Regardless of your religion, you have to admire Pope Francis. He’s done a remarkable job in his first year in office, including an 85% approval rating from American Catholics. The Economist and other publications have started calling the septuagenarian Argentine as one of the great turnaround CEOs; similar to Apple’s Steve Jobs and IBM’s Lou Gerstner.
One could think of the Catholic Church as perhaps the oldest multinational organization. For the past few decades, its brand has been in trouble. When, Pope Benedict XVI, became the first “CEO” to retire in 600 years, the College of Cardinals (as the “Board of Directors”) appointed Pope Francis to re-launch “Brand Vatican.”
In just a year, the brand has recovered significantly. It has done this by focusing on three management principles important to organizations of all forms and sizes.
First, core competencies. Pope Francis has refocused his organization on one mission: helping the poor. He took the name of Saint Francis of Assisi who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He moved out of the papal apartments into a boarding house. He swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ditched his Mercedes for a 30-year-old Renault for his trips within Vatican City. On his first Holy Thursday, he washed the feet of young prisoners in an act of uncommon humility.
The new focus has not only demonstrated the Pope’s willingness and ability to walk the walk, but also has reduced costs. In addition, the Economist believes the “’poor-first strategy’ is aimed squarely at emerging markets, where the potential for growth is greatest.”
Second, brand repositioning. Pope Francis clearly continues to support traditional teaching on abortion and gay marriage, but in a more modest way than his predecessors. He recently asked homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?”
Third, restructuring. One of Pope Francis’s first actions was to form a group of eight “super” cardinals from around the world to advise him on government of the Church and to study a “project of revision.” In addition, he has hired McKinsey and KPMG to look at the Church’s administrative structure and overhaul the Vatican bank.
The other key ingredient is that Pope Francis seems to actually love his job. Father John Wauck, a professor at Opus Dei in Rome, told NPR that he has seen many popes, but what separates Pope Francis’ leadership is his positive disposition. “He is not a showman in the way John Paul was, and he’s not retiring the way Benedict was. Francis is completely comfortable in his own skin. He is transparently a happy man.”
Pope Francis offers some great lessons that go well beyond religion. These include loving your job, focusing on your core competencies, being mindful of your brand, and not being afraid to monitor and restructure when change occurs. Great goals for all of us.