Pope Francis: A Change Manager

The Pope is a powerful leader with ultimate authority over the Church and its followers.  He has great influence and is widely respected by leaders in many countries. When the last Pope (Benedict XVI) retired in 2013; it was a surprise because it was so unusual.

Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was an unknown factor.  With a Papal election there are no research teams or media who explore the background of candidates.  There are no polls.  It is a closed, secretive process which has not changed for centuries.

Bergoglio was not the first choice of many Cardinals in the enclave.   There were three groups supporting three other candidates.  They were locked in a conflict and were unable to come to a compromise.  Each group decided to vote for Bergoglio instead of crossing the floor to support another candidate.  In the end, he won the majority vote.

Bergoglio chose Francis as his Papal name.  

Expectations of a new Pope tend to run along the lines of the status quo; people are used to the pomp and ceremony of the Vatican. They expect a Pope to take advantage of the benefits of the office.  Past Popes surrounded themselves with trusted assistants that  protected them to the point where they rarely had any genuine contact with others.

Pope Francis was a new manager who planned to make a lot of changes and he used important principles of change management to implement it.


Tell it like it is.time-for-a-change-2015164_640

Communication was one of the most significant items he focused on during the first weeks in the Papal office.  Although he was not computer savvy, he embraced Twitter. (Pope Francis@pontifex)  In He tweeted about the need for change in the world and our need as human beings to make changes in ourselves.  Twitter followers now receive an inspirational daily tweet.

Listen and Learn.

Accessibility is another great technique during a time of change.  This Pope was different in ways that had not been seen before at the Vatican.  He would arrive to personally pay his bill at the hotel where he was staying, or accept a drink of tea from a stranger on the street. He cracked jokes and spent extra time listening to the people he met on his visits, completely changing long held views of the leader of the Church.

He doesn’t have a protective circle around him as he intentionally wants people to have access to him.  He doesn’t always tell his secretaries about appointments until the person is about to arrive.  This gives him the freedom to bypass the Papal bureaucracy.    Personal handwritten thank you notes and invitations connect him to the public and allow them to connect with him.

Start at the Top.

This is a great way to demonstrate a manager’s commitment to change.   Francis took over a Vatican filled with cronyism and favoritism and there was strong resistance to anything that would change the status quo.

vatican image

He delegates.

Francis makes decisions without relying heavily on advisors or the Curia, unlike Popes of the past. He created a task force to reform the Curia and has streamlined the organizational chart, reducing red tape and flattening the hierarchy.  He changed his title from Supreme Pontiff to Bishop of Rome.

He has publicly scolded leaders in the Church for being inflexible on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and birth control.  This didn’t mean that he planned to overturn long held canon law; instead Francis advocated love and respect for a person, even there is disagreement.  He was determined to reopen conversations about these complicated social issues.

He has called for action on climate change and the economy that he believes disadvantages the poor.  He says we have a religious obligation to care for them and to care for the earth itself.

Francis is not afraid to take on the establishment, though his office represents the ultimate religious establishment.

Own it.

He established a Vatican tribunal on sexual abuse by priests, taking action on past promises to hold the Church accountable.

He is reforming the finances of the Vatican.  By setting up an economy ministry he has signalled there are changes he intends to make as he overhauls the Vatican Bank.

He likes to break rules. After his election, he included women in a service that was open only to men in the past.  Later, he changed the rules worldwide to reflect that inclusion. He has said that Christians should apologize to gay people and that the Church should take a gentler stance towards divorced Catholics.

On November 21, 2016, Francis gave priests the power to forgive abortions, indefinitely.  This forgiveness was only available from Bishops in the past.    He affirms that abortion is still considered a grave sin, but says that there is no sin that God will not forgive when faced with a repentant heart.

cartoon image pope pro life

Be Decisive and Take Risks. 

Taking a strong first step is important to lasting change.  Francis made unconventional decisions, causing shifts in the Papacy, taking risks that showed people a new view of the Church.  He has reached out to agnostics and atheists with his willingness to discuss previously closed topics.

Jesuits have a historical practice of choosing a course of action, rather than inaction.  It involves listening and thinking, a meditation where you seek the advice of God and then make a decision.  It’s a style that Francis has embraced during his life and especially in his time at the Vatican.  This has allowed him to manage the changes needed to move this large and entrenched institution into the current century.

Live the Change

Directly addressing the culture and its underlying behavior is another way to communicate your commitment to change and Francis lives as a strong symbol of the changes he is trying to make.

He doesn’t live in the sumptuous apartments in the papal palace.  He lives in a small two room apartment outside of the palace grounds.  This was one of the first decisions he made.  It shows that he wants to remain with the people, at street level, instead of rising above them in the luxury of the palace.  It lets him be independent from the Vatican administration.

Instead of the chauffeured Mercedes limo, he rides in a Ford Focus and books his own appointments.   He has managed to remain true to himself and has avoided the pageantry of the Vatican and the expectations of the members of the Church.

It’s like another great religious leader once said:  “Be the change you want to see in this world”. 

Francis is certainly doing just that.


When it Arrives

When It Arrives

I will not blush for death
or bend my head in fear.
My hands will light a fire instead;
ignite the blaze upon the pyre.

Then rising from my burning bed
I will stand engulfed in flames
that consecrate my very blood
until I rise in swaying bands
of color dancing in the north.

A shooting star will mark the trail
where I will whisper in the void
the tales that penetrate your bones
our ancient roots and songs and spells.

And when my light has left your eyes,
then you will fall upon your knees
in honor of the gift bestowed
of blood and family secrets told.

Tree Langdon
©® 2017

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