Papal Frenzy and Transformational Leadership

October 13, 2015

Admittedly, I got caught up in the Pope Francis U.S. tour frenzy this past September. It started by accident, actually. I was at the dentist for my six-month checkup on Sept. 23, and the office had all the TVs turned on CNN for live coverage of the papal parade along the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

And this particular appointment lasted awhile — not that there was any problem with my teeth. Rather, my dentist, a Queens native and lifelong fan of the New York Mets, excitedly discussed his team finally making the MLB playoffs. (Usually, at this point in the year, he is threatening to cancel his season tickets forever.)

So while he provided an analysis of the bullpen and how they might match up against other National League contenders, I politely nodded and kept an eye on the TV screen in the operatory.

Anyway, I ended up seeing a lot of the Pope on TV that first day, and I decided to keep following along until his return to Rome on Sept. 27. And being in New York, there wasn’t a story that was too small or, perhaps, ridiculous for the local media outlets to cover, such as which Pope Francis life-size cutout was the best purchase for $160. (The “thumbs up” standee for sure.)

Of course, not all of the papal editorial outpouring was frivolous. For instance, a Fast Company article on Sept. 25 discussed how Pope Francis is demonstrating a transformational leadership style that business people can learn from.

According to William Vanderbloemen, co-author of “Next: Pastoral Succession That Works,” and president and CEO of the Vanderbloemen Search Group, Pope Francis is known for being available and open to the public, greeting people and riding in a bus with his team rather than in a bulletproof limousine. He also handwrites personal thank-you notes and invites Rome’s homeless to lunch on his birthday.

For any leader, accessibility builds trust and loyalty among colleagues and customers, making other transformations possible, writes Vanderbloemen, whose startup conducts executive searches for churches, ministries and faith-based organizations.

In current business parlance, Pope Francis has “flattened” his organization, taking a radical approach to age-old customs and rearranging his management team to reduce its sense of hierarchy.

In this issue, we discuss some of these same concepts. Tyler Durham, a Ketchum partner, shares results from the agency’s fourth-annual Leadership Communication Monitor. Among the key findings: The era of hierarchical leadership is over, and a culture of title-free leadership is on the rise.

As Durham writes: “There is still a valuable organizational role for leaders, but to own the hearts and minds of the marketplace, organizations need to act faster, smarter and more openly.”

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



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