Papal Lessons on Reputation-Building for New CEOs

January 18, 2014

Papal Lessons on Reputation-Building for New CEOs

A CEO’s first year sets the tone, defines the direction and shapes the character of an organization. Right before I presented to a CEO-elect this week about navigating the first 100 days, I spied this article about what Pope Francis has accomplished in his first year. I read with a big grin on my face because many of the Pope’s actions follow exactly what there is to do in year one of a new executive’s tenure. 

  1. Signal that change is on its way. The Pope’s washing of the feet of inmates (including two women) and questioning who among us is to judge about homosexuality were acts of declaration that this was going to be a very different papacy. 
  2. Reconstitute your senior team. Pope Francis is moving around his senior bench by replacing traditionalists with moderates. Some have been demoted, some sidelined. His appointments are aligned around his mission to be more inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the poor. The message has been sent loud and clear.
  3. Declare what matters. The Pope has been very open about what his values and priorities are. He used the word “tenderness” in an interview and his actions are very telling. He has given out more prominent positions to those from emerging countries and less developed ones. The article points out that he has communicated that as these positions change, this is is not a time for celebratory parties. Work has just started and money should be spent wisely. Pope Francis has also reminded his leaders to not listen to all the gossip that is being spread about changes underway. Another waste of time in his book.
  4. Communicate Communicate. In one of his most important speeches of the year, he spent his time focused on communicating that it was time for the Curia to get its own house in order. The new Pope spoke “disparagingly of ‘airport bishops’ who are more interested in their careers than flocks, and warns that priests had become ‘little monsters’ if they are not trained properly as seminarians.” He certainly paints a vivid picture, don’t you think? 
  5. Be inclusive, you don’t know all the answers. The Pope has set up several task forces to come up with solutions to ongoing problems or issues. Eight cardinals were asked to investigate the area of Curia reform.  Another group is revamping the workings of the Vatican Bank to provide greater transparency. 

New CEOs would be wise to follow some of these lessons which can build reputation for their companies and for their own legacies. It gets everyone on the same page and privy to what to expect. Although there is no doubt that there is a lot of head scratching going on among cardinals and bishops whose career ladders have been turned upside down, the Pope is taking charge forcefully, symbolically and masterfully. He is building his reputation and the reputations of Popes to come.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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