Pope Francis: rejuvenating the Catholic Church

[Guest post by Silvina Moranta, brandgym Partner for Latin America.]

Pope Francis has just been names Time's Person of the Year, only 10 months in his new role as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. This prestigious award is recognition of the work he has started in rejuvenating the Catholic Church.

Here are some thoughts on what we can learn about leadership and brand rejuvenation from this unusual source of inspiration.  

1. IMMERSE yourself in your consumers' world 

Before being Pope and even Archbishop, Francis was known for taking the bus and the subway and for his multiple activities in the poorest neighbours of Buenos Aires. This helped him get close to the contemporary human reality: drugs, young pregnancy, divorce, rapes, and other “traditional taboos” that are daily currency of real life. His closeness to his audience is also reflected in his use slang and invention of new words/ verbs to help make Catholic language relevant to a wider audience.

There are even suggestions that Pope Francis sometimes slips out of the Vatican dressed as an ordinary priest, showing that his “consumer immersion” continues in Rome.

2. REFRESH your communication

Pope Francis has focused on the healing mission of the Church to comfort people in an often harsh world, in contrast to the doctrinal policing of his recent predecessors. He has not changing Church doctrine but rather refreshed the tone to make the message more appealing and less strict.

For example, regarding homosexuality he says, "If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” And when talking about divorced and re-married Catholics who are forbidden from taking communion he comments, “Communion is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Pope Francis' actions have been recognized by him being named Person of the Year by one of America's oldest gay rights magazine “The Advocate”.

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3. LEAD by example 

The most effective leaders don't rely on words to inspire and guide people. One of our favourite quotes is "People will doubt what you say but believe what you do." And Pope Francis is a great example of leading by example. He has been photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican and embracing a man with deformed face. 

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4. TACKLE the tough issues

Pope Francis has wasted no time in acting on some of the tough issues within the Catholic Church, a powerful sign of his leadership: 

-       He is moving fast to tame the mess that is the Vatican Bank, an Institution even U.S. Treasury officials privately say is corrupted.  Soon after he was elected he named a special commission to investigate the bank and in October the bank disclosed an annual report for the first time in its 125-year history!

-       He named a new commission on sex abuse, acknowledging the big problem of priests preying on children they have vowed to protect.

-       He suspended a bishop in Germany for overseeing a $42.5 m renovation of the church residence that included a $20,500 bathtub.

Papacity may be mysterious and magical and seem miles away from the world of business. But Pope Francis' immersion in the consumers' world and his bold leadership set a good example for anyone taking up a new leadership position.