The Pope – and what HR can learn from him…

This is the second of our series of articles from Rob Moore at TCMO, taking a sideways look at leadership, from the perspective of various world figures, living and dead, some of whom might not seem like obvious candidates.  Your comments are welcome!

Pope Francis has lived in the real world. When you look to political leaders in the UK, it’s very hard to point to any of them and say they’ve lived day-to-day lives similar to ours. The current Pope once worked as a nightclub bouncer and he famously eschews much of the traditional Vatican flamboyancy.

Perhaps this is why he feels more in touch with the world than previous pontiffs; as a Jesuit he is less inclined towards the more formal aspects of the Papacy. His image in secular society is much more positive than his predecessor, and as such his words are treated with more respect.

Let’s pretend religion is a product and consider who isn’t buying it? Atheists. Agnostics. Members of other religions. In the case of the Catholic Church there’s been a loss of respect over secular society disagreements with Catholic doctrine and the scandals pervading many areas of the church. Yet, Francis has built bridges with olive branches, reaching out to poverty-stricken areas and generating a lot of goodwill – and respect - for his church and faith.  I suspect that many people, if asked, have an improved perception of the Catholic Church compared with a few years ago.  Certainly, anecdotally, this is my, non-Catholic, impression. 

In business, and many other fields of work, we have to deal with preconceptions. Marketing and HR, for example, have reputations that can count against them, and in this respect the Pope offers an excellent example for them, especially HR, to follow. He manages to balance an increasingly positive image in secular society whilst supporting mainstream Catholic doctrine and at the same time brokering a relatively liberal agenda. This is a neat trick, or, to be fair, an indication of his leadership and people skills. It could be argued that Pope Francis manages to be all things to all people – something all HR people can aspire to!

Image and perceptions are obviously important aspects of leadership. Consider how people will relay/communicate your work and example – the Pope seems to have a knack for Tweet length wisdom (can you imagine some of his recent predecessors even knowing what this is?) – and act accordingly. Possibly you won’t win everyone round because your role is intrinsically at odds with their outlook, but you can at least cultivate the image of being a person who understands people and empathises with them, which is surely the starting point for all HR work.

So, while part of your HR job might involve an unpopular but necessary task (redundancies anybody?), applied according to company rules, you can temper this by showing real human concern and reaching out and helping those who really need it.  It’s business, with a human face, but perhaps not as we always know it today.  Make sure you excel at this, as the current Pope does, and your unpopular decisions will be better understood and you, and your colleagues, will benefit.

Rob Moore, MD, TCMO

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