Pope Francis has introduced disruption. The head of the 1.2 billion Catholic Church lives in a one bedroom apart-hotel, produces off-the cuff daily comments, does not speak English, and gets really angry with the retiring top Vatican Official who has arranged a nice penthouse for him. In 2013, he drew three times the number of visitors to his audiences, compared with his predecessor.
In Israel, he breaks with protocol (and security) and prays not just at the Jerusalem Wall, the holiest Judaic prayer site, but also at the other wall: the not so holy, separation wall that divides Israel and Palestine. He ends up inviting the Israeli and Palestinian Primer Ministers to the Vatican, not to peace talks, (‘that would be crazy on my part’, he says), but to pray together, at his place.
He has managed to appear on the cover of Time magazine, and also in a prominent gay magazine, as ‘Person of the Year’. Graffiti on the walls of Rome picture him as a flying Superman in white robes.
The English version of his first Letter to the Faithful, which is the length of a manifesto pamphlet, and does not even bear the rank of Encyclical, (the recognised, ‘official’ pastoral document) has sold more copies than the entire collection of Encyclicals of all previous Popes (to the delight of the ailing UK publisher).
He drives the conservative arm of the Catholic Church completely nuts, because Popes are supposed to be very careful about what they say, and they are expected to use a deep theological language, not speak like your local priest in his Sunday service. The liberals don’t know what to make of him either because he is not going ‘as far as they expected’. Atheists say that he is somebody worth talking to and they call him ‘awesome’ in their tweeter feeds.. The Cynical, a category in abundance, thanks to the modern history of spin and the erosion of trust in politicians and public life in general, say that ‘surely, he must be fake’.
I have two hypotheses. Number one: he is all spin, calculated, media manipulator, Machiavellian extraordinaire, a great salesman, a natural PR guy. This is what some people say. The trouble with this hypothesis is that spin, as we know it, as practiced by politicians and public figures, needs good PR machinery behind it. The Vatican has the worst PR system on the planet. The Vatican’s Head of Communications, a fellow Jesuit, seems to be sometimes the last one to know what the Pope plans to say. So either Pope Francis has supernatural and divine PR skills, in which case he is de facto a One-Man-Spin-Band – a very unlikely scenario – or this hypothesis simply does not hold water.
Hypothesis number two. The man is authentic. He speaks and acts according to what he thinks and believes. What you see and hear is him! And because he is 100% ‘The Real Thing’ himself, this turns out to be very disruptive! Authenticity is disruptive because our expectations are low. In a fake world, the authentic is unexpected and sometimes troublemaking. The true disruptive idea is Being Oneself.
I believe that in Leadership, authenticity wins the battle. It may be hard to believe, but the truthful, the genuine, the authentic, the honest and the humble have an advantage in today’s world. In organizations, having the courage to be oneself, not the corporate man, not the yes man, not the no man, not the fake citizen, but just oneself, may be the kind of disruption we need. Leaders in business could do with disposing of their uniforms, their costumes, their layers of protective social make up, and try the Francis way. Who knows, that may well deal with a lot of the leadership development that is needed.