America is abuzz with “Pope mania.” People everywhere are talking about Pope Francis’ visit. The television coverage is nonstop, yet it doesn’t seem particularly bothersome. Perhaps it is because, for weeks, we have been inundated with 24 hours of negativity related to next year’s Presidential campaign. Watching the Pope is a welcome diversion.
From the politicians, we have heard bragging, and aggrandizement, lecturing and shouting. We have listened to insults, untruths, partial truths, over-statements, and deliberate misrepresentations. We have witnessed meanness, pettiness, and unfairness. I find myself questioning, “Are these really the best leaders our country has to offer?”
Then Pope Francis arrives, and we get a glimpse of what leadership should look like. The contrast is striking. He is humble, kind, and down to earth. He’s riding in a jeep and people can easily approach him. You believe—no, you can actually feel—that he cares about others. You may not agree with his teachings or the tenets of his religion, but it is hard to question his genuineness or his compassion.
Why has our national leadership become so jaded, and why are we disappointed in many of those holding current leadership positions? These are important questions. Equally important, what can be done to restore the meaning of leadership in our country? Where can an individual begin? Is there a way each of us can contribute?
We know there are many qualities and characteristics for defining exceptional leadership, but I want to highlight two that Pope Francis has exemplified this week— honesty and the ability to inspire.
Honesty is the foundation of leadership. It forms the basis for trust, loyalty, and teamwork. It is hard to respect someone you know is dishonest. It is also hard to inspire others if they can’t trust you to be honest.
You may never have the national stage, but you can set your personal standards high and refuse to compromise them. Start with your workplace. Have personal integrity. Be honest with your colleagues. Don’t try to misrepresent facts or cover up mistakes or failures. You never want your organizational “fact-checker” to declare that you were only partially honest or that you actually lied or misled others.
As you move through your career, there will be many role models and many examples of leadership style. Probably none, however, will be as clearly opposite as the ones we’ve seen this week: politician vs. pope. The politicians didn’t stand a chance.