We Entrepreneurs Can Learn a Lot From Pope Francis (and VW)

I am not a religious guy. I do not come from a religious family. I am a business guy, so I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to religious leaders, no matter what flavor of spirituality they represent. But Pope Francis’s visit to the US this past week has been very hard to ignore and, as someone who reads the papers and pays attention to the world around me, I have to say that I am impressed with the way the Pope handles himself, his image, and his messaging.

Here is a guy who is the head of one of the world’s great religions and holds what is arguably the most powerful religious job in the entire world, yet his quiet message of humility and modesty speaks powerfully and carries an immeasurable moral weight. When the Pope declares that capitalism is a negative force in the world, whether you agree with his contention or not, he does so with authority and gravitas. He is a real leader: listened to, and followed because he leads his own life as an example for others to follow.

Interestingly, the Pope’s visit to the US coincided with the unfolding scandal at Volkswagen. It is rare that ethical examples can be drawn so sharply, but when we look at VW’s apparent attempts to circumvent regulation, to mislead customers, to hold the bottom line above all other values and when we compare that to Pope Francis’s message of care for the less advantaged among us, it serves only to further condemn the leadership at VW.

Francis is an ideal leader; the kind of leader that entrepreneurs can and should model themselves after. The leadership at VW provides the negative example. By leading quietly and and modestly, by speaking with authority and setting an example to follow the Pope teaches us to listen closely to other people, empathize with them, know their pain points and advocate for their issues. When we look to VW’s management, the lessons implied are to take advantage as much as possible, to ignore the greater good, and to inflict pain in the name of profits. For an entrepreneur this applies not just to your team, but also to your customers and how your company communicates with them, listens to them, and markets to them.

I have written before about how we can learn from kidsdogsmusicians, chefs and, most recently, diplomats – these all provide lessons from which we can learn. The Pope provides perhaps the most important lesson of all: lead by example and lead with purity of purpose and with the greatest or moral and ethical focus. And (by extension), don’t be VW.

Photo, Wikimedia: His Holiness Pope Francis delivers his message