How To Manage Like Pope Francis

If you were at the center one of the world’s largest organizations, would you lose the Prada shoes?

How To Manage Like Pope Francis

Appearances can mean a lot if you’re retooling the vehicle of an organization. And especially if that vehicle is the popemobile, handed from Benedict to Francis.


The popular sentiment is that while Benedict was cold and aloof, Francis is warm and of the people, his new style prompting what people are calling a “Francis Effect” that drew crowds of 3 million people on his visit to Brazil this week.

Michael O. Garvey, a writer for the Commonweal, poeticizes the changing of the garb:

No more dainty red Prada shoes or fully tricked out Mercedes-Benz, like his predecessor, Benedict XVI. The pontiff wears plain black shoes and is driven in an old Ford Focus. He refers to himself as “bishop” rather than “Pope” and has refused the papal apartments, deeming them too lavish. He has chosen to stay instead in the Vatican guest house, where he can have breakfast in the communal dining room with visiting priests.

Francis is making himself into a case study in progressive leadership: His paring down of papal extravagance at a surface level communicates changes made at an organizational level. And as Financial Times columnist Philip Delves Broughton observes, Francis’s style–and management style–calls to mind a range of pragmatic, reformist leaders:

When Michael Bloomberg became mayor of New York, he forwent swank offices and sat in the center of the scrum. “It was more than a choice of desks,” Broughton says. “It showed the city that here was a mayor focused on action and process.”

Steve Jobs gave us “the decluttered personal style of technology executives,” Broughton says, perhaps referring to turtlenecks. Mark Zuckerberg inherited that chill and turned it to chillax, ushering in the era of the hoodie. Which means working at Facebook is so casual, right guys?

Then there’s the trauma that was Ron Johnson’s tenure at CEO of J.C. Penny. Broughton notes Johnson’s refusal to move his family to Plano, Texas, holding the company’s headquarters town with great disdain. Instead, he cruised on the company jet and stayed the week in the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Which when you’re the boss of thousands of shop assistants who are collectively on their grind is a clear case of the boss acting like his humanity is more important than everyone else’s.


But Francis does the opposite. His leadership style, simply shoed and intensely driven, is also emphatically human.

Hat tip: Financial Times

[Image: Flickr user Semilla Luz]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.