What? Earlier this year, the College of Cardinals emerged from the papal conclave having elected an individual from Brazil as the next Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. As a catholic, I have had mix feelings about the church because of their violation of trust and abuse of authority regarding the sexual abuse scandal, but since the election of Pope Francis I have found myself being hopeful and optimistic about the future direction of the church.
So What? The respect that Pope Francis has so quickly earned has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with his ‘down-to-earth’ authenticity and deep compassion for the welfare of others – regardless of their gender, religion, sexual orientation – above his own. The Pope is an example of a servant leader because he has made an effort to return the church to the followers, reached out to gather input from parishioners, and elevated people who believe in serving followers rather than their own self interests.
Now What? In my experience, I have always responded favorably to servant leaders. I respect people who are willing “to get their hand dirty” and do the work of the people. This is probably why I am passionate about Extension work; I enjoy being in the trenches doing the work of the people with the people. In my Extension career, I tried to emulate servant leadership by bringing groups together to serve the greater good. I believe that it is not enough to assert someone is a servant leader without providing evidence, so I will provide several examples of how Pope Francis has exhibited servant leader behaviors. In a display of ethical behavior, the Pope has made an effort to return the church and its governing body at the Vatican back to its modest roots. For example, he chose to live in modest quarters rather than the papal palace occupied by his predecessors and recently ex-communicated priests who have lived extravagant lifestyles. In an effort to return the church to the followers the Pope has called on Bishops and Priests “to serve, not dominate” the people of the church. In an effort to create value for the Catholic community, the Pope has recently initiated a worldwide survey on modern life that asks parishioners what they think about church teachings in some areas that have become controversial, including birth control, divorce, and same-sex marriage. This data will be used at the 2014 meeting of the College of Cardinals which will hopefully help the Pope conceptualize the vision for the future of the Catholic Church. For these reasons, I believe that Pope Francis exhibits the qualities of a servant leader.