Just over a year ago, a puff of white smoke announced the new spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world. In the brief time since, Francis has electrified the church and attracted legions of non-Catholic admirers by energetically setting a new direction. He has refused to occupy the palatial papal apartments, has washed the feet of a female Muslim prisoner, is driven around Rome in a Ford Focus, and famously asked "Who am I to judge?" with regard to the church's view of gay members. He created a group of eight cardinals to advise him on reform, which a church historian calls the "most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries." Francis recently asked the world to stop the rock-star treatment. He knows that while revolutionary, his actions so far have mostly reflected a new tone and intentions. His hardest work lies ahead. And yet signs of a "Francis effect" abound: In a poll in March, one in four Catholics said they'd increased their charitable giving to the poor this year. Of those, 77% said it was due in part to the Pope.
The 77-year old pontiff tops Fortune magazine's The World's 50 Greatest Leaders. Imagine that: a religious figure is, in the eyes of leadership experts and Fortune reporters, a leader among leaders. The US works at separating church and state, and lauds the rationality, logic and objectivity of the scientific endeavor. So, presuming that many of those experts and reporters are American, I find that their installing Pope Francis at the top of a multitude of leaders to be a curious one.
Religion seems to be such a polarizing thing, as I see many on social media giving it the short shrift, at best, and sometimes heaving vitriol, at worst. Yet, here we are, with Pope Francis. Maybe, just maybe, there may be an unspoken longing among people, if not among leaders per se, for more of that religious life.
The top 10 on the list is altogether curious, indeed:
- A pontiff
- A chancellor (Angela Merkel, Germany)
- A CEO (Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Co.)
- An investor (Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway)
- A former president (Bill Clinton, US)
- A Nobel Peace Prize Winner (Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar)
- A general (Joe Dunford, NATO)
- A rock star (Bono, U2)
- Another spiritual leader (Dalai Lama, Tibet)
- Another CEO (Jeff Bezos, Amazon)
I write more about this list of The World's 50 Greatest Leaders.
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!
Ron Villejo, PhD