“You have to think anyway, so why not think big?”
He came from no where and ended up … according to many … being the “man of the century.” He was born in a small Polish town, living a hard life in Nazi occupied Poland. His father was a retired army officer, but his mother died early, dying of kidney and heart failure, while his older brother died from scarlet fever. And yet he became Pope John Paul II, the 264th Pope in the history of the world … and first non-Italian Pope in 456 years.
He was a most unlikely candidate for the head of the Roman Catholic Church. So you have to wonder, how did he rise to such prominence? And what leadership lessons can we learn from this global leader who moved the world?
In the book, “Psychology of the Hero Soul,” Sharif Khan points to several lessons that we would all be wise to heed.
=> 1. Leaders are readers.
By 1958, Karol Josef Wojtyla (later known as Pope John Paul II) was a professor of ethics and had two doctorate degrees. But he also studied philosophy and literature … and was well recognized as a playwright and poet.
Interestingly enough, once he earned those degrees, he didn’t stop reading. As a chaplain for university students in Krakow, Poland, he used to go on camping and kayaking trips with the students so he could counsel and mentor them. But even then, he would take an hour or more every day to get by himself, to read and reflect. Khan said, “These moments of solitude gave him a strong internal compass and the knowledge of self that is required of all great leaders.”
So how do you stack up against this reading-and-reflection criterion? When I’m out speaking, training, and consulting, I notice that most people spend too much time ON THEIR WORK and too little time ON THEMSELVES.
A year from now, you’ll be the same as today except for four things … the books you read, the classes you take, the speeches you hear, and the people you meet. At the very least, I encourage you to read an hour a day. If you were to take an hour a day … reading up on your field … or any field you choose … within a five-year period you would become an expert in your field. And people are hungering and thirsting for a leader with that kind of knowledge.
=> 2. Leaders are humble.
When Wojtyla was elected Pope in 1978, he refused the formal papal coronation in favor of a simple inauguration ceremony. And instead of speaking like the other popes prior to him, instead of using the royal “WE” term … in other words referring to himself and God as one … he spoke from his own simple “I” perspective. He wanted to be known as a servant leader and even chose the title of “Servus Servorum Dei” or “Servant of the Servants of God” rather than some CEO, Chairman of the Board, Commander in Chief, or Supreme Papal title.
If you are a leader or aspire to be one, you can learn from Wojtyla. Don’t isolate yourself in the corner office or the ivory tower. Don’t become more and more removed from your coworkers and customers with each new promotion, title, diploma, award, certificate or news clipping. Open your doors; let down your guard, and seek dialogue. As Khan pointed out, “Leadership by walking around … and talking to people and listening to their needs … earns respect and trust.”
=> 3. Leaders have heart.
When Wojtyla returned to Poland in 1979 as the Pope, he risked his life against the totalitarian Communist regime. Instead of speaking in the vague generalities and political niceties that the Communists would accept, he spoke from the heart. He urged his people to stop crawling like animals. He encouraged them to walk tall and “be not afraid.” The crowds went wild and a flame of rebellion and counter-revolution was lit in the collective consciousness of the Polish people. Wojtyla sparked the Solidarity movement for independence and freedom that eventually toppled the Communist regime.
Despite Wojtyla’s enormous intellect, he knew intellect was not enough. He knew if he wanted to win over people, he had let down his guard, push aside his formal clerical role, and speak from the heart.
Could the same be said about you? That you lead from the heart as well as the head? If you lead from the head alone, you’ll be seen as a cold fish. And if you lead from the heart alone, you’ll be seen as a ditz without any common sense. Neither extreme works.
=> 4. Leaders are willing to forgive.
In 1983, Pope John Paul II met with Ali Agca in prison, the very man who tried to assassinate him just two years earlier. Despite several months of painful recovery, the Pope visited Agca in prison and offered forgiveness. And later, through his request, the Italian government granted clemency to Agca.
You see … highly effective leaders know we are all fallible human beings, and we all make mistakes. And one mark of a true leader is his or her willingness to forgive. As Khan so clearly says, “While there’s no excuse to keep someone who consistently fails to learn from their mistakes, the boss that fires an employee for making a big mistake is often mistaken for doing so. After all, there’s always the risk that the next person hired could potentially make the same disastrous mistake.”
By contrast, when you as a leader offer forgiveness to the employee who fouls up, that employee is unlikely to repeat the same mistake. And chances are, that employee will remain fiercely loyal to you.
=> 5. Leaders take full responsibility for their organization.
Now this is a biggie … and it’s mighty rare. We live in an age where people seem to blame everyone for everything that happens in their lives. Executives take HUGE obscene bonus checks as they drive their companies into the ground, all the time saying it wasn’t their fault. And employees say, “I just work here … or … That’s not my responsibility.”
But REAL leaders take responsibility. The day former U.S. President John F. Kennedy took full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco was the day he became a leader. The day in 2000 when Pope John Paul II apologized and took responsibility for the sins of the Catholic Church committed over the centuries was the day he became a truly respected global leader. And when he apologized and took responsibly for the sins of anti-Semitism committed by Christians, his stature went even higher.
You see … blaming is the mark of the loser. As Khan says so well, “We can make excuses or we can make progress — but we certainly can’t do both.” To be an uncommon leader, you must take full responsibility for your actions, your team, and ultimately the whole organization or cause you lead.
=>6. Leaders stand up for what they believe.
Pope John Paul II met with PLO leader Arafat, Soviet premier Gorbachev, and Cuban premier Castro. He met with the famous and the infamous, moving in circles and addressing issues that made him unpopular with some people.
But he was never one to back down. He stood up for what he believed. He had the courage of his convictions. And yet in some strange way, his inner toughness and steely resolve helped him break down walls and foster reconciliation.
Leadership is not about winning a popularity contest. It’s about being strong, firm, resolute, and taking a stand. Khan concludes, “A divided mind is weak; a united mind, clear and singular in purpose, is powerful beyond measure.”
One time John Paul II was asked if he feared retaliation from government officials. He replied, “I’m not afraid of them. They are afraid of me.”
Indeed, he relayed a message that all leaders need to echo, perhaps more today than ever before, and that is “Be not afraid!”
Action: Put the 6 characteristics of a leader on a piece of paper, and then ask all the people on your team to rate you on those 6 characteristics.