Today, I’m writing to you in the Nation’s Capital, the Modern Babylon, St. Reaganopolisville, Hollywood for Dorks, Washington, District of Columbia. (Motto: We all pay taxes and get no representation but at least we run everything – no wait, the SuperPAC money does – oh well cool license plates and tattoos)
It is a beautiful morning, cool and calm. We are in the soft afterglow of a visit from PAPA FRANCISCO, the Magic Pope. DC traffic sucks, especially when there’s a Big Event. Not when Magic Pope is here! He came, took a morning jog on the Potomac, talked mad s**t about arms proliferation and ignoring the poor, dropped the temp to 75, dropped the humidity to 28% with a cool breeze, and then moved on to Philadelphia where he will remediate all the Superfund EPA sites, play power forward for the Sixers, write the last, greatest installment of the Rocky series, fix Camden, New Jersey with a single glance, and then hopefully move on to New York, where he will convince Trump to shave his head and join a monastery.
This is one awesome pope.
Actually, his message of tolerance, humility, forebearance, and love aside, I totally dig this pope for an incredibly dorky reason: he is probably the greatest example of a disruptive leader in a calcified bureaucracy, maybe in all of history. For those of you who didn’t follow the Papal Elections last time (it was on ESPN 14 and simulcast on C-SPAN 6) the current Pope Francis was a runner-up in the last contest to Benedict, the Artist Formerly Known As God’s Rottweiler. Joseph Ratzinger was an inside man in the Holy See, a bureaucratic infighter who promised to passionately, inspiringly continue whatever it was the church was already doing. His main competitor was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian who had this weird predilection for helping the downtrodden and foregoing privileges himself and even – gasp – seemed a bit uncomfortable at the notion of the Catholic Church acting like a giant corporation (which is extra ironic, since modern corporations are built around the structure of the pre-Schism mother church, yet I digress). So in the last election, God’s Rottweiler apparently promised More of the Same and then – oops – went on to be a possible witness in some of the 100,000 boy-bothering lawsuits and then retired, just exactly like no Pope does ever, for any reason. Bye!
Enter Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pontifex Maximus Franciscus.
Francis is coming into a global, highly-structured, hierarchical corporate entity and is simultaneously transforming its marketing, its operations, its corporate culture, its customer aquisition, its branding, its social media, and am I leaving anything out? Probably its financial reporting too. Can you name a CEO who has done anything similar? Steve Jobs…maybe? Neutron Jack Welch? Mmm, probably a weak comparison. Nope – I think Francis is probably top of the heap.
I come to understand that one of his first acts, right after, “Oh, enough with all the purple silk and satin, I’m not Joan Collins fertheloveofPete” was to start answering letters directly, taking on critiques of the Church in the media without seeking “consensus,” outflanking the normal marketing/communications department. Next, he took on the “bonus structure” and made sure nobody is outfitting their offices in the church version of leather chairs and mahogany furniture while there are still poor people who don’t have soup. Next, he totally changed the End User License Agreement to let existing and new customers know that whom they sleep with is probably less important than whether they are cruel or greedy. Pope Francis is doing all of these things *simultaneously*, and his global celebrity – not to mention a revigoration of Church followers – is a testament to how much of a success his vision is.
I’ve heard that all of this radical change has caused serious handwringing in the rest of the hierarchy, particularly near the top. Now, let’s put aside the fact that HEY GUYS, HE’S INFALLIBLE, ACCORDING TO YOUR SYSTEM – this resistence is actually highly predictable. And yet, Francis plows ahead with singular vision. It’s as if this were the organization he was dreaming of all along, and the moment he had the position, his leadership could be unleashed on all fronts. And it’s working, probably better than any so-called transformative CEO or politician in the world.
Perhaps Pope Francis is sending a message to all leaders of all institutions, everywhere. If you want to see a world where your values are upheld, just freaking DO IT. Don’t apologize. Don’t hedge risk. Just start doing it and do it loud and let the world catch up. Hell, this guy doesn’t even wait for his security detail to catch up – he just runs out and hugs people. He’s literally willing to die for his vision – wouldn’t mind going out doing his thing, his way. And as such, he’s touring the world, telling people to get their s**t straight on poverty and climate change, harrassing arms dealers, embracing lepers, winning slam dunk competitions, and reminding everyone to be thankful for their abundance, think of others, and do good in the world before its too late.
Speaking as a man who has endured his share of both turbulent priests *and* crummy CEOs, this is an exemplary leader and one awesome pope.