Opinion Columns & Blogs

DR. CUMMINGS: We need more leaders like Pope Francis

I want more leaders like Pope Francis. I’ve spent my whole business life teaching leadership to executives, examining leadership qualities and researching historical examples of leadership. And then this man pops out of his cool Jeep Wrangler popemobile and he’s got it all. He has everything I would want in a leader; everything I would want to teach to future leaders of Middle Georgia. Look at him.

Confident. He’s not arrogant like so many religious figure heads. His confidence is natural and even charming. When he speaks you don’t hear the Vatican Bells ringing and the Gregorian chant echoing overhead. In fact, you spin around and say: “Wait a minute; did a pope really say that?” Like the day he said, “I believe in God; not a Catholic God. There is no Catholic God.” That’s the kind of confidence you like to see in a leader, someone who’s not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths. We don’t see many of these today -- especially in the higher reaches of politics and religion.

Humility. How can you remain humble when you become the leader? Francis has a simple solution which he passed on to the clergy in Ecuador last week: “Remember where you came from.” He went on to say that, “When a priest thinks too much about his career, he starts to suffer from spiritual Alzheimer’s and he loses his memory and forgets where he came from.” This is true not only for religious leaders, but for all of us. There was a time when we were followers of other leaders. We need to remember what that felt like. Francis remembers.

Owns mistakes. This is probably the hardest thing for all leaders to do. They avoid confession like the plague. And when they do “fess up,” they put a spin on it to show they didn’t really mean to do that bad thing; it certainly was not intentional. Two months ago, Francis met with the members of a Catholic group in Rome, but on the wrong day. He stood there in front of them and said, “I apologize.” He didn’t point his finger at his administration (like so many of our political leaders). He didn’t say it’s not his job to schedule meetings. Instead he joked about being “infallible.” Francis screws up -- just like all of us, and he admits it.

Risk-taker. Name one pope who has taken as many risks as this one: the gay issue, divorce, priestly celibacy, climate change, the Vatican bank, the dysfunctional Curia, etc. It seems he creates risky headlines every time he speaks. Risky, because he knows he’s creating opposition and he just plunges in anyway.

The last pope who stood up to the Mafia-ridden Vatican bank (Pope John Paul I) ended up dead in bed a month after his election to the papacy. My Jewish friends call this chutzpah. Pope Francis has chutzpah.

Searching. He doesn’t flaunt his so-called papal infallibility; he doesn’t pretend to know all the answers. He’s searching for the truth just like the rest of us. A leader has to be a searcher. The minute any leader -- political, religious or even scientific -- claims to have a lock on the truth is the minute he loses his intelligent followers. Oh, he’ll keep the ones who prefer not to think -- unfortunately every town has its share of them -- but it takes a real leader to say something like this: “If one has the answers to all the questions -- that’s the proof that God is not with him.” Francis said that.

There are hundreds of “leadership skills,” but these five top my list. If leaders today can confidently state their vision for their teams; if they can humbly and clearly and sometimes humorously admit their mistakes; if they can take calculated risks; if they will continue to search out the truth and root causes of problems and freely admit that they’re not infallible many intelligent people will follow.

Today, more than ever before, we need “Francis-like” leaders -- right here in Middle Georgia.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.