraced people stricken with illness, deformities, the young and old. These gestures have doubled the attendance to the weekly audience from the usual 50,000 to 100,000 people.

He has allowed himself to take selfies with teenagers and gamely put on hats and helmets. But these are not just gestures for Pope Francis, because he has said that he desires the Church to behave more like a field hospital open to the wounded, instead of acting like a customs house.

Rather than go after the same customers, it might be more useful to go after those who are underserved and deemed as unprofitable. One good example is Xiaomi, a rising brand from China who has found success with customers seeking low-cost smart-phones while growing revenues through great software and services.

So who have you neglected in your services? It might be a good idea to rethink your approach.

4. Embrace the competition

Pope Francis comes from a continent where there is intense from Protestant Charismatic Churches who have lured millions away from the Catholic faith. In another dramatic gesture, Pope Francis was filmed on an iPhone greeting a national meeting of Protestant pastors in the United States.

In the video, he called for better understanding and he greeted them like brothers saying:

…We are brothers; let us give each other that spiritual embrace and allow the Lord to complete the work he has begun. Because this is a miracle: the miracle of unity has begun.”

No Pope has ever greeted a national meeting of Protestant pastors like this. This is similar to the historic détente forged by Steve Jobs when he invited Bill Gates to address the audience at MacWorld via video link. While Bill Gates was booed, the Pope received a collective blessing from the 3,000 pastors when the video ended. There are now talks for a planned meeting between Pope Francis and Kenneth Copeland who hosted the event.

In today’s world, we need to see our competition with new eyes. When was the last time you crossed over to shake the hand of your competitor? If you are brave enough, you might ignite new possibilities.

This article was first published on Linkedin. Follow Lawrence on http://sg.linkedin.com/in/lawrencechongconsulus/