Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads

by Chris Lowney

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


There is something uniquely pleasant and challenging about the leadership of our Pope Francis. Right from his core, one can feel the resonance of his thoughts with his people. He desires them to be at one with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He enjoys the embrace of diversity and inclusivity. He wants us to love each other. When I read his most recent encyclicals, I feel he is specifically talking to me. It is not that I embody all that he states but I do know that is where I should go. Drawing in interviews with people who knew him as Father Jorge Bergoglio, SJ, Lowney challenges assumption about what it takes to be a great leader. In so doing, he reveals the ‘other-centered” leadership style of a man whose passion is to be with people rather than set apart. Lowney offers a stirring vision of leadership to which we can all aspire in our communities, churches, companies, and families.


One of the questions addressed in this text is “why we and our leaders need to change”? We need to face the fact that we badly need to be jarred from some of our settled preconceptions about leadership because they have utterly failed us. And we need to be shocked into new ways of thinking and acting. That so few of us feel great confidence in our political, educational, business, or religious leads is an indictment, an extraordinary vote of no confidence across a broad swath of our society. Does anyone seriously believe that we will address such profound lack of confidence y the same old approaches in politics, business, or religious organizations? That’s the old adage about insanity: doing the same things over and over, yet expecting different results. Nor will we close our leadership deficit by sending America’s managerial class, elected officials, and pastors to one more leadership work shop, by tinkering with our performance-management systems, or through other incremental solutions. We need to be challenged to reimagine leadership in a turbulent, fast-changing and sometimes unsettling new century. The Pope has already been articulating a vision that challenges his Church to reimagine itself in the twenty-first century:

  • He challenged “lukewarm Christians” and Couch potatoes” Christians to engage much more energetically in spreading the Church’s message, not to ‘take refuge…in a cozy life,” but to get beyond our “comfort zones” and live with greater ”apostolic fervor.”

  • He challenged his Church to be more forthrightly ‘poor and for the poor.”

  • He warned Vatican diplomats-in-training that “careerism us leprosy”.

  • He challenged a global culture in which “money…for the mighty of this earth, is more important than people.”

  • He challenged his own fellow bishops to be “Men who love …`poverty, simplicity and austerity of life.”

He asked Brazilian bishops bluntly, “Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York reacting to the pope’s challenges, told an interviewer, “I find myself examining my own conscience on style, on simplicity, on lots of things.” Cardinal Dolan isn’t the only one doing some soul-searching and reimagining, Pope Francis’s words are resonating: his approval rating s have soared. That fact alone is intriguing; he is fundamentally challenging our lifestyles and priorities, yet we are not dismissing him as a curmudgeonly old scold. Rather, we seem to appreciate that a plain speaker is telling us uncomfortable truths that we’ve long needed to hear.


Pope Francis has done more than challenge his own Church; he is challenging our wider culture’s whole approach to leadership by embodying a refreshing, deeply countercultural vision of how leaders live and what they value. He seems deeply self-aware and authentic, for example, while so many prominent public figures nowadays seem superficial and fake, constantly trying to spin us. The pope seems driven by a passion to serve, not by a craving for status, money or power. Our culture is becoming increasingly self-absorbed and fascinated with superficial pursuits; he is striving to focus us beyond our selves, on the struggles of our neediest brothers and sisters around the world. This book truly should be read by all as it gives us the opportunity to challenge as well as reconstruct ourselves in a way that reaches out to all who are in need: spiritually, morally, physically and economically.

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