Five things you can learn from Pope Francis’ first year to live your faith at work
  • APTOPIX Vatican Pope-2.jpg

    FILE — Jan. 15, 2014: Pope Francis waves from his pope-mobile at the end of his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican. (AP)

Being pope is a full-time job.

And when the white smoke went up a year ago, and the world gasped at the name Jorge Bergoglio, and cheered at the name Francis, and smiled when he asked them to pray for him, quickly did we know that this man was serious about the work set before him – the work of evangelization.

But for the roughly two billion Christians who don’t happen to be Pope, this doesn’t mean we get to pass the buck. In his trademark parlance, Pope Francis warns us that we “cannot be Christians part-time. No one can be Christian in this way, we are Christian all the time! Totally!”

How can you balance the needs of getting your job done well, but also living out your faith in a meaningful way?

We’re called to live out our faith all the time. And make no mistake; living out your faith is work. (In his apostolic letter The Joy of the Gospel, Francis uses the word work 100 times, in one form or another.)

But for those who spend the majority of their waking hours at their other full-time job – namely, their job – this can be a daunting task.  Especially so for those in leadership roles within an organization.

How can you balance the needs of getting your job done well, but also living out your faith in a meaningful way?

Well, what better resource than Pope Francis himself for a few pointers on how business leaders can integrate faith and work. Sure, it’s his job to do that. But remember, it’s yours, too.

Here are five tips from Francis’ to bring your faith to work:

1. It’s about more than personality

Many successful businesses are marked by the cult-like status of their leadership – think Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos, or Jack Welch. It’s tempting to view the success of Pope Francis through this lens, as a dynamic leader, through the sheer force of his personality, deliberately recasting the Catholic Church in a positive light for the whole world to see.

But Francis understands that personality driven leadership can only take you so far.

In a recent interview he spoke of his desire to deflate the “mythology” of his papacy: “The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone. A normal person.”  A visionary can bring people into the fold, but it’s the vision that will keep them around.

2. Lead by serving

True leadership then, Pope Francis reminds us, is “not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives: living consistently, the very consistency of our lives.”

There’s a certain irony here, given that Pope Francis’ unique pastoral style of speaking is in many ways a perfect fit for our sound-bite age (with the Vatican doing a good job of catch-up – releasing a ebook of some Pope Francis best quotes from the past year).

But more importantly, Francis embodies a near platonic ideal of the servant leadership model — from washing the feet of female prisoners to embracing the disfigured, disabled and downtrodden, to any number of small acts of kindness that have warmed hearts around the globe.

And its clear — to believers and non-believers alike – that Francis does these things from an authentic desire to serve others; to love as his Lord loves. Whether you’re the employer, or the employee, choose to be a person who strives puts the needs of co-workers before your own.

3. Forgive

‘Forgive. Forgive others as you have been forgiven.’ This has been the constant refrain for Pope Francis — so much so that some have already tagged him as the ‘ Pope of Mercy.’

What better place, then, to heed his advice than in the often unforgiving arena of the workplace?

In world of dominated by machine precision, making a conscious effort to create a work environment where mistakes are forgiven as quickly as they are acknowledged is a small but vital way to preserve the dignity of the most important aspect of any company, the workers.

As Pope Francis reminds us: “In the art of walking it is not the falling that matters, but not ‘staying fallen’. Get up quickly, immediately, and continue to go on.”

4. Seek wisdom

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shocked the world with his resignation, some whispered that the new pope would have the unusual predicament of still having his predecessor around, and possibly undermining his authority.

It’s clear that Pope Francis doesn’t see this as a problem, but rather a unique opportunity to learn from someone who has also had the job: “His wisdom is a gift of God. Some would have wished that he retire to a Benedictine abbey far from the Vatican. I thought of grandparents and their wisdom. Their counsels give strength to the family…”

In the workplace, it’s true that bold leadership often means blazing trails. But there are also just as many opportunities to learn from those who have been down the road and back, and can tell you what’s ahead.

Most of us will find ourselves in a happy position similar to Pope Francis, and not have our big promotion predicated on our boss dying. If you have the opportunity, continue to reach out to that person as a source of wisdom. Even if you’re taking the position in a different direction, preserving a connection to the living tradition of job will help maintain a humanizing perspective.

5. Whatever ‘it’ is

While these examples from Francis are useful, we are reminded that the analogy between business leadership and Pope Francis can only extend so far. After all, as Francis recognizes, “the Church’s strength does not reside in herself and her organizational abilities, but it rests hidden in the deep waters of God.”

Call it grace, call it the ‘it-factor’, call it what you want, but whatever it is, Pope Francis has it.

The world has been a better place this year for it; and if we can transfer some of his lessons, the business world can be as well.

Now get to work.


Mitch Boersma is the Chief Operating Officer at the Catholic Information Center in Washington DC, and a volunteer with Catholic Voices USA.

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