This week, I continue about Pope Francis and how he uses his personal stories of identity to express who he is and why he does things the way he does. One of the elements I work on with my clients is their ability to tell stories from their past that demonstrate the origin of their values, beliefs or management philosophy. These stories explain to followers why a leader does things the way he or she does.
The pope gives us a fine example of this type of story when he talks of why he likes a consensual approach to management rather than an authoritarian one. In fact, we see in his tale something about how he processed his life experience, and how he learned from an early leadership challenge where he considers himself to have been a partial failure. Here are some excerpts from a recent interview where he talks about learning lessons from his past management roles:
“In my experience as superior…I did not always do the necessary consultation. And this was not a good thing. My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial [manager] when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old…I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself…Eventually people get tired of authoritarianism.
“Over time I learned many things…So as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, I had a meeting with the six auxiliary bishops every two weeks, and several times a year with the council of priests. They asked questions and we opened the floor for discussion. This greatly helped me to make the best decisions. But now [as pope] I hear some people tell me: ‘Do not consult too much, and decide by yourself.’ Instead, I believe that consultation is very important.”
In this passage, Pope Francis is explaining to the world that he learned not to like the traditional Jesuit system of top-down decision making. As pope, he has decided to rule less by decree or edict, and more in consultation with an advisory group of eight cardinals. Such an arrangement is a true break from the past, where popes tended to make their decisions privately, alone with their conscience or behind closed doors with a small cadre of advisors.
In addition, the pope has stated publicly that his council of advisors will not be a ceremonial entity but rather an independent body that will discuss issues and try to reach consensus. As he describes: “I do not want token consultations, but real consultations. The consultation group of eight cardinals, this ‘outsider’ advisory group, is not only my decision, but it is the result of the will of the cardinals, as it was expressed in the general congregations before the conclave. And I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.”
When he talks of his previous management roles, the pope is doing what effective leaders generally do, what I have come to call “leading by autobiography”. With his personal story of identity, by telling of his early management history, he is revealing a bit of himself and his values. We see in this tale an ability to process his life experience, and to integrate the lessons of his past into his current code of behavior. Through his story, we come to understand his reflection on one of his important life lessons, an occurrence that helped plant the seeds of his current management philosophy.