Today’s leaders must succeed in a world not just of institutions, but of crowds. As we’ve seen, leading (and staying) in the Crowd Leader quadrant is a complex task. It is one that demands a particular set of skills. And an unlikely new power leader – Pope Francis – can teach us a lot about what is required.
Pope Francis’s first act as the Bishop of Rome was to pray. At the moment he was elected, in fact, he was already praying, overcome by what he has described as a “great sense of inner peace,” one he says he has felt ever since.
But his next three acts were, each in its own way, remarkable. He sent back the fancy red cape with the ermine collar that newly elected popes typically wear, electing to don simple white robes instead. He reportedly told the Vatican master of ceremonies, “You put it on instead. Carnival time is over!” He then broke with protocol as he greeted his cardinals, refusing the elevated throne, saying simply, “I’ll stay down here.” Finally, as he was revealed to the world on the balcony of St. Peter’s, he did not ask for a blessing from his cardinals, nor did he ask for the success of his church. Neither did he, as was the tradition, offer his first papal blessing to the people. Instead he asked his people to pray so that “God may bless me through you.”
It is hard to think of a role that is richer in symbolism than the papacy. And in his first hours as pope, Francis sent strong and resonant signals about how he was thinking about power, as much by what he did not do as by what he did. Gone was the super-hero cape. Out went the throne that raised him above his flock. That evening, he abandoned the papal limousine and took the minibus with his cardinals to supper. On his first night as pope, he slept in the guesthouse apartments, leaving the papal penthouse palace empty (a living arrangement that became permanent).
A Latin American cardinal with a track record of unconventionality, Francis had not expected to become pope. He had other plans afoot, with a place lined up in a retirement home for priests in Buenos Aires. The bookies didn’t think much of his chances either, staking him as a rank outsider at 33 to 1 in the pre-conclave betting markets. So he had arrived in Rome anticipating a quick trip with just a small suitcase.