A brand has captured the hearts of people around the world, and its enthusiasts are responding with religious fervor. It isn’t Apple or Google. The brand is a person, who happens to be the Pontiff -- Pope Francis.
While churches increasingly borrow best practices from business, the Roman Catholic Church offers a senior leader who chief executives from any industry should study. CEOs like Steve Jobs and Jamie Dimon have shown that an organization’s top leader often personifies its brand. That is especially true for entrepreneurs. As they build their businesses and raise relational capital, there’s little separation between the business plan and the person guiding it.
The Catholic Church’s mission is more momentous than that of an ordinary organization. The Pontiff represents much more than a brand. Still, the persona of Pope Francis exemplifies character components that every entrepreneur would do well to imitate:
One of the most common praises of this Pope is his genuinely humble nature. One might expect such a high-level executive to flaunt his power or take advantage of his privilege. Pope Francis, however, seems oblivious to the prestige of his office as he warmly greets and even embraces revelers in endless receiving lines and as he chooses a meal with the homeless over lunch with Congress.
But how does humility help an entrepreneur? Doesn’t it take bravado to build a business? Yes, but a leader can communicate competence and confidence in different ways. While exhibiting an inflated opinion of oneself is off-putting, maintaining an unpretentious manner is endearing to prospective clients, investors and all kinds of other stakeholders.
There are few things that rub people the wrong way more than hypocrisy. Pope Francis, however, has a refreshing knack for aligning his words and his actions. Like many world leaders, he talks about the need to care for our planet. Unlike many others, however, he acts out his arguments by riding in a vehicle that makes a relatively small environmental impact: a diminutive Fiat 500L.
Being inauthentic is a trust killer, and few people can ill-afford to sacrifice trust more than an entrepreneur. When one is trying to break into an industry or birth a new one, it’s critical to engender the faith of others. Authenticity is an extremely effective endorsement that entrepreneurs can give themselves.
Oxford Dictionary chose “ selfie” for its 2013 word of the year, which is just more evidence we live in a world overflowing with egoism. It’s pleasantly surprising, therefore, to encounter people like Pope Francis who appear less concerned with their own wants than they are about the needs of others, such as a boy with cerebral palsy and prisoners in a correctional facility in Philadelphia.
Entrepreneurs should show empathy for the same basic reason that everyone should: because this life is not all about us. More specifically, however, businesspeople must always remember that “ People buy products for their reasons, not yours.” Although sales shouldn’t be the only reason entrepreneurs look beyond themselves, genuine attention to the needs of others does bring economic rewards.
In his address to Congress, Pope Francis described business as “a noble vocation” that can improve the world by serving the common good. Regardless of their religious inclination, entrepreneurs who emulate the Pontiff’s character are likely to contribute to that cause, while also bettering their personal brands.