Regardless of your religious or political stance on the many controversial issues filling news headlines these days, it’s hard to deny the largely positive effect Pope Francis has had on bridging the gap between staunch advocates on opposing sides of a broad political spectrum. Whether or not you agree with Pope Francis, his leadership capabilities are undeniable.

Since Pope Francis was elected by his fellow Cardinals in March 2013, his leadership and positive vision for the world have made him a spiritual rock star. He’s appeared on the covers of Time Magazine, National Geographic and Rolling Stone. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis’ predecessors, both had visions with similar themes… and yet they lacked both Pope Francis’ attention and impact on the world.

As a leader, what is it about Pope Francis that attracts millions of people who want to follow him and hear his vision for the future of our world? His message is so powerful that it extends to non-Catholics, non-Christians and even non-believers.

Here are 10 lessons all great leaders can learn from the Pope and apply to their own team or organization.

Has a big vision. When we talk about vision, it’s a fancy word for a clear mental picture of the future that can be articulated with words. Although the Pope has many components to his vision, here are two of the biggest pieces of his puzzle. First is his vision of spreading God’s mercy and extending God’s compassion for the poor and oppressed through the Church. In fact, Pope Francis hopes the Church will become the “poor church of the poor.” The second big piece of the Pope’s vision puzzle is his plan to turn the Vatican into a global model of best practices in financial administration. Wow! Pope Francis is the CEO of an organization that has been dogged by corruption, arrogance, financial chaos and the criminal abuse of both children and adults. To turn the Vatican and church into a global model of best practices is a huge vision… one that Pope Francis’ believers want to buy into.

Listens and incorporates feedback from others. When the Pope was elected, he did something that had never been done before at the Vatican. He assembled his own team, called the V8 (Vatican 8) of eight carefully selected Cardinals, with only one being from Europe, that operate like a Board of Directors giving strong guidance to a CEO.

Is willing to hire/appoint/anoint people who think differently from him. Cardinal George Pell, a staunch conservative from Australia, was an unlikely candidate to head up the Vatican’s financial reforms. Cardinal Pell was disappointed about Francis’ election and Pell and Francis disagreed on almost everything. Francis was clear on Pell’s dissatisfaction with the Church’s finances and felt that his polar opposite was the perfect person to lead the Church’s financial reform.

Is willing to take on controversial topics and take a stand. The Pope has taken on two big issues that most priests shy away from speaking about from the pulpit; Sex and money. Pope Francis has also taken a softer stand on hot-button topics like divorce, abortion and homosexuality.

Is flexible. Although the Pope is comfortable talking about controversial topics, he has made it clear that the core teachings of the Catholic Church will never change under his leadership. However, he has made it equally clear that what does need to change in the Church is how those core teachings are applied and preached about… from avoiding judgement of others to having mercy.

Is likeable. When the Pope talks, it is not uncommon to see him with a smile on his face, sharing something positive he is recommending to others or would like to see in our world moving forward. It is pretty obvious this Pope loves people and loves life.

Has a great sense of humor. As Pope Francis continues to spread worldwide awareness of God’s message, he’s also developed a reputation for having a sense of humor and breaking out of rigid traditions. Ecuador President Rafael Correa tweeted that Pope Francis told him a joke during a meeting that poked fun at his fellow Argentinians, who have a reputation in Latin America as being arrogant with big egos. Correa’s tweet said, “He told me a joke. He said everyone was surprised that he chose to call himself ‘Francis’ because being Argentinian, ‘people thought I would call myself Jesus II’.” The Pope will stop to play with children, try to spin a basketball with the help of the Harlem Globetrotters, or stick a red ball on the end of his nose. People tend to migrate toward leaders who have a great sense of humor and are fun to be around.

Is humble. The Pope made a great quote that instantly went viral when he took on the controversial topic of same sex relationships. When he was asked about his position on the topic, he simply said, “Who am I to judge?”

Is believable. When you listen to the Pope’s message, you can tell he truly believes he is a disciple doing God’s work, doing his best to make this world a better place for all to live. Pope Francis’ message, his emphasis on reconciliation and his compassion for people are attracting people who have never been interested in religion, or have left organized religion, is reaching people in record numbers.

Gives people hope. Pope Francis’ vision has given people a clear direction of what they need to do with their life to spread God’s mercy, compassion and, in his speech to Congress, what their role is in ending global warming. He has also given many people a clear vision that they are loved by God and welcome in the Catholic Church, regardless of how their past may be in opposition to the Catholic doctrine.

Politics and religion aside, it’s hard to deny that Pope Francis is a highly effective leader of the Catholic Church. He embodies the traits of a great servant leader who leads by example and has never needed to rely on his title of Pope. He has instead built relationships with millions of people who are willing to follow him and his bold vision for a better world.


Stay Connected

Join over 100,000 of your peers and receive our weekly newsletter which features the top trends, news and expert analysis to help keep you ahead of the curve